Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder Explained [ARFID]

Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder
Eating Disorder

In a report released by the Harvard School of Public Health, nearly 29 million Americans have experienced eating disorders. One of them is ARFID which may cause several life-threatening health issues if ignored longer-term. Transcend Recovery Community is here to tackle the issue and share with you all there is about this eating disorder.

What is ARFID [Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder]?

ARFID is a feeding disturbance described as a significant nutritional deficiency due to the failure to meet the adequate nutritional and energy needs of one's body. It is often associated with OCD and anxiety and is more common in adolescents.

Unlike anorexia, people with avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) are not bothered by their body image, size, or shape. This condition is often caused by their strict food preferences or aversion to eating due to perceived fears or traumas related to nutrition.

To be diagnosed to have this food take disorder, ARFID has these specific factors to consider:

  • If a patient has a lack of interest in eating
  • If the patient is deeply concerned about things that may happen while eating such as choking or vomiting
  • If they have lots of supplements
  • Use a feeding tube (enteral feeding)

A medical expert may also check for the following:

  • If an individual has trouble with daily tasks
  • If there's a pre-existing mental health condition
  • Malnutrition
  • Issues with regular tasks or routine
  • Major weight loss

Different Types of ARFID

As with any process addiction or behavioral disorder, ARFID can be classified into various subcategories. Here are the different types of ARFID that may occur in both children and adults.

  • Avoidant - People who classify under this category simply avoid food due to its sensory characteristics, as it may overstimulate the senses causing a severe reaction. Individuals may become overly sensitive to tastes, textures, and odors of food, which can be first thought of as picky eating.
  • Aversive - Individuals may have a perceived trauma or fear from eating because of the eating disturbance they may experience, such as choking, nausea, vomiting, pain, or difficulty of swallowing.
  • Restrictive - It simply refers to anyone who has no desire to eat. This type of disordered eating limits food intake that can be characterized by appetite loss. Some individuals will try to hide weight loss to avoid any suspicion of their disorder.
  • Adult ARFID - ARFID in adults may be a continuation of the eating disorder they experienced in their adolescent years. They may have an aversion or extreme picky eating alongside food peculiarities.
  • ARFID Plus - People who already have more than one type of ARFID may also begin to experience other eating disturbance problems such as anorexia nervosa and body dysmorphia. Others refer to it as a "co-occurring eating disorder" due to the existence of another mental health issue.

Risks Factors of ARFID

a person with Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder is seen here depressed with a black and white background

ARFID can be classified as a serious eating disorder as it can bring serious health risks to your body if left untreated. Its risk factors are not just limited to one aspect of your health. It has a general effect and would bring forth aversive consequences to you as a whole.

Its risk factors include the following:

  • malnutrition or nutritional deficiency
  • growth failure or stunted growth
  • significant weight loss

There are several health complications to the condition as well. Due to the loss of essential nutrients, ARFID health risks may develop into:

  • Cardiovascular issues
  • Hepatic and renal failure
  • Osteoporosis
  • Gastrointestinal issues

Symptoms and Warning Signs of ARFID

Similar to a mental health issue like high-functioning anxiety, ARFID has distinct symptoms that are recognizable, regardless of age or sex. However, there's a wide range of symptoms that may vary from person to person.

Identifying and understanding these symptoms and warning signs are important to ascertain immediately if someone needs appropriate eating disorder treatment. Here are the common ARFID symptoms.

  • Inflexible eating behaviors - These can be characterized as an extreme form of "picky eating." It may also refer to people who have very exact or distinct preferred foods and sensitivity to particular foods or food groups, (an example would be soft foods.) It may also invoke the presence of other eating issues such as anorexia Nervosa or bulimia.
  • Fear-based food restriction - Having an irrational fear or worry due to a perceived allergic reaction, choking concerns, or vomiting are just some of the reasons for an individual to have this type of feeding disturbance.

Other symptoms may include:

  • abdominal pain
  • fainting
  • concentration issues
  • lethargy
  • impaired immune response

The persistent failure of receiving proper nutrition or continuous nutritional deficiencies may cause great harm to your body. It affects one's psychosocial functioning and may develop life-threatening issues if left untreated. Forced or assisted feeding (such as enteral feeding or dependence on oral nutritional supplements) may occur.

ARFID Causes

Similar to other eating disorders and mental illnesses, ARFID can be caused by numerous reasons. However, it's important to note that these causes may vary from person to person. What someone experiences with their avoidant restrictive food intake disorder may be different from what another person is experiencing with their eating disorder.

Let's take a look at the following causes influencing a person to develop this eating disorder.

  • Genetics - These factors may involve a person's medical history thereby affecting their relationship with things such as body weight, body image food refusal, body shape, and developing a food intake disorder. A person's behavior and mental health also come into play. So if someone in your family has had a form of anxiety disorder or mental disorder at one point in their life, you may likely develop this selective eating disorder as well.
  • Sociocultural - Societal and established cultural expectations regarding one's body play a huge role in someone developing a serious eating disorder. A body image disturbance may occur if one feels like they don't fit the mold when it comes to what is the societal or traditional standard. Therefore, people may have issues with weight gain or develop other eating disorders.
  • Psychological - People with pre-existing mental health issues such as anxiety disorders or OCD are at a higher risk of developing avoidant restrictive food intake disorder. People who have pre-existing eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or body dysmorphia, are also most likely to have this too.

Treatment for ARFID

ARFID treatment may vary depending on the severity of the case. However, the common treatment paths that specialists would take include the following:

  • a custom meal plan designed by a dietician
  • cognitive behavioral therapy
  • prescription supplements
  • alternative therapy
  • one-on-one or group sessions
  • intensive inpatient or outpatient treatment

Most often, these treatment regimens can be accompanied by a sober living arrangement as prescribed by the specialist.

Can Transcend Recovery Community Assist with ARFID?

Transcend Recovery Community provides supplemental services such as halfway house residences for people undergoing treatment. The team also provides mental and emotional support to empower the individual as they undergo recovery. For more information, you may contact us and talk to our recovery specialist.

Transcend Recovery Community

Transcend Recovery Community family of sober living homes provides a safe place for those undergoing mental health and addiction treatment to live with like-minded peers. Our community-based approach to sober living (similarly to a halfway house) facilitates an open and welcoming environment, where members, staff and team can provide support and encouragement on the path to a sober and healthy life. Transcend's Los Angeles sober living homes are located in some of the most iconic areas of the city, filled with luxurious and upscale amenities, providing plenty to do for those in our transitional housing community.

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