Avoidant-restrictive food intake disorder, commonly known as ARFID, is an eating disorder characterised by three typical presentations:
- Persistent refusal to eat specific foods based on sensory characteristics of food
- Sensory challenges may look like difficulty being around different smelling foods, touching different textures or avoiding certain noises or colours of foods.
- Concern about aversive consequences of eating and/or drinking
- For example, traumatic experiences such as choking, vomiting or gastrointestinal distress
- A lack of interest in eating or food
- Can also include a lack of awareness of hunger cues
An individual can fit into one or more of these presentations.
Individuals living with ARFID often also experience one or more of the following:
- Nutritional deficiency
- Malnutrition and/or delayed growth
- A reliance on nutrition supplements
- Interference with psychosocial functioning, such as not being able to eat with friends or finding it difficult to eat at work
Behaviours associated with ARFID may act as a form of self-protection for some. However, if you’re noticing physical and emotional signs associated with ARFID are impacting your ability to participate in activities of daily living, or you would like to work on developing a more positive relationship with food, support is available.
Some pathways forward include:
- Try to incorporate regular meals
Working towards eating regular meals every 3 or so hours is helpful for most people. It might need to be more frequent for young ones. Aiming to incorporate regular meals and snacks help to support appetite regulation and enhance nutritional intake.
- Try to minimise pressure
Focus on trying to make mealtimes enjoyable. Don’t pressure yourself or your loved one to try new foods or a large volume of food if they are not ready. Being able to trust that we can decide what we ate, and how much we eat works wonders for reducing anxiety around mealtimes.
- Share meals with others
Try to have non-preferred food around the table when eating with others. There is no pressure to eat these foods right away, but being near these foods and building gradual exposure can be helpful.
- Reach out to a Psychologist & Dietitian
Support from a Psychologist and Dietitian with an understanding of ARFID can help you or your loved one learn more about your experiences with food and can collaborate with you on a treatment approach that will suit your needs. Some examples of ways a Psychologist and Dietitian can help include:
- Helping to manage feelings of anxiety or stress around mealtimes
- Preparing and managing exposure to new or non-preferred foods