Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

Maggie Morrow Award Winning Therapist
Author: Maggie Morrow, Award Winning Psychotherapist, Counsellor & Life Coach
Last updated: 27th March 2024

During Eating Disorder Week, we thought we would shine some light on a less well-known eating problem. It is called ARFID or Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder. It is a relatively new diagnosis, and, in the past, you may have heard it called selective eating disorder or feeding disorder. Unlike anorexia, ARFID does not involve fears of being overweight or concerns about body shape or size.

People with ARFID do not eat enough food, or do not eat enough different kinds of food to meet their energy or nutritional needs. The consequences of this could include: –

  • Loss of a lot of weight
  • Serious nutritional deficiencies
  • May necessitate taking food supplements.
  • Having other problems with physical health

What is ARFID?

Basically, those affected with ARFID will avoid eating certain foods or limit how much they eat – or both. Somebody affected does not consume enough calories to support basic body function or to grow and develop properly. In adults this results in weight loss while in children, it stalls weight gain and growth.

Is it about fear of putting on weight?

As mentioned, it is not about a fear of being overweight or being a certain body shape, but tends to develop for other reasons, which include: –

  • A dislike of the smell, texture or taste or certain foods
  • Feeling anxious following a negative experience with food, for example, choking or sickness
  • Previous fussiness with eating which develops into a more severe dislike of certain foods.
  • A lack of interest in food and not feeling hungry.

How can I access help?

How ARFID is treated will depend on what is causing it. Usually, treatments for ARFID focus on: –

  • Fixing any physical health problems
  • Working out which foods someone is avoiding and why.
  • And helping them to try the foods they are avoiding.

If the person has developed physical health problems these need to be treated first and these can include multivitamins, mineral supplements, medications to increase appetite, advice on alternative and safe foods for the person to eat which may help them avoid becoming nutritionally deficient.

So, if you or someone you know is experiencing some of the symptoms of ARFID, a great first step is to speak to your GP.

Psychological treatment can be an important and vital part of any treatment too. 

How Counselling Can Help

Finding a space that feels safe, where you can explore your feelings and understand the underlying causes of your eating patterns can be invaluable. For some, the only control they feel they have is over their eating habits.

A counsellor can play a vital role in helping you overcome the different types of disordered eating. They can work with individuals at various stages of recovery, teaching them skills to manage obsessive thoughts and behaviours and then replace them with healthy ones. 

Therapy can help you to normalise your eating patterns and achieve a healthy weight. You can get support and help to monitor your eating and your moods, as well as exploring healthy ways to cope with stressful situations. 

A counsellor can help you take control of your eating disorder.

Support and further information about ARFID

Beat, ARFID – Information on ARFID from the UK’s eating disorder charity.

National Centre for Eating Disorders, ARFID – Information on ARFID from an organisation that offers information to people living with eating disorders and professionals working with people with eating disorders.

ARFID Awareness UK – A charity dedicated to raising awareness and furthering information about ARFID.

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