What is Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)?
ARFID is a type of eating disorder. Children diagnosed with ARFID show a strong preference for very few foods and refuse to eat any other foods. Unlike other eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, which involve a drive to be thin, children with ARFID experience anxiety related to the food itself unrelated to their body image.
What are the signs and symptoms of Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)?
Many preschool-aged children can be picky eaters. Maybe they won’t eat foods that are green or foods with certain textures. Typically, children grow out of these behaviors, but for children with Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), these behaviors persist, limiting their nutrition and even affecting their growth.
At the Center for Pediatric Eating Disorders at Children’s Health, we have developed an evidence-based program specifically for children and teens who have been diagnosed with ARFID.
Children who have experienced trauma or illness may suddenly develop symptoms of ARFID.
- Anxiety around food in social situations
- Avoiding eating
- Changes in eating habits
- Growth problems
- Less energy than normal
- Negotiating food options
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Taking a long time to eat a meal
- Weight loss
While many children with ARFID become underweight, average weight and overweight children may also have this condition.
How is Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) diagnosed?
ARFID is diagnosed after a thorough outpatient assessment by our child and adolescent psychiatrist and/or a clinical therapist. The assessment includes:
- A medical and psychiatric history
- Evaluation by occupational therapy or speech therapy, if applicable
- Evaluation by a gastroenterologist, if applicable
If the ARFID program is recommended, the intake coordinator will then schedule a partial hospitalization admission date with the family.
What are the causes of Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)?
ARFID may have different causes, and it sometimes begins in early childhood. Causes may include:
- Food aversion or lack of interest in food
- Medical conditions that cause them to become ill after eating
- Previous trauma involving food, such as choking
- Sensory disorders or difficulties
All of these causes can lead to children feeling anxious about food, especially foods they don’t typically eat.
How is Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) treated?
Children with ARFID benefit from a treatment plan designed just for them. They can receive treatment in our 4-week partial hospitalization (day treatment) program to start relieving food-related anxiety.
At Children’s Health your child’s treatment will include:
- Daily group therapy, including multi-family group
- Individual therapy, which includes play therapy based on the age of the child
- Family therapy
- Music, art or recreational therapy
- Parent education
During treatment, your child is slowly exposed to new foods or “challenge” foods. They are also taught coping skills, motivators and other behaviors to help them increase the variety and amount of food they eat.
As a parent, you also learn strategies to help your child continue their progress toward more normalized eating at home. Many parents feel more confident in their parenting skills after going through treatment with their child.