Understanding ARFID (Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder): Recognising the Signs and Offering Support for this eating disorder

Last Updated on: 11th September 2023, 10:28 pm

ARFID is a mental health disorder that I’m deeply passionate about. It’s disheartening that much about this disorder remains unknown, largely due to its recognition as an eating disorder only in the past decade.

Before we dive in, let’s just get one thing clear: “No shame, no guilt, no blame.” This is not something parents cause or can prevent. It’s a complex mental health condition. While you can support your child in leading a fulfilling life with this condition, it’s undoubtedly challenging, and you’ll need support on this journey.

1. Picky Eating or Something More?

Picky eating is quite common among toddlers, and it’s generally a passing phase. However, if this fussiness persists beyond the age of 3 and your child’s food preferences remain exceptionally limited, it might be an early indicator of ARFID.

2. The Range of Specific Foods:

This condition isn’t merely about avoiding particular types of foods; it’s characterized by an exceedingly narrow range of specific foods. Some children may limit their diet to as few as 0-20 different items, often brand specific. For example, only walkers crisps, only chips from MacDonalds and only custard crème biscuits. Those also count as examples of 3 specific foods your child will eat. If your child’s eating habits align with this description, considering ARFID is crucial. It’s noteworthy that in some instances, children may eat only 4-8 specific foods.

3. Sensory Sensitivities:

Sensory sensitivities frequently accompany ARFID. Does your child struggle with the taste, texture, smell, or sound of certain foods? Do they dislike when foods touch on the plate? These sensory challenges can be indicative of this mental disorder.

4. Eating in Isolation:

Is mealtime primarily a solitary activity for your child? Do they find it challenging to eat with family or in the absence of distractions? If your child tends to avoid eating in social settings, it could be related to ARFID.

5. Extreme Anxiety with New Foods:

Introducing new foods can be an uphill battle for children with ARFID. They might exhibit a high level of anxiety, reluctance, or even outright refusal when confronted with unfamiliar foods.

6. Gag Reflex and Food Aversions:

Does your child experience a strong gag reflex when exposed to certain foods? This physical reaction can be a sign of ARFID. Additionally, they may actively avoid foods they find aversive.

7. Fear of Vomiting or Choking:

A common feature is the fear of vomiting or choking. This fear often drives their avoidance of specific foods or food-related situations. This symptom is more prevalent in later onset of ARFID.

8. Patterns of ARFID:

This condition can manifest in various ways, including Early Onset, Fluctuating, and Late Onset. I’ll delve deeper into these patterns in my next blog post.

10. ARFID and Autism:

It’s essential to note that 65-80% of children diagnosed with autism may struggle with ARFID. Understanding this connection can offer valuable insights into your child’s unique challenges.

Taking the Next Steps:

Please bear in mind that one or two of these behaviours alone may not necessarily indicate ARFID. Recognizing the signs of ARFID is the initial step in providing the support your child needs. If you suspect your child may be dealing with ARFID or have concerns about their eating habits, consider seeking professional guidance. Addressing these concerns early on significantly improves the chances of a positive outcome for your child’s relationship with food and overall well-being.

You’re not alone on this journey. With the right support and understanding, you can empower your child to build a healthier relationship with food.

For more information and more personalised support on ARFID and eating disorders, please reach out through my contact form if you would like to work with me.

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About Me

I’m Sarah, a registered dietitian and eating disorder specialist. I am passionate about helping individuals and families overcome the challenges of eating disorders, disordered eating, and mental health conditions. My expertise lies in supporting families and individuals with a history of trauma, including domestic abuse, and guiding children and teenagers through the complexities of eating disorders, particularly those stemming from adverse childhood experiences.

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