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ARFID stands for Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder. It is characterized by continuous avoidance of food and the inability to meet nutritional and calorie intake.

ARFID: Everything about its Types, Symptoms, and Complications


Wajiha Zahra
Wajiha Zahra

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What is ARFID?

ARFID stands for Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder. It is characterized by continuous avoidance of food and the inability to meet nutritional and calorie intake.

ARFID versus Anorexia

AFRID is often confused with the more popular eating disorder anorexia. However, it lacks the one identifying characteristic of anorexia; the persisting desire to lose weight and extreme complexity about body image. ARFID is not as much about the body as it is about food itself., while anorexia focuses solely on body image.

Types of ARFID

There are 5 known and distinguished types of ARFID. These are:

Avoidant

Avoidant is a more common type and is related to the sensory features of food. It is characterized by a sensitive reaction towards certain food types due to which they’re avoided by people with it. People may feel sensitive towards the appearance, smell, texture or taste of the food.

Aversive

This type is based on fear-induced food resistance. People experiencing this refuse to eat out of fear of choking, vomiting, nausea, pain, or swallowing.

Restrictive

Persons with extreme picky eating, very low appetite, and little to no interest in food show signs of restrictive ARFID. They may not eat because they simply never have the urge. This can also result in forgetting to eat altogether.

Adult ARFID

Symptoms of avoidant, aversive, or restrictive types that continue from younger years to adulthood or simply show up in later years and become more prominent characterize the adult type.

ARFID Plus

This is characterized by having more than one type of ARFID or experiencing other extreme food-related disorders alongside. A person suffering from it may exhibit signs of anorexia as well, showing concerns about body image and negative emotions towards weight and body mass.

ARFID in adults can take various forms, but generally isn't as severe as it is in children.
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ARFID Symptoms

Some of the common symptoms are as follows. A person may show one or a combination of the symptoms.

  • Very few acceptable foods
  • Lack of appetite
  • Avoidance of certain types of foods (vegetables, meat, dairy, etc)
  • Sensitive reaction to food smell or texture
  • Continuous constipation
  • Muscle weakness
  • Scalp hair thinning
  • Hair fall
  • Uncontrolled loss of weight
  • Poor weight gain and growth among children
  • Multiple nutrient deficiencies
  • Dizziness
  • Abnormal or irregular menstrual cycle
  • Week immune system
  • Slow healing
  • Feeling cold all the time
  • Fear of vomiting
  • Fear of choking
Children are the greatest victims. Studies show that it may be a condition which depends upon the environment as well as genetics, thus making some children more prone to it than others.
Photo by Shohei Ohara from Pexels

ARFID in Children

The most common target is children and adolescents. Parents whose children exhibit its signs often have trouble feeding them. They meal plan according to their children’s habits and often bulk buy their favorite snacks – just in case.

It delays weight gain as well as growth in children. In extreme cases, it can cause severe development issues among them.

ARFID in Adults

Adults who experience it are often the same people who live with it as children. It can lead them to extreme weight loss as well as loss of basic body functions.

Risks and Complications

A severe lack of calories and the right types of food can cause many health problems. Some of them include

Growth Failure and Developmental Delay

In children and adolescents, it can cause stunted growth as well as falling off growth curves. These things might also result in physical abnormalities or prolonged health problems in severe cases.

Deficiencies

Picky eating and lack of appetite can cause individuals to experience nutritional deficits along with calorie deficits. Moreover, malnutrition and other deficiencies contribute to symptoms like hair fall, body aches, fatigue, weakness, etc.

Being Severely Underweight

Like anorexia, it can cause individuals to fall down the spiral of weight loss, sometimes sending them to the hospital.

Co-occurring Anxiety Disorders

As in the Plus type, it is possible to develop other eating and anxiety-related disorders like OCD, Anorexia, etc. if you suffer from ARFID.

When present as a combination of various types of disorders, it can take serious forms and cause more harm to the patient's health.
Photo by Jack Sparrow from Pexels

Diagnosis of ARFID

Not many doctors are familiar with its diagnosis. But some of the most common questions they could ask you will surround whether you:

  • Have trouble eating
  • Only eat specific foods
  • Have food-related fears
  • Avoid food based on sensory factors
  • Experience weight loss
  • Experience fatigue
  • Take lots of supplements

How to Treat ARFID

Luckily, it has a treatment. However, it is really important to go see a doctor and get a personalized care plan to help recover well. Treatments may include:

Medical stabilization
Psychiatric stabilization
Nutritional rehabilitation
Weight restoration (when appropriate)

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