Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID): Causes and Symptoms

Most of the time, children are picky eaters. Parents have to find tricky ways to get them to eat healthy or even to eat at all. However, when it comes to eating disorders, we have an entirely different issue on our hands.

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Could you kid be dealing with ARFID? Let’s find out what ARFID is and all we need to know about it.

What is Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)?

ARFID is not one of the most popular eating disorders, but it is a type of eating disorder. Children who have been diagnosed with ARFID show a great preference for very few types of food and avoid eating any other foods.

Unlike the other eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, which has to do with a drive to lose weight or be thin, children who have ARFID deal with anxiety related to the food and unrelated to the sufferer’s body image.

Signs and symptoms of Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)?

Many children of preschool-aged can be very picky eaters. Some of them may not eat foods that are green in color or foods that have a specific texture.

Typically, most kids will grow out of these habits or behaviors, but for kids who have Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), such actions persist, thus putting a limit to their nutrition and even harming their growth.

Children who have dealt with trauma or particular illness may suddenly show symptoms of ARFID or may develop it over time.

  • Having anxiety around foods in social situations
  • Avoiding situations that require them to eat
  • Sudden changes in eating habits
  • Growth challenges
  • Less than normal energy
  • Negotiating available food options
  • Suffering from nutrient deficiencies
  • Taking a long time to eat or finish a meal

Weight loss

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While many children dealing with ARFID mostly become underweight, children who are of average weight and overweight may also deal with this condition.

How is Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder diagnosed?

ARFID can only be diagnosed after a thorough outpatient assessment by a good child and adolescent psychiatrist or by a clinical therapist.

The ARFID diagnosis assessment includes:

  • A medical and psychiatric history
  • Evaluation by speech therapy or occupational therapy, if applicable
  • Evaluation by a gastroenterologist, if required

If an ARFID program is recommended after the assessment, the intake coordinator will have to schedule a partial hospital admission date with the child’s family.

What are the possible causes of Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder?

ARFID may have a variety of causes, and it sometimes starts in early childhood.

The causes of ARFID may include:

  • Food aversion or a complete lack of interest in eating food
  • Medical conditions that make a child become ill after eating
  • Previous trauma that involves food, such as an allergic reaction in the mouth, or choking
  • Sensory difficulties or disorders

All of these causes can make a child to feel anxious about eating food or food in general, especially if you try to make them eat foods they don’t typically eat.

How can Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder be treated?

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Children who have ARFID benefit from a treatment plan specially designed for them. Your pediatrician or health care professional may have to draw up a treatment plan if the hospital doesn’t have a department for treating this condition.

At most hospitals with all already drawn up a plan, your child’s treatment will include the following:

  • Daily group therapy, which includes multi-family group
  • Art, music, or recreational therapy
  • Individual therapy, which involves play therapy based on the child’s age
  • Family therapy

Parent education

During treatment, your child will be slowly exposed to new healthy foods or “challenge” foods. The child will also be taught coping skills, introduced to motivators, and a few other behaviors that will help them increase the types and amount of food they consume.

As a parent, you will also have to learn strategies to assist your child in continuing their progress toward more natural and normalize eating at home. Many parents will eventually feel more confident in their parenting skills once they go through successful treatment with their children.

ARFID is an eating disorder that must be treated early so that a child doesn’t grow with it. Nevertheless, parents must try to understand why their child behaves a certain way towards a certain kind of food and pay attention to symptoms that might have accompanied the consumption of such foods in the past.

We hope that you found this article helpful.
Please leave a comment below.

Emmanuella Ekokotu
Ekokotu Emmanuella is a sociologist and Anthropologist, writer, and fashion model who lives in Benin city, Edo state,Nigeria.

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