Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)

ARFID is a serious eating disorder where you restrict certain types of food, or the amount of food that you consume. Unlike in anorexia, people with ARFID do not restrict food as an attempt to influence their appearance.

What is ARFID?

ARFID is a serious eating disorder characterised by highly selective eating habits, sensitivity to food textures, or fear of unpleasant consequences from eating, such as choking or vomiting.

Unlike other eating disorders, ARFID is not associated with body image concerns. It can affect individuals of any age, leading to significant nutritional deficits and impacting physical and emotional health. Those with ARFID may avoid entire food groups, resulting in weight loss, stunted growth, and developmental issues, particularly in children.

What Causes ARFID?

The causes of ARFID are not fully understood, but a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors is believed to play a role. We tend to see clients who have developed ARFID as an anxiety response, or because the sensory challenges of food are overwhelming for them.

You may have had negative experiences with food, such as choking or vomiting, which lead to a fear of eating in case the traumatic experience is repeated.

Or, you might have sensory sensitivities to textures, tastes, or smells, making certain foods intolerable. Genetic predispositions and neurodevelopmental conditions, such as autism, can also contribute to the development of ARFID. 

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Is ARFID Serious?

Yes – ARFID can be extremely serious.

Because ARFID involves restricting your food intake, it can lead to severe malnutrition which can result in significant health complications.

Malnutrition can damage your physical health and increase the risk of hospitalisation. In the most serious cases, malnutrition from ARFID can result in bone weakness, organ failure and death.

ARFID can also severely impact psychological well-being, causing intense stress, anxiety, and social isolation.

Can I Recover from ARFID?

Recovery from ARFID is usually possible, but the pathway can vary significantly, particularly if you have sensory sensitivity problems related to autism. If this is the case, managing ARFID often involves developing strategies to cope with sensory sensitivities and gradually expanding the variety of foods you can tolerate. While full recovery may not always be possible, significant improvements can be achieved, massively reducing the risks posed by malnutrition.

What Does Treatment Look Like?

If you developed ARFID because of anxiety or OCD, treatment usually involves regular appointments with an eating disorder specialist therapist who can help you to process and manage the anxiety around food, gradually increasing your nutritional intake.

If you developed ARFID because you experience sensory sensitivity, treatment involves learning how to manage and gradually expand the range of foods that you can eat.

When this is the case, you may benefit from working with our specialist dietitian who can help you to identify the foods and meal combinations that work for you.

How do I start treatment?

We know that it’s a massive deal asking for support whether it’s for yourself or someone you care about. We want to make working with us as easy and straightforward as possible.

So that you know what to expect, these are the steps that you’ll go through when you first contact us:

1. Please contact us on whichever method you prefer.

When you contact us we will ask your full name name, phone number and email address. We will also ask if you have any questions.

2. We will arrange an initial consultation for you, usually within 1-2 weeks.

The initial consultation is free and is a chance for you to meet one of our therapists. The consultation can be in person at our clinic or held online, whichever is best for you.

3. We will email you an admin form which needs to be completed before your initial consultation.

4. You have your initial consultation.

We will discuss what’s going on for you and you can ask any questions that you have for us. If both the therapist and you agree that our service could help you to recover, we’ll discuss your availability for regular appointments.

5. We will arrange your first therapy appointment

This is where your treatment with us, and more importantly your recovery, starts.