ARFID (Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder)What is ARFID?
ARFID is an eating disorder where a person struggles to eat enough food, enough different kinds of food, or both—but not because they want to lose weight or are trying to change the way their body looks. Instead, people with ARFID struggle to eat because of extreme sensory sensitivities, fear of a bad outcome from eating, or lack of interest in eating. Just like other eating disorders, ARFID can result in serious consequences for mental and physical health and can occur at any age, from young children to adults. ARFID has complex neurological and biological underpinnings, and is not a choice, a phase, or “just” picky eating. There’s no single cause of ARFID: it emerges out of a “perfect storm” of different factors.

ARFID signs and symptoms

  • Significant weight loss
  • Lack of weight gain or stunted growth in children and adolescents
  • Constipation, abdominal pain, and other gastrointestinal issues
  • Food limitations based on taste, texture, color, temperature, or brand
  • Severely limiting the amount and types of food eaten
  • Lack of appetite or interest in food
  • Fear of vomiting, choking, allergic reactions, or contamination
  • Fear of trying new or unfamiliar foods
  • Sleep problems
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Impaired immune function
  • Reliance on nutritional supplements like Boost, Ensure, or Carnation Instant Breakfast
Common questions about ARFID

ARFID treatment generally requires a slightly different approach than treatment for other eating disorders. As with treatment for other eating disorders, if a patient needs to gain weight, the initial focus of treatment is weight restoration. This is because when the body is malnourished, the brain is, too, and a malnourished brain doesn’t think clearly or take in new information well. For ARFID patients that don’t need to gain weight, treatments are focused on normalizing eating habits, reducing anxiety, and gradually increasing food variety to meet nutritional needs.

During treatment, patients and their supports also meet regularly with their treatment team to learn tools and skills that help them cope with the challenges of recovering from ARFID. To accomplish this, our clinicians may use different treatment modalities, including family-based treatment for ARFID (FBT-ARFID), cognitive behavioral therapy for ARFID (CBT-AR), and exposure and response prevention (ERP).

You can learn more about Equip’s approach to ARFID treatment on our blog.

While ARFID is identified more frequently in children (with the average age of onset hovering around 12 years old, and diagnoses in children as young as 6 years old), it does affect adults. Though research is limited, one study suggests that ARFID may account for 9.2% of adult eating disorders.

Research on ARFID is still relatively new compared to other eating disorders—we're still learning a lot about it! As with all eating disorders, there is likely no single identifiable cause of ARFID. While some ARFID cases can be triggered by a specific event that causes a fear of solid food—like choking, vomiting, or sickness—we still don’t know why some people who experience these events develop ARFID and others don’t.

Very early research suggests, though, that neurobiological and psychological factors are likely involved in the development of ARFID. You can learn more about the causes of eating disorders on our blog.

Studies suggest that there is a connection between ARFID and autism. One meta-analysis found that children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) were five times as likely to have feeding problems than children without ASD. Current research shows that autism occurs at higher rates in those with ARFID than in the general population: while the overall autism rate is 1.5%, estimates of co-occurring ARFID and ASD range from 12.5%-33.3%. You can learn more about autism and neurodivergence in eating disorders on our blog.

All Equip providers are trained in treating all eating disorder diagnoses, and our provider team includes many people with specific clinical expertise treating ARFID as well as those with lived experience recovering from ARFID or helping a loved one recover from ARFID. We’ve successfully treated many patients with ARFID, and are well-acquainted with the specific challenges this unique diagnosis can present and how to overcome them.

ARFID statistics and facts to know

  • Roughly 3.2% of children may have ARFID. Among children being treated for eating disorders, the rate is between 14-22.5%.
  • ARFID can start at any age, but the average age of diagnosis is younger than most other eating disorders. The average age when ARFID starts is 12 years old and can occur in children as young as 6.
  • ARFID is just as common in boys and men as in girls and women.
  • While people with ARFID can experience body dissatisfaction, a desire to lose weight or change one’s appearance is not a driving factor of the eating disorder.
  • Long-term problems from ARFID are serious, should be treated with the same sense of urgency as other eating disorders, and should not be dismissed as “picky eating.”
  • ARFID has serious consequences including heart problems, weak bones, hormonal disruptions, stunted growth, development of other mental health problems, and more.
  • Nearly half of children with ARFID fear vomiting or choking, and one-fifth say they avoid certain foods because of sensory issues, like disliking the texture or smell of a food. Research shows that co-occurring mental health conditions are common in ARFID, with the most common being anxiety disorders, followed by mood disorders and neurodivergent conditions such as autism and ADHD.
ARFID is a serious condition, but it is treatable, and lasting recovery is possible. If you think your loved one might be struggling with ARFID, finding treatment promptly is vital. Schedule a consultation.
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Our patients are getting better
ARFID is a relatively new diagnosis, so not all eating disorder providers are well-versed in its nuances. At Equip, our provider team includes those with in-depth ARFID expertise, as well as people with lived experience overcoming ARFID or supporting a loved one through ARFID recovery. We have successfully treated many ARFID patients and know how to navigate the specific challenges that come with this unique eating disorder.
Average weekly weight gain for those who need it
8 in 10
Patients report a decrease in eating disorder behaviors
Of patients report improvements with depression or anxiety
My daughter's eating disorder seemed insurmountable, but Equip truly saved her. The coordinated support was incredible and it is so easy to schedule sessions. I wholeheartedly recommend Equip.
Dad of a 16-year-old with anorexia
I was pervasively hopeless about recovering prior to finding Equip and now I feel so optimistic about my journey for the first time ever.
45-year-old with bulimia
Equip was there for us day and night. Any time we needed help they held our hands and walked us through the darkness; all we had to do was trust their professional expertise.
Sister of a 19-year-old with anorexia
Equip was the best thing that ever happened to me. Interacting with a team that truly cared about me was transformational. Last year, I felt broken. Today, I feel whole.
33-year-old with BED
This has been the missing link on our journey. The convenience of scheduling; virtual options; complete team of providers; it is saving my daughter's life.
Mother of a 13-year-old with ARFID
I love the team approach that touches every aspect. Their positive approach has inspired my son to want to improve and take a lot of the initiative to do so himself.
Mother of a 18-year-old with OSFED
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