ARFID Symptoms
Everyone has food preferences, and some people are pickier than others. But when someone’s “pickiness” begins to negatively affect their life and health, they may be dealing with a condition known as avoidant restrictive food intake disorder, or ARFID. ARFID is much more than just picky eating: it’s an eating disorder that can be incredibly disruptive to life and poses serious risks to a person’s mental and physical health. But ARFID can also be tough to spot, since the line between normal “picky eating” and a concerning illness is sometimes hard to discern. This is especially true because ARFID often shows up in young children, who tend to go through developmentally normal stages of pickiness.  Fortunately, there are clear red flags to look out for that may indicate you or a loved one may be dealing with ARFID. Read on to learn more about what ARFID is, its common symptoms, and how to know if you should seek help. 
What is ARFID?
ARFID is an eating disorder characterized by not eating enough food, enough variety of food, or both. Someone with ARFID has such a limited diet that their body doesn’t get the nutrients or energy it needs to properly function. ARFID differs from other eating diagnoses in that its behaviors don’t stem from a desire to lose weight or look a certain way (which is why some people prefer to refer to it as a feeding disorder rather than an eating disorder). Regardless of how you choose to categorize it, ARFID is a serious condition that requires professional treatment from providers who specialize in ARFID. 
While ARFID can affect people of all ages, it’s especially prevalent in children. Symptoms are likely to start by the age of 12, with some children showing signs of ARFID at just six years old. Approximately 3.2% of children exhibit ARFID behaviors. Unlike other eating disorders, ARFID is equally common across genders.
People with ARFID struggle to eat enough food, and generally have a very short list of foods they’re willing to eat. These restrictive behaviors don’t stem from body image issues or fear of weight gain, but may be caused by: 
  • Extreme sensory sensitivity to tastes, textures, smells, and temperature
  • Fear of something bad happening when they eat (like choking, vomiting, or an allergic reaction, often after a traumatic event involving one of these outcomes)
  • Lack of interest in food
Co-occurrence with neurodivergence
Neurodivergence is often associated with ARFID. While not all people with ARFID have a neurodivergent condition, it’s common for people with autism or ADHD to have ARFID symptoms. The estimated rate for co-occurring autism and ARFID is up to 33.3%.
of children exhibit ARFID behaviors
The estimated rate for co-occurring autism and ARFID
Common ARFID symptoms
Like all eating disorders, ARFID looks different for everyone. The symptoms can vary from person to person depending on the causes of their limited food intake. But by being aware of the different ways ARFID symptoms can present, you can recognize when you or a loved one should seek professional treatment. Common ARFID symptoms include:
  • Eating very small amounts of food
  • Lack of expected weight gain or falling off the growth chart for growing kids and teens
  • Food sensory sensitivity
  • Fear of contamination, choking, or nausea from food
  • Inflexible eating habits, such as insisting on specific preparation of meals
  • Lack of appetite
  • Little to no interest in food
  • Difficulty trying new or unfamiliar foods
  • Reliance on nutritional supplements
Health risks of untreated ARFID 
While picky eating is a normal phase for kids, ARFID is a serious eating disorder that won’t go away on its own. Whether it occurs in kindergarten or middle age, ARFID can have serious physical health consequences (see below). Untreated ARFID can also be extremely disruptive to your life. ARFID can make it impossible to do things like travel, go to restaurants, eat with friends, and share family meals at home. It can also cause serious distress to both the person struggling and their loved ones.
ARFID symptoms can also lead to concerning medical issues, including
  • Nutritional deficiencies, like anemia
  • Hormonal disruptions
  • Stunted growth
  • Muscle weakness
  • Weakened bones
  • Heart issues
  • Kidney and liver failure
  • Low blood sugar
  • Constipation
  • Bloating and other gastrointestinal issues
  • Dry nails and hair 
  • Hair loss 
Recovery is possible
When you’re dealing with ARFID, it can feel isolating, especially since it’s often misunderstood or brushed off as picky eating. That’s why it’s essential to seek out a treatment team that’s well-versed in the nuances of ARFID and can help you or your loved one begin to normalize eating habits and build a relationship with food that allows for a full, free life. If you’ve noticed ARFID symptoms in yourself or a loved one, don’t wait to get help. Get in touch with our team today to learn more about ARFID treatment at Equip or to schedule a free consultation.
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1. Inoue, Takeshi, et al. “Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder and Autistic Traits in Children with Anorexia Nervosa and Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder.” BioPsychoSocial Medicine, vol. 15, no. 9, 17 May 2021.