ARFID Treatment
Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder, or ARFID, can often be brushed off as a phase or just picky eating. But the reality is that ARFID is a serious eating disorder that can significantly impact a person’s mental and physical health, and it requires professional treatment. The good news is that there are effective, evidence-based approaches for treating ARFID in both children and adults. With the right support, it’s possible for everyone struggling with ARFID to normalize their eating habits and build a healthier, more peaceful relationship with food.  Read on to learn more about what to expect from ARFID treatment and when it’s time to get help. 
What to expect from ARFID treatment 
ARFID is a bit different from other eating disorders, as the behaviors associated with it don’t usually stem from body image issues or a desire to lose weight. Because of this, treatment requires a somewhat different approach, but—just as with other diagnoses—the goal is still to work through the nutritional, behavioral, psychological, and physiological components of the eating disorder. 
Addressing malnourishment
Although concerns about weight don't play a role in ARFID behaviors, ARFID can cause notable weight loss, so weight restoration is often the first step treatment. Regardless of whether or not weight gain is needed, patients will also work with their care team to address any nutritional deficiencies. It’s important to tackle these elements first, because when a person’s brain is malnourished, it’s nearly impossible for them to make progress in other areas of treatment. 
Normalizing eating habits
The next and biggest step in ARFID treatment is to normalize eating habits and expand the amount and variety of food a person will eat. This can be done in a variety of different ways, but often involves a therapist, dietitian, or both, who can help patients incorporate new foods in a safe environment. Patients also work with their providers to address the factors that are contributing to their limited intake, learning strategies and skills to handle tough emotions that arise around food.
Managing other factors
ARFID treatment should also take into account gastrointestinal disorders, food sensitivities and allergies, or sensory processing disorders, all of which could contribute to ARFID symptoms. Because ARFID often co-occurs with neurodivergent conditions like ADHD and autism, treatment should also be adjusted to accommodate each patient’s unique needs and abilities.
Treatment for ARFID is multifaceted. Some of its components include:
During treatment for ARFID, patients work with a therapist to address the anxieties, fears, trauma, and other issues behind their limited intake. They’ll develop coping strategies and skills to manage these feelings and establish a healthier relationships with food.
Nutrition therapy
Normalizing eating habits is a cornerstone of all eating disorder treatment, and with ARFID, the main focus is usually expanding food variety. Patients will work with a dietitian to gradually and safely increase the amount and quantity of food eaten.
Support system
While it’s possible to go through eating disorder treatment alone, it can make the journey much more difficult. Involving family, friends, or other loved ones is associated with better outcomes and more sustainable recovery. Loved ones can provide accountability, motivation, and emotional support.
What does ARFID treatment look like at Equip? 
Eating disorders show up in different ways from person to person, so treatment can’t be one-size-fits-all. At Equip, we individualize our approach to ARFID treatment based on a patient’s unique needs, challenges, and life circumstances. But no matter the specifics of treatment, all patients are matched with a dedicated 5-person care team.
The team includes:
Licensed therapist
ARFID behaviors, such as avoidance and fear of food, can stem from psychological and emotional concerns. Past food-related trauma can also play a role in the symptoms. Patients will work with their Equip therapist to get to the root cause of ARFID behaviors and learn to adjust thought patterns when faced with unfamiliar or anxiety-producing foods.
Registered dietitian
Because expanding food variety and establishing normal eating habits is key to ARFID treatment, a registered dietitian plays a central role in the process. Dietitians help with meal planning and accountability around eating, as well as nutrition education. They work with patients to safely and gradually introduce a wider variety of foods, including facing fear foods.  All of our dietitians are registered dietitians (RDs) or registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs).
Medical provider
When you’re eating an extremely limited diet, it’s quite likely that you’re missing out on certain key nutrients that your body needs to function properly. Equip medical care providers help patients address any nutritional deficiencies as well as monitor weight and stay on top of health issues that might come up during treatment.  
Peer mentor
A lot of people with ARFID feel misunderstood, especially if their behavior has been dismissed as “just” picky eating. At Equip, patients are matched with a peer mentor who has lived experience recovering from an eating disorder and knows what they’re going through. They’ll provide understanding, motivation, and validation, and serve as living proof that recovery is possible.
Family mentor
Supporting a loved one through ARFID treatment can feel isolating, which is why each patient’s loved ones are matched with a family mentor who has helped someone in their life overcome an eating disorder. They’ll be a listening ear, providing the empathy, support, and practical advice that’s so crucial to the recovery process.
Treatment modalities we use at EquipAt Equip, we pull from the leading evidence-based modalities to tailor treatment to each patient’s unique needs, symptoms, and food-related fears. Some of the approaches we use in ARFID treatment include:
Exposure and response prevention has been shown to be highly effective in treating ARFID. Since ARFID is rooted in fear, sensitivity to, and avoidance of certain foods, gradual exposure to those foods can be key to slowly shifting emotional and thought patterns and behaviors. ERP provides a safe and supportive space to become accustomed to and more comfortable with avoided foods. 
This type of specialized CBT works to specifically address and adjust the thought patterns that contribute to ARFID behaviors. Patients will work with their therapist to notice and challenge the thoughts and feelings that contribute to their limited intake, and adjust their behavior accordingly.
FBT is the leading evidence-based approach for eating disorders in young people, and FBT-AR is a special form of FBT meant specifically for ARFID. FBT empowers a patient’s family to take a central role in treatment and provide the accountability and support they need to recover.
During the first week of Equip treatment, patients meet with all of their providers, and these sessions will remain fairly frequent for the first few weeks. As patients move toward recovery, sessions taper off, and we’ll continue to monitor progress and adjust our treatment approach if something’s not working. In addition to provider sessions, patients and their loved ones also have the opportunity to attend ARFID-specific group sessions. All treatment at Equip is fully virtual, allowing you to access evidence-based care from your own home and fit treatment around your life, not the other way around. 
When to seek ARFID treatment
Since ARFID is often labeled as “picky eating” and frequently shows up in children, it’s easy to assume that a person will grow out of the symptoms. But there’s a difference between ARFID and normal food preferences, and if someone is dealing with the former, it’s important to seek treatment as soon as you’re concerned.  While treating any eating disorder, at any age, is important, ARFID symptoms can be particularly concerning in children, as it can interfere with a child’s development and lead to long-lasting medical issues if left untreated. While developmental issues and stunted growth aren’t concerns for adults with ARFID, there are a number of other serious health risks that affect people of all ages. Eating a diet that doesn’t provide your body with adequate nutrition can lead to weak bones, stunted growth, hormonal disruptions, and heart issues, among other issues.  ARFID is a serious eating disorder, and if you’re concerned about yourself or a loved one, it’s important not to ignore that feeling. Untreated ARFID can seriously impair health and quality of life, but with the right care, lasting recovery is possible for everyone struggling.
of children may have ARFID
as much as 2% of adults may have ARFID
Take the next step
Get in touch with our team today to learn more about ARFID treatment at Equip or to schedule a free consultation.
1. Keery, Helene, et al. “Attributes of Children and Adolescents with Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder.” Journal of Eating Disorders, vol. 7, no. 31, 2019. 2. Sader, Michelle, Holly A. Harris, et al. “Prevalence and Characterization of Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder in a Pediatric Population.” JAACAP Open 1, no. 2 (2023): 116–27.