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ARFID (Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake)

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What is ARFID?

ARFID is a new diagnosis which is still not well understood. It is characterized by the avoidance of food, and it has been linked to anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders.

The avoidance of food may be triggered by a number of things including social anxiety or fear of vomiting in public. In addition to limiting the amount of food a person eats, avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) patients have selective eating and limit the type and quantity of food they eat in fear of gaining weight.

ARFID causes an eating disturbance, to avoid food out of a fear of aversive consequences. As a result, serious health risks occur, and essential nutrients are missed which will affect one's physical health. The result can be significant weight loss, nutritional deficiencies, or a dependence on tube feeding. Unlike anorexia, ARFID is not caused by social or cultural practices and cannot be attributed to body image or body shape concerns.

Signs of Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)

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The avoidance of food can be due to a variety of reasons, such as:

  • Sensory sensitivities
  • Food intolerances
  • Stomach cramps
  • Low blood pressure
  • Brittle nails
  • Hair loss
  • Upset stomach
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Boredom or lack of interest in food

Risk Factors for Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)

There are two main risk factors for ARFID: genetics and environment. If someone has a family history of an eating disorder, they are more likely to also have ARFID. Additionally, if someone has had traumatic experiences with food or has been exposed to negative messages about food, they may be more likely to develop ARFID.

What is Picky Eating?

Picky eating disorder is a psychological condition where the person has eating habits that cause them to refuse to eat certain foods. This is primarily due to the desire for significant weight loss. They may also restrict food intake due to early satiety. This can be caused by many factors such as sensory characteristics with texture and taste preferences, or anxiety about food.

As per DSM-5, picky eating disorder is not a separate diagnosis but rather a symptom of other conditions such as anorexia or autism spectrum disorders.

Health Concerns with ARFID

ARFID is a complex psychiatric disorder characterized by a limited eating pattern. ARFID symptoms can lead to a wide range of complications and health risks, including weight loss or weight gain, concurrent medical condition such as cardiovascular disease, poor growth and psychosocial functioning, and poor self-esteem.

While picky eating and fussy eating are common in early childhood, severely restricting food intake is harmful to a person's health. The resulting nutritional deficiencies and other symptoms of ARFID can have devastating consequences.

ARFID Treatment

Because ARFID can be categorized with psychiatric disorders, the best form of treatment is cognitive behavioral therapy with a mental health professional. Early intervention is crucial. Treatment for Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) varies based on the specific presentation of the disorder, but the crux is the same: decrease the avoidance and restriction of food.

Treatment for ARFID involves helping patients regain a normal intake of foods, increasing the low appetite, variety, and volume of their food intake. To achieve this goal, patients must be given a dietary regimen and practice portion control.

Turning Point of Tampa and ARFID

Feeding Disturbance And Food Avoidance Need A Mental Health Professional And Cognitive Behavioral Therapy | Turning Point of Tampa

For those in need of residential treatment for an eating disorder like ARFID, Turning Point of Tampa provides services that are second to none. Turning Point of Tampa is one of the few facilities in Florida that is licensed to provide residential treatment to address ARFID.

Our clinical team works with each client to devise an individualized treatment plan with the goal of addressing warning signs and physical signs to recognize and address any eating disturbance. Each client meets with his or her individual therapist at a minimum of once every week. Solid group therapy is the keystone of our program.

Our facility is on a single campus, with a main building where we provide clinical services and adjacent duplexes where our clients reside. Located among these residential homes, which over the years have come to be known as “The Village,” is a staff office. We monitor our clients 24 hours a day and there are always staff members available for support.

All clients in residential treatment for an eating disorder (including ARFID clients) live together on campus. With access to a kitchen, it is important to address selective eating, food avoidance, and restrictive eating habits clinically in a safe environment.

What is Disordered Eating?

Disordered eating can be characterized by a severe diagnostic diagnosis that affects the way an individual eats. Common eating disorders are anorexia, bulimia, or a binge eating disorder. ARFID is different because it is not based on a person having a distorted body image or dissatisfaction with how they look.

Any disordered eating can become a dangerous condition with serious consequences for those who suffer from them. They are more common in women than in men and usually develop during adolescence or early adulthood. Men who suffer from ARFID also experience extreme shame and loneliness.

Eating disorders often start with dieting, which is followed by intense fear of weight gain and a distorted body image.

Eating Disorders and Anxiety Disorders

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, young people who are between ages 15 and 24 and have been diagnosed with anorexia nervosa have 10 times the risk of dying compared to peers who are their same age.

People with disordered eating often have a mental health disorder or history of a mental disorder such as depression, an anxiety disorder, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. People with eating disorders frequently are struggling with ways to cope with a mental illness and are using food behaviors to “fix” the problem.

If you have an eating disorder, an underlying mental health or psychological problem may be contributing to it. These problems can include:

  • low self-esteem
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • impulsive behavior
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • troubled relationships

Types of Eating Disorders

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Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is a psychological disorder that is characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating followed by purging. This disorder can be difficult to diagnose because people with bulimia may be thin and have no physical signs of being malnourished. The most common type of bulimia involves binging on large quantities of food, usually junk food, in a short amount of time and then vomiting or using laxatives to get rid of the food.

Arfid And Bulimia Nervosa A Mental Disorder To Achieve Expected Weight Gain | Turning Point of Tampa

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by a refusal to maintain a healthy body weight. The causes of anorexia are not fully understood, but it is thought that genetic, environmental, and psychological factors all play a part.

There is no single treatment for anorexia that has been shown to be effective for everyone. Treatment will be tailored to the individual and may include psychotherapy, medication, and family therapy.

Eating Particular Foods Over Preferred Foods To Not Gain Weight | Turning Point of Tampa

Other Eating Disorders

Other eating disorders include binge eating disorder, rumination disorder, pica and purging disorder. These eating disorders are less common, but still affect many individuals every day.

Normal Picky Eating Is Different Than Arfid | Turning Point of Tampa

Body Dysmorphia

Body dysmorphia an eating disorder characterized as a body image disturbance. It is a mental health condition in which a person spends too much time worrying about their appearance and becomes unhappy with the way they look. It can be hard to tell if someone has body dysmorphia because it is not always easy to see how someone feels about themselves.

Body dysmorphia is typically characterized by an obsessive preoccupation with an imagined or slight defect of one’s own physical appearance, often manifested by persistent attempts to reduce what is perceived as some sort of physical flaw (e.g., one’s height, weight, skin, nose size).