Oftentimes, children are classified as “picky eaters” when they refuse to eat all of the food on their plate, or they don’t like certain foods that are commonly eaten. However, there are times when picky eating can manifest into something more extreme, an eating disorder known as avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder, or ARFID. Thus, it’s important to make the distinction between picky children and children who suffer from ARFID, because grouping them in the same category contributes to the misinformation surrounding eating disorders.
ARFID is an eating disorder in which individuals “experience disturbed eating either due to a lack of interest in eating or distaste for certain smells, tastes, colors, textures, or temperatures,” (Petre, 2019). This causes the sufferer to purposely engage in restrictive eating habits in order to avoid certain foods, which ultimately causes them to severely restrict their calorie intake. It is important to note that picky eaters and ARFID are not the same things, as ARFID goes beyond the scope of picky eating. It typically develops during early childhood, but it is not exclusive to children and can extend into adulthood. There is nothing specific that causes this type of eating disorder. Rather, there is a list of contributing factors that can influence a person’s predisposition for ARFID. ARFID and anorexia are similar, as both foci on restricting food intake. However, those who suffer from ARFID do not share the same concerns about body image or weight as those who suffer from anorexia.
Children who have ARFID can experience serious health consequences due to their restrictive eating habits. This can lead to stunted growth and a lack of weight gain, whereas in adults, the main health concern is extreme weight loss (National Eating Disorders Association, 2018). Other symptoms include impaired immune function, dizziness, gastrointestinal problems, and menstrual irregularities (National Eating Disorders Association, 2018). Since the body is essentially starved of essential nutrients, serious health problems can arise from eating disorders such as ARFID. If a child has other mental illnesses where eating disorders may be one of the symptoms—such as anxiety, developmental delays, or autism—these co-occurring diagnoses might make the mental health issues worsen. In addition, if a person is genetically or biologically predisposed to ARFID, a stressor or traumatic event may trigger their eating disorder tendencies (“What is ARFID,” 2020). Recognizing how ARFID interacts with other co-occurring illnesses is essential in order to get the proper care for it.
While this disorder is serious, there are treatment options available. Eating disorders are mental health disorders as well, and need to be evaluated as such (Petre, 2018). As always, seeking help from a professional is important to overcome unhealthy eating patterns and ways of thinking, but there are other methods that can be used to treat ARFID, like specialized care programs and cognitive therapy. There are many ways that eating disorders can affect the body, so seeking treatment can help prevent further health conditions and mental health issues.
Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). National Eating Disorders Association. (2018, February 22). https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/by-eating-disorder/arfid.
Petre, A. (2019, October 30). Learn about 6 common types of eating disorders and their symptoms. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/common-eating-disorders.
What is ARFID: Symptoms, causes, and complications. (2020). https://centerfordiscovery.com/conditions/arfid/.