Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder

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Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder
Other namesSelective eating disorder (SED)

Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), previously known as selective eating disorder (SED), is a type of eating disorder, where certain foods are limited based on appearance, smell, taste, texture, brand, presentation, or a past negative experience with the food, to a point that may damage their health. The person may forget to eat and may only eat when they are starving. ARFID is usually developed around 18 months and people with this eating disorder may have anxiety too.[1][failed verification]

Signs and symptoms[edit]

People with ARFID have an inability to eat certain foods. "Safe" foods may be limited to certain food types and even specific brands. In some cases, individuals with the condition will exclude whole food groups, such as fruits or vegetables. Sometimes excluded foods can be refused based on color. Some may only like very hot or very cold foods, very crunchy or hard-to-chew foods, or very soft foods, or avoid sauces.

Most people with ARFID will still maintain a healthy or typical body weight. There are no specific outward appearances associated with ARFID.[2] Sufferers can experience physical gastrointestinal reactions to adverse foods such as retching, vomiting or gagging. Some studies have identified symptoms of social avoidance due to their eating habits. Most, however, would change their eating habits if they could.[2]

Associated conditions[edit]

The determination of the cause of ARFID has been difficult due to the lack of diagnostic criteria and concrete definition. However, many have proposed other conditions that co-occur with ARFID.

There are different kinds of 'sub-categories' identified for ARFID:[3]

  • Sensory-based avoidance, where the individual refuses food intake based on smell, texture, color, brand, presentation
  • A lack of interest in consuming the food, or tolerating it nearby
  • Food being associated with fear-evoking stimuli that have developed through a learned history
  • Anorexia and bulimia often occur in individuals suffering from ARFID.[4]


Symptoms of ARFID are usually found with symptoms of other disorders or with neurodivergence. Some form of feeding disorder is found in 80% of children that also have a developmental disability.[5] Children often exhibit symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder and autism. Although many people with ARFID have symptoms of these disorders, they usually do not qualify for a full diagnosis. Strict behavior patterns and difficulty adjusting to new things are common symptoms in patients that are on the autistic spectrum.[2] A study done by Schreck at Pennsylvania State University compared the eating habits of children with ASD and typically developing children. After analyzing their eating patterns, they suggested that the children with some degree of ASD have a higher degree of selective eating. These children were found to have similar patterns of selective eating and favored more energy dense foods such as nuts and whole grains. Eating a diet of energy dense foods could put these children at a greater risk for health problems such as obesity and other chronic diseases due to the high fat and low fiber content of energy dense foods. Due to the tie to ASD, children are less likely to outgrow their selective eating behaviors and most likely should meet with a clinician to address their eating issues.[6][7]

Anxiety disorder[edit]

Specific food avoidances could be caused by food phobias that cause great anxiety when a person is presented with new or feared foods. Most eating disorders are related to a fear of gaining weight. Those who have ARFID do not have this fear, but the psychological symptoms and anxiety created are similar.[2] Some people with ARFID have fears such as emetophobia (fear of vomiting) or a fear of choking, but this is not common.


Diagnosis is often based on a diagnostic checklist to test whether an individual is exhibiting certain behaviors and characteristics. Clinicians will look at the variety of foods an individual consumes, as well as the portion size of accepted foods. They will also question how long the avoidance or refusal of particular foods has lasted, and if there are any associated medical concerns, such as malnutrition.[3] Unlike most eating disorders, there may be a higher rate of ARFID in young boys than there is in young girls.[8]


The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) renamed "Feeding Disorder of Infancy or Early Childhood" to Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, and broadened the diagnostic criteria. Previously defined as a disorder exclusive to children and adolescents, the DSM-5 broadened the disorder to include adults who limit their eating and are affected by related physiological or psychological problems, but who do not fall under the definition of another eating disorder.

The DSM-5 defines the following diagnostic criteria:[9]

  • Disturbance in eating or feeding, as evidenced by one or more of:
  • Disturbance not due to unavailability of food, or to observation of cultural norms
  • Disturbance not due to anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, and no evidence of disturbance in experience of body shape or weight
  • Disturbance not better explained by another medical condition or mental disorder, or when occurring concurrently with another condition, the disturbance exceeds what is normally caused by that condition

In previous years, the DSM was not inclusive in recognizing all of the challenges associated with feeding and eating disorders in 3 main domains:[3]

  • Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) was an all-inclusive, placeholder group for all individuals that presented challenges with feeding
  • The category of Feeding Disorder of Infancy/ Early Childhood was noted to be too broad, limiting specification when treating these behaviors
  • There are children and youth who present feeding challenges but do not fit within any existing categories to date

Children are often picky eaters, but this does not necessarily mean they meet the criteria for an ARFID diagnosis.


For adults[edit]

With time the symptoms of ARFID can lessen and can eventually disappear without treatment. However, in some cases treatment will be needed as the symptoms persist into adulthood. The most common type of treatment for ARFID is some form of cognitive-behavioral therapy. Working with a clinician can help to change behaviors more quickly than symptoms may typically disappear without treatment.[2]

There are support groups for adults with ARFID.[10]

For children[edit]

Children can benefit from a four stage in-home treatment program based on the principles of systematic desensitization. The four stages of the treatment are record, reward, relax and review.[2]

  • In the record stage, children are encouraged to keep a log of their typical eating behaviors without attempting to change their habits as well as their cognitive feelings.
  • The reward stage involves systematic desensitization. Children create a list of foods that they might like to try eating some day. These foods may not be drastically different from their normal diet, but perhaps a familiar food prepared in a different way. Because the goal is for the children to try new foods, children are rewarded when they sample new foods.
  • The relaxation stage is most important for those children that suffer severe anxiety when presented with unfavorable foods. Children learn to relax to reduce the anxiety that they feel. Children work through a list of anxiety-producing stimuli and can create a story line with relaxing imagery and scenarios. Often these stories can also include the introduction of new foods with the help of a real person or fantasy person. Children then listen to this story before eating new foods as a way to imagine themselves participating in an expanded variety of foods while relaxed.[2]
  • The final stage, review, is important to keep track of the child's progress. It is important to include both one-on-one sessions with the child, as well as with the parent in order to get a clear picture of how the child is progressing and if the relaxation techniques are working.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Fisher, Martin M.; Rosen, David S.; Ornstein, Rollyn M.; Mammel, Kathleen A.; Katzman, Debra K.; Rome, Ellen S.; Callahan, S. Todd; Malizio, Joan; Kearney, Sarah (2014-07-01). "Characteristics of Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder in Children and Adolescents: A "New Disorder" in DSM-5". Journal of Adolescent Health. 55 (1): 49–52. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2013.11.013. PMID 24506978.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Nicholls, D., Christie, D., Randall, L. and Lask, B.. (2001). "Selective Eating: Symptom, Disorder or Normal Variant." Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry. Vol 6(2): 257–270.
  3. ^ a b c Bryant-Waugh, R (2013). "Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder: An illustrative case example". International Journal of Eating Disorders. 46 (5): 420–423. doi:10.1002/eat.22093. PMID 23658083.
  4. ^ "Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)".
  5. ^ Chatoor, I.; Hamburger, E.; Fullard, R.; Fivera, Y. (1994). "A survey of picky eating and pica behaviors in toddlers". Scientific Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 10: 50.
  6. ^ Schreck KA, Williams K, Smith AF. A comparison of eating behaviors between children with and without Autism" Journal of Autism and Developmental Disabilities 2004; 34: 433-438.
  7. ^ Evans, E. (2013). Selective Eating and Autism Spectrum Disorder. In Behavioral Health Nutrition. Retrieved April 2, 2013, from "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-07-19. Retrieved 2013-04-16.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  8. ^ "Eating Disorder Statistics • National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders". National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. Retrieved 2017-12-11.
  9. ^ American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Highlights of Changes from DSM-IV-TR to DSM-5. Retrieved May 14, 2014, from "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-10-19. Retrieved 2013-10-23.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  10. ^ Wang, S. (2010, July 5). No Age Limit on Picky Eating. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved April 2, 2013, from https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748704699604575343130457388718

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