15 avoidant restrictive food intake disorder signs to be aware of

Your mental health can be affected by a variety of everyday stresses, such as family issues and work deadlines. But food can also impact your mental health, which is why eating disorders and mental health are always linked. People with eating disorders often have mental illnesses that result in harmful eating habits stemming from negative thoughts, anxiety and low self-esteem. 

Eating disorders can refer to restrictive, compulsive and irregular eating patterns, and they affect 9% of the American population. That adds up to more than 28 million people living with an eating disorder in the United States. 

There are many types of eating disorders that you may be familiar with, such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. But avoidant restrictive food intake disorder is one that people should learn about, as it can often be confused with other issues.

What is avoidant restrictive food intake disorder?

Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder, usually referred to as ARFID, is a selective eating disorder that refers to people limiting their food intake to a point where it causes a negative impact on their health. They aren’t consuming enough calories for the body to function properly, and it can cause issues both physically and socially. It often develops in childhood but can affect people of all ages

ARFID is similar to anorexia nervosa, as they both revolve around limiting food intake. But unlike anorexia, ARFID does not stem from fear of weight gain or a distorted body image. 

Since ARFID often develops in childhood, it can be mistaken for picky eating habits. 

Possible causes of avoidant restrictive food intake disorder

While there hasn’t been an exact cause of ARFID found by research, there are a few possible reasons that a child or adult may develop the eating disorder.

People have a greater likelihood of developing ARFID if they also:

  • Have autism spectrum disorder
  • Have anxiety or another mental illness
  • Don’t outgrow picky eating habits
  • Had a traumatic eating experience, such as vomiting or choking
  • Have extreme sensitivity to food texture or taste

15 possible signs and symptoms of avoidant restrictive food intake disorder

ARFID can manifest itself as both physical and behavioral symptoms. If you believe that someone in your life, either a child or adult, may have ARFID, there are quite a few signs and symptoms that you should be on the lookout for.

Signs and symptoms of avoidant restrictive food intake disorder include:

  1. Dramatic weight loss
  2. Consistent excuses of vague gastrointestinal issues around mealtime, such as “I’m full”
  3. Lack of appetite
  4. Only eating food with certain textures
  5. Narrowing range of preferred food
  6. Fear of choking or vomiting
  7. Stomach cramps
  8. Dizziness
  9. Always feeling cold
  10. Menstrual irregularities
  11. Muscle weakness
  12. Difficulty concentrating
  13. Anemia
  14. Low blood cell counts
  15. Slow wound healing

Treatment of avoidant restrictive food intake disorder

If you, or someone you know, are showing signs of ARFID, there are a few treatment options. It’s important that the treatment tackles both the nutritional health issues of the disorder, as well as the mental health issues behind it.

Treatment options for ARFID include:

  • Nutritional supplements
  • Nutritional guidance from a dietitian
  • Medication
  • Therapy

Therapy for avoidant restrictive food intake disorder

ARFID is often linked with mental health disorders, especially anxiety. Therapy helps you tackle the internal struggles that are rooted in the eating disorder, which can help with long-term treatment and improve your overall health.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one method of therapy that may be recommended by a mental health provider for ARFID. CBT helps you to recognize how feelings, thoughts and actions influence each other. It has been known to help with eating disorders because it tackles the thoughts and feelings from anxiety that manifest into harmful eating habits.

Lightfully Behavioral Health can help individuals who have avoidant restrictive food intake disorder in addition to their primary mental health disorder 

Eating disorders of any kind can stem from other mental illnesses that need to be treated. It’s important to seek long-term support for ARFID because it can prevent the body from getting the proper nutrition needed for energy and a strong immune system.

We offer four programs at our mental health treatment centers to assist you with your mental health journey: residential treatment, Virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (vIOP), Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), and Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP), also called our Day Treatment Program. 

Change is possible. When you’re ready to take the first step, reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team. We’ll take the next steps together, toward the fullest, brightest version of you.

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