What is Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder?
8/3/2023 by Jessica Nelson
Is your child experiencing extreme picky eating that is impacting the ability to grow? Do you wonder if it's just a phase or if it can indicate something more serious? Your child may have an eating disorder called Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, or ARFID.
What is ARFID?
- Extreme picky eating and a general lack of interest in eating that progressively worsens over time.
- Avoiding certain textures, smells or colors of foods.
- Eating a limited variety of preferred foods.
- Weight loss that causes delayed development and growth — however, in some instances the child may be at a normal weight.
- Fears of vomiting or choking on certain foods.
- Gastrointestinal symptoms such as upset stomach or feeling full.
ARFID is more common in children and young adolescents. It can also develop in late adolescence and adulthood as well. A child with picky eating tendencies typically will outgrow this habit by a certain age; however, a child with ARFID tends to get pickier over time.
ARFID is diagnosed by the symptoms present. If your child does have ARFID, the disorder requires proper treatment with a team who specializes in eating disorders. This approach includes a clinician, a psychotherapist and a dietitian who can help come up with strategies for healthy eating patterns.
How can parents help?
Be supportive and encourage positive attitudes about eating healthy and nutritious foods.
Consider these tips to support healthy eating for kids and families:
- Be a role model. Serve and eat a variety of foods.
- Schedule regular meals and snacks.
- Share meals together as a family.
- Encourage your child to try new foods but don't pressure them. If they refuse it, keep offering, as it can take up to 10 times for your child's taste buds to accept a new food.
- Get creative. Prepare foods that are arranged in fun and colorful shapes. Kids love finger foods. Cut foods into solid bite-sized pieces to prevent choking.
- Introduce foods with a similar color and texture. If your child likes pumpkin pie, try doing mashed sweet potatoes and then mashed carrots.
- Involve children in meal prepping with assigned tasks such as sifting, counting ingredients or stirring. They'll be more interested in trying new foods they've helped prepare.
- Reward positive eating behaviors with an activity, such as going for a walk, a bike ride or extra time outside playing.
Having a child with ARFID can be challenging for both the parents and the child. If you think your child may have ARFID, reach out to your healthcare provider. Treating the condition early on and getting the support of your care team is the best way to successfully treat and promote healthy growth and development.
Jessica Nelson is a clinical dietetics intern at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. She received her Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics from New York University.