ARFID: What is it and how can you help?

ARFID is a serious eating disorder that can affect anyone of any age. However, it is more common amongst autistic adults and children, with studies suggesting that up to 33% of autistic people may meet the criteria for ARFID.

Unfortunately, awareness of ARFID is still much lower than other eating disorders, both amongst the general public and medical professionals, so today we shine a light on this condition and how we can help our children with ARFID.

What does ARFID stand for?

ARFID stands for Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder. It is an eating disorder characterised by a person avoiding certain foods or types of food, having a restricted food intake, or both. It is not ‘fussy eating’ and it is not related to beliefs about weight or body image.
Often people with ARFID will only have a limited number of ‘safe foods’ that they can eat and will show little interest in food. They can also become highly anxious around food.

People with ARFID may struggle to eat, eat the same foods over and over, find it difficult to recognise they are hungry or eat very slowly or very quickly.

It is not as well-known as other eating disorders and support varies around the UK.

What causes ARFID?

Generally, the causes of ARFID tend to fall under three categories:

  • Sensory avoidance – issues with food taste, texture, smell or temperature
  • Fear of adverse consequences – fear of choking, illness, vomiting or allergies
  • Lack of interest in food.

Everyone is different and a person with ARFID may fall into one, or all three, of these categories. They may also have a different reason. ARFID is often related to a personal experience with food.

How to help a child with ARFID?

If you suspect your child has ARFID, talk to their GP. Unfortunately, it is still not widely understood by the medical profession so you may want to bring resources to explain. The eating disorders charity BEAT offers information, advice and support for ARFID.
ARFID can cause long-term physical as well as mental damage and it is important to seek help, even if the child is not under weight.

Do not try and force a child with ARFID to eat or try new foods. Instead, be supportive and help them to feel as comfortable as possible. Talk to them about what would make them feel safer eating.

Ideas to make eating more comfortable

If you have a child with ARFID, the priority should be to ensure they feel comfortable eating and that they have access to their safe food as much as possible. Be prepared to be flexible at mealtimes.

Everyone is different but here are some suggestions for making eating a safer experience for someone with ARFID:

  • Eating in front of the TV or a tablet might help them eat more as they are distracted.
  • They may prefer to eat alone and not at the table if other foods/chewing sounds bother them.
  • They may prefer small frequent snacks to meals.
  • They may want one person to sit with them while they eat to reduce their anxiety.
  • They may prefer to avoid eating out or any social eating.
  • They may want to try supplements or vitamins to help prevent nutritional deficiencies.

Understanding and support for ARFID is growing every day and we hope to raise awareness of the condition so more young people can get the help they need.


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