Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID)

What is Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder?

Shortened to ARFID, and previously referred to by a number of terms (including selective eating disorder, food phobia, food avoidance emotional disorder, and many others), avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder is an illness in which someone restricts their eating by eating smaller amounts of food, or avoiding certain foods or food groups. This means they don’t get all of the nutrients or amount of energy (calories) that they need, and they may need nutritional supplements or enteral (tube) feeding.

ARFID is different to other restrictive eating disorders such as anorexia and some cases of bulimia and OSFED (other specified feeding or eating disorder). Some of the key differences are that:

  • People with ARFID do not restrict their intake or avoid eating because of beliefs about the size and shape of their body. 
  • Someone with ARFID does not restrict their food intake for the specific purpose of losing weight. Someone with ARFID can be of any weight, depending on the nature of the restriction/avoidance.
  • ARFID doesn’t feature some of the other behaviour that can be associated with anorexia, bulimia, or OSFED, such as over-exercising.

If, based on someone’s symptoms, the doctor feels it would be appropriate to diagnose them with anorexia, bulimia, or OSFED, they wouldn’t diagnose the person with ARFID at the same time. However, it is possible that someone could be diagnosed with ARFID before or after experiencing another eating disorder. ARFID would not be diagnosed in someone who is fasting or chooses not to eat certain foods for religious or cultural reasons alone.

There are many different reasons that someone might develop ARFID. For example, they might be very sensitive to the taste, texture or appearance of certain types of food, or have had a distressing experience with food, such as choking or vomiting – this may cause the person to develop feelings of fear and anxiety around food, and lead to them to avoiding food. In some cases, the sufferer may simply be or appear to be uninterested in eating.

ARFID can affect anyone of any age, and is diagnosed more often in children than adults. People with autism, anxiety disorders, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder may be more likely to develop ARFID.

If you’re worried about yourself or somebody you know, it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible, as ARFID can lead to malnutrition if left untreated.

Possible signs of ARFID

  • Eating much less food than needed to stay healthy, or missing meals completely.
  • Sensitivity to aspects of some foods, such as the texture, smell, or temperature.
  • Appearing to be a “picky eater”.
  • Lack of interest in eating.
  • Attempting to avoid social events where food would be present.
  • Weight loss (or in children, not gaining weight as expected), or weight gain, depending on the nature of the restriction/avoidance.
  • Nutritional deficiencies, e.g. anaemia from low iron levels.
  • Needing to take supplements to make sure their nutritional needs are met.

Issue date: September 2017  Review date: September 2020 Version 2.0 Sources used to create this information are available by contacting Beat. We welcome your feedback on our information resources.