An unhealthy relationship with food or eating may cause some people to develop maladaptive behaviors, including avoiding or restricting good intake. Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) is a form of disordered eating. According to Pediatrics in Review, “Prevalence of ARFID has ranged from 1.5%−23% among children and adolescents who presented to day treatment programs for eating disorders.” The disorder is rare in adults. However, anyone at any age can develop ARFID. Exclusive Hawaii Rehab helps clients build healthier relationships with food and manage symptoms of ARFID.

What Is Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder?

ARFID is a form of disordered eating that causes individuals to be highly selective in the types of foods they eat. According to Current Psychiatry Reports, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, defined ARFID “as a failure to meet nutritional needs leading to low weight, nutritional deficiency, dependence on supplemental feedings, and/or psychosocial impairment.” The motivation for restricting or avoiding foods is generally unrelated to body image or fear of weight gain.

Anyone can develop eating disorders (EDs) like ARFID. However, some factors may increase the risk, including:

  • Trauma related to food or eating, including starvation, food being withheld as punishment, force-feeding, or choking on food
  • Neurological or developmental disabilities
  • Extreme dislike of certain textures
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and other mental health disorders
  • Family history of mental health disorders or EDs
  • Fear of certain foods due to allergies or other medical conditions

Some people may not have a conscious motivation behind their avoidant/restrictive behaviors. According to Current Pediatrics Supports, “[T]hese behaviors cannot be due to food insecurity or culturally accepted practices; are not motivated by fear of weight gain or weight/shape overvaluation as in anorexia nervosa (AN) or bulimia nervosa (BN); and are not better explained by another medical or psychological disorder.”

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Health Side Effects of Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

The compulsion to eat only specific foods may cause some people to experience mild to severe health issues. Lack of proper nutrition makes it harder for the body to absorb essential vitamins and minerals. Adolescents and young adults are especially prone to experiencing more severe health issues due to restrictive eating habits. Younger individuals need essential vitamins and minerals for healthy growth and cognitive function.

Health side effects of ARFID include:

  • Malnutrition
  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • Dependency on supplements
  • Extreme weight loss

ARFID may affect the immune system and other essential body systems. The strict avoidance or restriction of food decreases the body’s ability to absorb critical nutrients, affecting overall health.

Signs and Symptoms of Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

The signs and symptoms of ARFID vary significantly depending on multiple factors, including age, gender, and the disorder’s underlying cause. Often, people with ARFID experience emotional distress when they touch or eat foods with certain textures or other characteristics they find disturbing. In some cases, this makes it difficult for people to engage socially with others or causes increased anxiety related to eating in public.

Some of the most common signs and symptoms of ARFID include:

  • Significant weight loss
  • Noticeable avoidance of certain foods or food groups
  • Strict rituals or habits surrounding meals, food, and eating

Adolescents and young adults with ARFID may experience growth issues and poor nutrition if they have a very limited diet. Experts at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab help clients identify the root cause of behavioral and mental health issues to help them heal and successfully manage their condition.

How Do Social Expectations Affect Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder?

Unhealthy expectations, internalized stigmas, or social pressures cause many eating disorders. People with ARFID are more likely to be influenced by cultural or social expectations. According to Pediatrics and Child Health, “Many researchers have hypothesized that the media may play a central role in creating and intensifying the phenomenon of body dissatisfaction and consequently, may be partly responsible for the increase in the prevalence of eating disorders.”

Cultural pressures may cause some people to focus on the following factors when choosing what foods to eat:

  • Clean
  • Attractive/healthy-looking
  • “Pure”
  • Eco-friendly
  • Locally sourced
  • Unprocessed
  • Organic

Religious or spiritual beliefs may also limit what people choose to eat. In some cases, individuals hyper-focus on social or cultural expectations and severely restrict their food intake to meet unrealistic or unhealthy standards. The treatment for ARFID involves nutritional coaching and psychoeducation to help clients build healthier relationships with food.

Experience True Healing

Our deeply-caring staff and the surrounding natural beauty offer an unparalleled healing experience.

Treatment Options at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab

The clinical team at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab is certified to treat primary and secondary eating disorders, including ARFID. Clients collaborate with the care team to create personalized treatment plans.

Some of the treatments and services offered at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • Experiential therapy
  • Nutrition therapy and education
  • Art therapy
  • Music therapy
  • Personal development
  • Nature immersion
  • Traditional Hawaiian therapy: Ho’oponopono
  • Redefining self-narrative
  • Acupuncture
  • Yoga
  • Bodywork/Energy work
  • Massage Therapy
  • Person-centered therapy
  • Emotional freedom technique (EFT)
  • Trauma-informed therapy

Many people with EDs like ARFID have co-occurring mental health or substance use disorders (SUDs) requiring treatment. The dedicated care team is experienced in providing a wide range of treatments. Exclusive Hawaii Rehab offers a full continuum of care to ensure clients receive the level of support they need to heal.