Know a Child Who’s a Picky Eater? Arfid Is Becoming More Common in Adults, Too
Children are notorious for being picky eaters. But if you’ve been around many adults while making their food choices, you might’ve noticed that some — maybe it’s even you — are set in their ways.
It’s common for us to say we don’t like something when, in fact, we’ve never tried it or might’ve tried it once a long, long time ago. At some point, this food avoidance can turn into a psychological condition called ARFID, or avoidant-restrictive food intake disorder.
This condition causes the individual to refuse to eat certain foods because of their texture, color, smell, or other factors. In some cases, the person with ARFID is concerned they will get sick or choke on the food.
ARFID in adults is frequently overlooked or seen as someone being a “picky eater.” The reality is that ARFID is a psychological disorder that can have significant health effects, like unhealthy weight loss, vitamin deficiencies, and mental decline. But how do you know the difference between a person with a particularly sensitive palate and someone with ARFID? We’ll dig into that question here.
Understanding ARFID Versus Anorexia and Bulimia
While ARFID falls into the same psychological category as other avoidant-restrictive food intake disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia, there’s a significant difference between the diagnoses.
Anorexia and bulimia often (but not always) stem from an obsession with the person’s body shape or weight. The individual purposely avoids food or eats and then purges the food before it can be digested in order to reach their “ideal” size, which is often unattainable or unhealthy.
ARFID, on the other hand, is the refusal to eat certain foods or any food because of a negative past experience with similar items. The individual isn’t concerned with their appearance. Rather, they think they will become sick or harmed if they eat that specific food. In severe cases of ARFID, this fear happens with all food, causing the need for a feeding tube.
ARFID in Children Versus Adults
Most young children don’t have the life experiences to rationalize with themselves, so it’s understandable that ARFID is more common in young people than in adults. If a child tries a food that is disgusting to them, they may internalize that response and decide to never eat that particular thing again. But when the avoidance measures extend to anything that reminds them of the food or comes from a fear-based onset, they may have ARFID.
As children get older, they can teach themselves or be taught how to rationalize their fears and adjust their eating habits. However, when they don’t “grow out of it,” ARFID can take control of their lives. Now that specialized diets like gluten-free and vegan meals are on the rise, ARFID cases are increasing, too. This type of eating restricts the person to a small variety of meals.
ARFID in adults can stem from the desire to lose or maintain weight. Unlike anorexia, the individual is eating but not getting the nutrients necessary to thrive. When uncontrolled, this restrictive measure becomes obsessive and can lead to nutrient-deprived depression, decreased quality of life, and obsessive-compulsive disorders. Generationally speaking, adults with ARFID can also pass this trait down to their children through exposure and modeling.
Treatment for Adult ARFID
The type of treatment for each case of ARFID in adults depends on factors such as the length of time they’ve had the disorder and what their ultimate goals are. Specialized counseling, such as exposure therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy, can help the patient determine and reach their goals by teaching strategies to handle anxiety, exposure, and thinking pattern adjustments.