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* This is the Consumer Version. *

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

By Evelyn Attia, MD, B. Timothy Walsh, MD

Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder is characterized by eating very little food and/or avoiding eating certain foods.

People with this disorder eat very little and/or avoid eating certain foods. They may eat so little that they lose a substantial amount of weight. Children with the disorder may not grow as expected. Nutritional deficiencies are common and may become life threatening. Because of their problems with eating, these people have difficulty participating in normal social activities, such as eating with other people and maintaining relationships with others.

Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder typically begins during childhood and may initially resemble the picky eating that is common during childhood. For example, children may refuse to eat certain foods or foods of a certain color, consistency, or odor. However, picky eating typically involves only a few foods, and children who are picky eaters, unlike those with this disorder, have a normal appetite, eat enough food overall, and grow and develop normally.

Diagnosis

  • A doctor's evaluation

  • Tests to check for physical disorders

  • Evaluation for other mental disorders

When people eat so little that they lose weight and develop nutritional deficiencies, doctors typically do tests for physical disorders that can cause such problems. Such physical disorders include food allergies, digestive tract disorders that impair food absorption (malabsorption—see Overview of Malabsorption), and cancer.

Doctors also consider other mental disorders that lead to weight loss, such as other eating disorders, depression, and schizophrenia.

Treatment

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy may be used to help people with this disorder learn to eat normally. It can help them feel less anxious about what they eat.

* This is the Consumer Version. *