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Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)

By

Evelyn Attia

, MD, Columbia University Medical Center;


B. Timothy Walsh

, MD, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University

Last full review/revision Jun 2020
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Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder is characterized by restriction of food intake; it does not include having a distorted body image or being preoccupied with body image (as occurs in anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa).

Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder typically begins during childhood but may develop at any age. This disorder may initially resemble the picky eating that is common during childhood—when children refuse to eat certain foods or foods of a certain color, consistency, or odor. However, such food fussiness, unlike avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder, usually involves only a few food items, and the child's appetite, overall food intake, and growth and development are normal.

Patients with avoidant/restrictive food intake may not eat because they lose interest in eating or because they fear that eating will lead to harmful consequences such as choking or vomiting. They may avoid certain foods because of their sensory characteristics (eg, color, consistency, odor).

Symptoms and Signs of ARFID

Patients with avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder avoid eating food and restrict their food intake to such an extent that they have ≥ 1 of the following:

  • Significant weight loss or, in children, failure to grow as expected

  • Significant nutritional deficiency

  • Dependence on enteral feeding (eg, via a feeding tube) or oral nutritional supplements

  • Markedly disturbed psychosocial functioning

Nutritional deficiencies can be life threatening, and social functioning (eg, participating in family meals, spending time with friends in situations where eating may occur) can be markedly impaired.

Diagnosis of ARFID

  • Clinical criteria

Criteria for avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder include the following:

However, patients who have a physical disorder that causes decreased food intake but who maintain the decreased intake for much longer than typically expected and to a degree requiring specific intervention may be considered to have avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder.

Treatment of ARFID

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is commonly used to help patients normalize their eating. It can also help them feel less anxious about what they eat.

Key Points

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