Do I have ARFID? Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) is a feeding disorder in the DSM-V that includes lack of food interest, avoiding certain foods due to sensory issues, and often includes a struggle with meeting nutritional needs. “Picky eating” described this diagnosis in the past. It was often written off as a ”phase that one grows out of.” ARFID is becoming increasingly more recognized by the medical community. This increases the likelihood of a person receiving proper treatment.
Maybe you are reading this blog because you or a loved one are exhibiting some “picky eating” tendencies. This blog will discuss symptoms and helps to answer the question, “Do I have ARFID?”
Please note: this blog is not intended for diagnostic purposes. If you think you are struggling with ARFID (or any other feeding or eating disorder) please consult your doctor, your dietician or your therapist.) You deserve treatment.
Do I have ARFID?
I eat very specific foods and have a hard time eating foods that are similar if my specific food is unavailable.
Oftentimes, it is difficult for an individuals with ARFID to eat food outside of their comfort zone. Even if the food is similar to foods they already eat. Let’s take chicken tenders, for example. Someone with ARFID may eat and enjoy Perdue chicken tenders. However, they might feel like they are unable to eat Tyson chicken tenders or other brands.
Friends and family call me a picky eater. Therefore, I consider myself to be a picky eater.
I don’t love the term “picky eater” when describing ARFID. It minimizes the anxiety a person with ARFID feels when they attempt to try a new food. “Picky eating” blames the person. In the case of ARFID, disliking new foods and feedling uncomfortable is not the person’s fault. It’s more complicated than just “stubbornness” with trying new foods.
I struggle with eating certain foods because of their texture.
A person with ARFID may have adverse reactions to certain textures of foods. Avoiding whole groups of foods that have a similar texture may result. For example, I have worked with clients who do not like “mushy” foods. This aversion to texture goes above and beyond just a couple of foods that a person might not like. We all have food preferences. That’s normal. However, anxiety, stress, and potential gagging may be results of different food textures in individuals with ARFID.
I feel anxious about trying foods that I haven’t had before because I worry I may not like them.
Clients with ARFID feel the most comfortable with foods that they eat regularly. You may notice an increase in anxiety and yourself or a loved one when they are around new foods or foods that they don’t often eat.
I sometimes avoid social settings where food is present or I feel nervous at social settings when food is present.
Social settings can be extremely anxiety provoking for someone with ARFID. For many reasons. One reason is they are exposed to food they don’t often eat. Social settings are also stimulating. So, strong sensations like smells and sounds (like chewing food) can cause an anxiety spike. Someone with ARFID may also worry, “Will there be anything there that I am able to eat?” It is not easy to go to a gathering not knowing if you can tolerate any of the foods being served.
I would rather go hungry than eat food I do not like.
Those of us who don’t have ARFID may be able to eat foods we don’t generally like if that’s the only thing available. For example, when we’re served a meal on a long flight, it might not be the best tasting food, but it’s sustenance that will last us. We eat that meal because there isn’t anything else available. If we didn’t, we would be hungry. Those who have ARFID symptoms would rather go hungry than eat a new food or a food they don’t like. Avoidance of food when a person is hungry may contribute to anxiety, irritability, general discomfort, and malnutrition.
I won’t eat foods if I don’t like how they look.
We’ve talked about how many of those in ARFID treatment have certain aversions to textures and smells. Many clients with ARFID also hesitate to eat foods if they don’t like how the food looks. This makes sense! We don’t only experience food with our mouths, but we also experience food with our noses and eyes. Have you ever heard someone say “Wow that looks so good?” Clients with ARFID use the same sense, but food associations with those senses cause anxiety and alarm.
I am not interested in food/eating generally.
Those with ARFID oftentimes don’t enjoy eating food, and are not generally interested in it. This isn’t always a symptom of ARFID. There are plenty of people who do consider themselves to be “foodies.” However, this could be an important behavior when combined with other ARFID symptoms.
There are foods that make me gag or vomit, involuntarily, when I try them.
Gagging and vomiting when trying certain foods could certainly be a symptom of ARFID. Gagging and vomiting feels awfully uncomfortable. It’s no wonder individuals with ARFID struggle with trying certain foods.
I have phases where I’ll eat a food repeatedly and exclusively for a while, and then once I get tired of that food, I’ll stop eating it.
Sometimes those with ARFID will eat the same food exclusively for a long period of time. Mainly because they feel comfortable with this food. But, they (understandably) get sick of the food, and will just stop eating it after a while. This can be frustrating for caregivers, as ARFID variety intake is limited.
Please contact us if you think you or a loved one has ARFID. We’d love to answer any questions about ARFID nutrition treatment. We have several dietitians on our team who are trained in treating ARFID. Courage to Nourish is located in College Park and Columbia, MD as well as Alexandria, VA. We provide virtual nutrition services in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Colorado.
Helping my clients cultivate meaningful connections and interests outside of their eating disorder is a true passion of mine. I like to think my clients and I are on a team to navigate recovery. I love working with high school and college students as well as athletes seeking to have a better relationship with exercise. I am a proud anti-diet dietitian and work with my clients through a Health At Every Size © and intuitive eating framework.