What Causes ARFID?

by | Eating Disorder Recovery

As a parent, it can be difficult to see your child navigating Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). You may be looking to understand what causes ARFID and how you can get your child help for it. This blog aims to highlight what causes ARFID and what the next steps are in getting your family support. 

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Over the last couple of years, ARFID seems to be gaining more and more attention. At Courage to Nourish, we’ve had more families reach out to get their loved ones’ support for ARFID. We are happy that we are able to offer support and that more people are getting answers about ARFID that were previously unknown. First, let’s talk about the potential causes of ARFID.

What Causes ARFID? 

Like most feeding and eating disorders, ARFID doesn’t have one exact cause. There are multiple factors that come into play with the development of ARFID. Here is what we know about the potential causes of ARFID.

1. Sensory Sensitivity: Many people with ARFID have a heightened sensitivity to their senses. This makes food tastes, textures, smells or appearances more overwhelming. Because of this sensory sensitivity, many people with ARFID are reluctant to eat new foods and/or have a limited range of “acceptable” foods. 

2. Past Traumatic Food Experiences: Many of those who have been diagnosed with ARFID have experienced past traumatic food events – like choking or vomiting. Some clients with ARFID worry about what might happen if they eat a certain food. This leads to avoidance of food and food groups. 

3. Early Feeding Difficulties: In some clients who have ARFID, we see that they have experienced difficulties with feeding as infants or children. For example, they may have had difficulty with breastfeeding or experienced reflux or other gastrointestinal issues. 

4. Genetic Factors: Of course, genetics play a role in the development of ARFID. Certain genetic traits and alterations in brain chemistry related to appetite regulation and sensory processing could contribute to the development of ARFID in early childhood or later in life. 

How to Support a Loved One with ARFID

As a loved one to someone who has ARFID, you are probably wondering how you might be able to support them in this journey. You might see how food anxiety affects them at mealtime and in social situations. You might notice how a lack of nutrition causes anxiety, antsiness, and changes in mood. I’m proud of you for reading this blog as a first step to getting your loved one help. Here are some other ideas on how to be support for ARFID.

1. Create A Positive Food Environment

This positive food environment includes role modeling eating by eating a variety of foods yourself and avoiding commenting on food (or labeling foods as “good” or “bad.”) It includes creating a relaxing space for mealtime by avoiding stressful conversations. You may want to consider playing a game at mealtime or conversing on “thought-provoking” questions. 

2. Avoid Pressure in Trying New Foods

No one likes being pressured to eat foods they don’t like! And that includes people with ARFID. You can have a variety of food options on the table but try to avoid asking a loved one with ARFID to eat those foods. They will try them if and when they feel ready! 

3. Reframe Goals for ARFID Recovery

Everyone’s eating habits are different! A person who has ARFID may never be an adventurous eater. And they may never choose fruits and vegetables as a first option. That’s okay! We can get nutrition from food in a variety of ways. 

4. See an ARFID-trained Dietitian

Consider getting a team together to support your loved one with ARFID. A few of the dietitians at Courage to Nourish specialize in ARFID. Read more about how we might be able to help through nutrition counseling and gradual food exposures. 

Final Thoughts on What Causes ARFID

Thank you for reading this resource on “What Causes ARFID”. ARFID is a complicated disorder that often takes time to heal from. There’s a lot that we still don’t know about ARFID, however, we know enough to take baby steps to support your loved one in healing. 

Contact Us

Courage to Nourish is a group of eating disorder specialized dietitians. We have in person locations in Alexandria, Virginia, Columbia, Maryland. and College Park, Maryland. We offer virtual services across the state of Virginia, Washington DC, Pennsylvania, and Colorado. We offer individual nutrition therapy. As well as support groups. We would love to guide you in building a better relationship with food.

Contact us for more information. And to schedule a discovery call. Also, sign up for our client or clinician newsletter!

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Alex Raymond, RD, LD, CEDRD

Alex Raymond, RD, LD, CEDRD-S

Alex is the founder and owner of Courage to Nourish. She opened Courage to Nourish to create a practice that aligns with her values in eating disorder recovery. She is a Certified Eating Disorder Dietitian and Approved Supervisor through iaedp. Alex loves working with children, high school and college students as well as athletes. Additionally, Alex is a proud anti-diet dietitian and works with her clients through a Health At Every Size © and intuitive eating framework. Read more about Alex here.

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