National Eating Disorders Association

Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) is a new diagnosis in the DSM5, and was previously referred to as “Selective Eating Disorder.” ARFID is similar to anorexia in that both disorders involve limitations in the amount and/or types of food consumed, but unlike anorexia, ARFID does not involve any distress about body shape or size, or fears of fatness.

Although many children go through phases of picky or selective eating, a person with ARFID does not consume enough calories to grow and develop properly and, in adults, to maintain basic body function. In children, this results in stalled weight gain and vertical growth; in adults, this results in weight loss. ARFID can also result in problems at school or work, due to difficulties eating with others and extended times needed to eat.

According to the DSM-5, ARFID is diagnosed when:

1. An eating or feeding disturbance (e.g., apparent lack of interest in eating or food; avoidance based on the sensory characteristics of food; concern about aversive consequences of eating) as manifested by persistent failure to meet appropriate nutritional and/or energy needs associated with one (or more) of the following:

  • Significant weight loss (or failure to achieve expected weight gain or faltering growth in children).
  • Significant nutritional deficiency.
  • Dependence on enteral feeding or oral nutritional supplements.
  • Marked interference with psychosocial functioning.

2. The disturbance is not better explained by lack of available food or by an associated culturally sanctioned practice.

3. The eating disturbance does not occur exclusively during the course of anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, and there is no evidence of a disturbance in the way in which one’s body weight or shape is experienced.

4. The eating disturbance is not attributable to a concurrent medical condition or not better explained by another mental disorder. When the eating disturbance occurs in the context of another condition or disorder, the severity of the eating disturbance exceeds that routinely associated with the condition or disorder and warrants additional clinical attention.

Statistics

Because of its newness, not much is known about how common ARFID is. Here’s what researchers do know:

  • In a group of adolescents with eating disorders receiving treatment at a specialist clinic, 14% met criteria for ARFID. Those with ARFID were more likely to be
    • Younger, and
    • Male
  • Many children with ARFID reported the following symptoms:
    • food avoidance 
    • decreased appetite
    • abdominal pain
    • emetophobia (fear of vomiting)
  • Nearly half of children with ARFID report fear of vomiting or choking, and one-fifth say they avoid certain foods because of sensory issues.
    • The same study found that one-third of children with ARFID have a mood disorder, three-quarters have an anxiety disorder, and nearly 20 percent have an autism spectrum condition

References:

Fisher, M. M., Rosen, D. S., Ornstein, R. M., Mammel, K. A., Katzman, D. K., Rome, E. S., ... & Walsh, B. T. (2014). Characteristics of avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder in children and adolescents: a “new disorder” in DSM-5. Journal of Adolescent Health, 55(1), 49-52.

Nicely, T. A., Lane-Loney, S., Masciulli, E., Hollenbeak, C. S., & Ornstein, R. M. (2014). Prevalence and characteristics of avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder in a cohort of young patients in day treatment for eating disorders. Journal of eating disorders, 2(1), 1.

Ornstein, R. M., Rosen, D. S., Mammel, K. A., Callahan, S. T., Forman, S., Jay, M. S., ... & Walsh, B. T. (2013). Distribution of eating disorders in children and adolescents using the proposed DSM-5 criteria for feeding and eating disorders. Journal of Adolescent Health, 53(2), 303-305.