Types of Help Available for Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) is a newly categorized eating disorder in the most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). It is intended to more accurately diagnose and treat those people who present certain symptoms and behaviors relating to the avoidance or restriction of food and replaces the Feeding Disorder of Infancy and Early Childhood, which was included in the DSM-IV, as a disorder relating specifically to children.

Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

Food disturbances such as a lack of appetite or interest in food, refusal to eat certain foods, difficulty digesting, or inadequate nutrition and calorie intake are signs presented in ARFID. Persistent disturbances can lead to significant weight loss, nutritional deficiency, inadequate growth and development, and other physiological health problems. Exclusions to the diagnosis would include nutritional problems that could be explained by a lack of available food, if irrational concerns over body weight or shape exist, or if the disturbance can be better accounted for by a co-existing physical or mental health problem.

Types of Help Available for Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

treating avoidant eating disorder

Counseling and working with a nutritionist can help you recover from avoidant eating and develop a healthier relationship with food.

While typically, occurring in infancy or early childhood, ARFID is not limited to that age group and the conditions can continue to manifest throughout different stages of development, persisting into adulthood, or leading to other eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa. By default, many older children and adults who have ARFID were previously diagnosed under the DSM-IV category of an “eating disorder not otherwise specified” (EDNOS) and according to the American Psychiatric Association,” determining an accurate diagnosis is the first step toward appropriate care.”

For those who have persistent and worsening problems with their food intake, an ARFID diagnosis allows clinicians to treat their symptoms more effectively and there are many types of help available including:

  • Behavioral interventions such as exposure therapy may be appropriate for those who have a fear of certain foods or anxiety relating to their food intake.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy can help the person focus on their problems and learn ways to solve them. The person learns how to identify maladaptive patterns of thinking and to react more positively. This, of course, will encompass other areas of mental health beyond the ARFID and will help in treating underlying issues of mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression, stress, and other emotional disturbances.
  • Individual, group, and family-based counseling addresses the individual’s unique needs, provides support for impaired social or family functioning, and reinforces psychotherapy programs and recovery plans.
  • Nutritional education and counseling is an important part of helping the person to understand the value of proper nutrition and calorie intake as a critical element to maintaining physical and psychological health.
  • The use of medications such as antidepressants, antipsychotics, or mood stabilizers, may be suggested, but, more research is needed to determine how effective this treatment approach will be.

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