Understanding ARFID: When Picky Eating Becomes a Serious Eating Disorder

As a parent, you might be used to hearing your child say, “I don’t like that” or “I’m not hungry.” It’s common for children to be picky eaters, but when does picky eating become a serious eating disorder? 

In this blog post, we’ll explore ARFID (Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder), a relatively new eating disorder that is often misunderstood. We’ll discuss the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment, and how Happy Minds Psychology can help individuals struggling with ARFID.

What is ARFID?

ARFID is an eating disorder that involves a persistent and limited intake of food, resulting in weight loss, nutritional deficiencies, and/or impaired psychosocial functioning. ARFID can occur in children and adults and is often associated with anxiety, sensory sensitivity, and fear of aversive consequences (such as choking, vomiting, or allergic reactions).

ARFID vs. Picky Eating

While picky eating is a common behaviour among children, it does not necessarily indicate an eating disorder. Picky eaters might have certain food preferences or dislikes, but they usually eat enough food to maintain their health and growth. In contrast, individuals with ARFID have a severe restriction in the amount and/or type of food they eat, leading to significant weight loss, malnutrition, and emotional distress.

Causes of ARFID

The causes of ARFID are complex and multifactorial, involving a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. Some individuals with ARFID might have a history of trauma, abuse, or neglect, while others might have a comorbid condition such as anxiety, depression, or autism spectrum disorder. Others might have a sensory processing disorder that affects their ability to tolerate certain textures, smells, or tastes.

Diagnosis and Treatment

The diagnosis of ARFID is based on the criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). To be diagnosed with ARFID, an individual must exhibit persistent and restrictive eating behaviours that lead to one or more of the following: significant weight loss, nutritional deficiencies, dependence on enteral feeding or nutritional supplements, interference with psychosocial functioning, or distress.

Treatment for ARFID typically involves a multidisciplinary approach that addresses the physical, psychological, and nutritional aspects of the disorder. Some of the treatment options for ARFID include:

Nutritional Counselling

Working with a registered dietitian to establish a safe and healthy meal plan that meets the individual’s nutritional needs and preferences.


Working with a mental health professional, ideally a psychologist, who specialises in eating disorders to address the underlying psychological factors that contribute to ARFID, such as anxiety, trauma, or low self-esteem.

How Happy Minds Can Help

At Happy Minds Psychology, we specialise in the assessment and treatment of eating disorders, including ARFID. Our team of eating disorder specialists has the expertise and experience to provide evidence-based treatments that are tailored to each individual’s unique needs and circumstances. 

Happy Minds believe that recovery is possible, and we are committed to providing compassionate care to individuals with ARFID. We understand that ARFID can be a challenging and isolating disorder, but we are here to support you every step of the way. 

Our goal is to help you achieve a healthier relationship with food and your body, improve your overall quality of life, and empower you to reach your full potential.

ARFID is a serious eating disorder that requires professional treatment. If you or someone you know is struggling with ARFID, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible. At Happy Minds Psychology, we offer a range of evidence-based treatments that are tailored to each individual’s unique needs and circumstances. 
Our team of eating disorder specialists is here to support you on your journey to recovery.

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