Are You A Picky Eater? It Might Be ARFID

Are You A Picky Eater? It Might Be ARFID | New Horizons Wellness Services Speech Therapy Clinic Pediatric Therapy Adult Therapy Portland Tigard Oregon

Are you or your child known as a “picky eater”?

But, you know that there’s more to it than just being picky.

Have you experienced an extreme dread around eating, or are you incredibly anxious about vomiting after eating?

If this sounds like you or your child, there’s a good chance you have ARFID.

ARFID is an eating disorder that can result in your body not getting the calories and nutrients it needs to function.

It’s a challenging condition that can seriously delay your child’s growth and prevent appropriate weight gain.

ARFID is distinct from anorexia or bulimia because it does not involve losing weight to reach a body image goal.

Rather, it is not eating due to anxiety or sensory disgust, and often occurs with other conditions like autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or obsessive compulsive disorder.

ARFID can be a challenging eating disorder to resolve.

At least, not without some help.

A pediatric occupational therapist can help work with you or your child if you think you might have ARFID.

Consider looking for a occupational therapy and psychiatric clinic that specializes in working with eating disorders like ARFID to get the best possible results.

Now, let’s find out more about ARFID and how occupational therapy can help with picky eating.

What Is ARFID? (Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder)

Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder, often called ARFID for short, is an eating disorder that can significantly affect your energy and nutrition.

The combination of disturbed feeding patterns and highly selective eating habits impact you or your child’s ability to gain healthy weight.

This is because you might avoid particular textures, colors, or smells of food.

You might also eat incredibly slow, lack appetite, and have difficulty digesting food.

This can make it hard to encourage your child to eat if this is their experience at mealtime.

Currently, we don’t know what causes ARFID, but there seems to be a mix of genetic, social, cultural, and psychological factors that together cause ARFID.

Sometimes, it can be as simple as a previous negative experience with a taste or texture that triggers the eating disorder.

Symptoms Of ARFID

ARFID is often diagnosed in children, but that doesn’t mean that adults can’t have it either.

Common adult symptoms of ARFID are:

  • Lack of interest in eating
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Food related anxiety
  • Fear of choking or vomiting
  • Sensory avoidance of particular foods

Remember, a pattern of food restriction or avoidance not linked to body image issues may be related to ARFID.

This is what makes it a unique eating disorder.

How To Tell If Your Child Has ARFID

Current research indicates that 5% of children will experience ARFID.

Some common symptoms you might see if your child has ARFID include:

  • Fear of certain foods
  • Failing to gain age appropriate weight
  • Very picky
  • Lack of appetite
  • Challenges chewing food
  • Feeling isolated during social mealtimes
  • Digestive difficulty
  • Dependent on nutritional supplements
  • Vomiting or gagging after exposure to particular foods

Is ARFID The Same As Autism?

No, ARFID is not the same as autism spectrum disorder .

ARFID is an eating disorder while autism is a developmental disability caused by brain differences.

Autistic people have often have challenges with social communication, special interests, or repetitive behavior.

They can also have different ways of learning or moving.

But, there is a correlation: if you’re autistic, you’re more likely to also have ARFID.

This connection goes both ways.

If you have ARFID, you are more likely to also be autistic.

But these are two separate diagnoses.

This is most likely because autistic people often have sensory sensitivities, which can lead to ARFID.

Is ARFID The Same As Sensory Processing Disorder?

While symptoms of ARFID can be exacerbated by a sensory processing disorder, it is not the same thing.

First, there is no formal criteria for diagnosis for a sensory processing disorder.

It is not a diagnosis on its own, but often occurs with other conditions like autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Second, ARFID is characterized by an avoidance of food due to anxiety around the consequences of eating, or avoidance of food due to its sensory characteristics.

This is fundamentally different from a sensory disorder which is where your brain has difficulty organizing and responding to sensory information.

This can be under sensitive, oversensitive or sometimes even both.

How To Tell If Your Child Has ARFID | New Horizons Wellness Services Speech Therapy Clinic Pediatric Therapy Adult Therapy Portland Tigard Oregon

How Can Occupational Therapy Help With ARFID?

Occupational therapy is a great resource to consider if you or your child has ARFID.

There are a number of ways that it can help reduce your anxiety and help you move towards enjoying food.

This will also address your nutritional concerns, and is especially important for your child if they are not meeting age appropriate growth.

Let’s find out more about how an occupational therapist can help with ARFID.

1. Screening For ARFID

Since ARFID is an official diagnosis, your occupational therapist will review your symptoms and see if you meet the criteria necessary for diagnosis.

They will look for:

  • Weight loss in adults
  • Inability to gain weight in children
  • Nutritional deficiency due to inadequate food intake
  • Anxiety around social gatherings that include food
  • Supplement dependence

Your occupational therapist will also probe to confirm that these symptoms are not caused by external factors like a food shortage and that you do not have a distorted body image.

They will also check for other related physical or mental illnesses affecting food intake.

For example, losing weight due to food poisoning is not ARFID.

2. Sensory Integration Approaches

Once it’s confirmed that you have ARFID, your occupational therapist will start with sensory integration approaches to help reduce your symptoms.

These are different strategies that focus on guiding you to process your sensory difficulties and openly accept a wide range of food more positively.

3. Slow, Graded Exposure Therapy

Once you are open to considering a wider range of food, your occupational therapist will then move to slow, graded exposure therapy.

This involves slowly and progressively exposing you to your non-preferred foods.

Again, the goal is to move you towards incorporating a wider range of food into your diet so that you can get adequate nutrition and reduce your supplement dependance.

4. Parent And Caregiver Training

If your child has ARFID, then your occupational therapist will follow this same process.

After diagnoses, they will prepare sensory integration approaches and graded exposure therapy.

But, to help support your child’s treatment, your occupational therapist will also provide parent and caregiver training.

They will teach you strategies for reducing your child’s food aversion to ensure they get the nutrients and calories they need to grow.

Book Your Appointment With New Horizons Wellness Services Today

Living with ARFID can be very challenging without help.

The extreme consequences of ARFID can cause you or your child to require hospitalization; requiring a temporary feeding tube due to an extreme lack of nutrition.

But, the good news is that your occupational therapist can help.

Whether it’s teaching you how to support your child through their treatment, or working with you directly to reduce your food related anxiety, pediatric occupational therapy is an effective solution.

Book your appointment with New Horizons Wellness Services today.

Yours in Health,

New Horizons Wellness Services
13333 SW 68th Pkwy,
Tigard, OR 97223


New Horizons Wellness Services provides a true multidisciplinary approach to mental & physical health treatments for children, adults and families.