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ARFID: What is it and how can you detect this eating disorder?

The symptoms of ARFID can be linked to anxiety and stress, and affect more people than you might think. ISTOCK

ARFID: What is it and how can you detect this eating disorder?

The next time you think someone is a fussy eater you may want to consider the symptoms of ARFID and the impact it has on its sufferers.

ARFID: What is it and how can you detect this eating disorder?

ARFID stands for avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder.

Along with anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge-eating disorder, ARFID is an eating disorder.

Earlier this year a 17-year-old English boy went blind and partly deaf due to his restricted diet. He ate only chips, crisps and white bread and the lack of vitamins in his diet eventually affected his vision and hearing. 

You may wonder, why would someone limit their diet in such an extreme way, or let their child limit their eating like that?

ARFID is not just fussy eating. People experiencing ARFID often have extreme food phobias, although they are not usually concerned about their body shape or weight.

They often lose weight and/or develop nutritional deficiencies and in severe cases, they may refuse to eat altogether. They would then need supplements or to be fed through a nasogastric tube. 

Someone with ARFID may be able to only eat certain coloured foods; certain food brands; foods of a certain texture or food that smell or are presented in a particular way.

They may have difficulty chewing or swallowing, and could even gag or choke if they are made to eat something that gives them a lot of anxiety. The anxiety can also cause them to avoid social eating situations, such as school lunchtime, office get-togethers or birthday parties. 

Around 4% of Australians have an eating disorder, and in New Zealand, they are responsible for more deaths than any other mental illness.

Both adults and children can develop ARFID. If you suspect you or someone you know has ARFID, the best thing to do is to visit a GP to seek advice about the issue as seeking help early improves your chance of recovery. There are also support groups available for people.

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