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March 17, 2022

Warning Signs of ARFID in Children

Warning Signs of ARFID in Children

People of all ages, races, sexual orientations, genders, socioeconomic statuses—all other demographic categorizations—can experience Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). However, the eating disorder is especially common in children and young adolescents. 

Because ARFID is particularly common in younger populations, it is essential for all parents to be aware of the warning signs. If a child is showing signs of AFRID, getting them help as soon as possible is the best thing you can do for them.

In this blog, we will cover the definition of ARFID, the risk factors, the signs and symptoms to look for in children, and treatment options. 

What is ARFID?

ARFID is an eating disorder that involves a feeding or eating disturbance that causes nutritional and energy deficiencies. You may also know it by its previous name, “selective eating disorder” (SED). Though ARFID is sometimes seen as simply “picky eating,” children do not grow out of it. It is also important to note that this illness cannot be explained by other medical or psychological issues and is not due to food scarcity or culturally-sanctioned practices. The disorder can lead to malnutrition and other serious health effects because of the limited variety or amount of foods consumed. 

Those suffering with ARFID often experience significant weight loss, nutritional deficiencies, failure to meet growth trajectories, and difficulty engaging in normal life. Psychiatric co-morbidity is also common, meaning there are multiple conditions present at once. Anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder are conditions that commonly co-exist with ARFID. 

As a result of several shared symptoms, including drastic weight loss and nutritional deficiencies, ARFID is commonly mistaken for anorexia nervosa. There are several differences between the two diagnoses, but the biggest difference is that ARFID does not include a desire for thinness or a fixation on body image. 

Risk Factors for ARFID

Those at particular risk of developing ARFID include:

  • Individuals who are on the autism spectrum
  • Individuals with ADHD
  • Males
  • Children who exhibit severe picky eating that does not get better over time
  • Individuals who have anxiety disorders or OCD

Signs and Symptoms of ARFID in Children

ARFID can cause an inability to meet nutritional needs. This can have very serious health consequences. Therefore, it is essential to look out for the warning signs and connect people in need with support as soon as possible. This disorder can look different in every person who experiences it, but there are several signs and symptoms you can look out for:

  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Stunted weight gain and height growth
  • Gastrointestinal issues that seemingly have no known cause
  • Restriction in amount or type of food eaten
  • Fear of illness, choking, or vomiting
  • Lack of appetite or interest in food
  • Body image concerns not present
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Anemia, low hormone levels, low potassium, and slow heart rate
  • Dizziness or falling
  • Muscle weakness
  • Fine or brittle nails

Treatment for ARFID

As with every other type of eating disorder, ARFID requires specialized care; the illness does not go away on its own. The severe implications that can result from ARFID, including nutritional deficiencies and inadequate food intake, require professional treatment and early intervention. ARFID may not be as well known as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, but it is just as serious and worthy of treatment. 

One reason it is important to spread awareness about ARFID is so that parents can know the signs and symptoms to look for in their children. Knowing what to look for and getting your child into treatment as soon as possible is so important. If you think you or a loved one may be suffering with ARFID, we urge you to talk to your doctor or reach out to an eating disorder treatment organization like The Emily Program. 

To learn more about ARFID, including the similarities and differences between the treatment of ARFID and other types of eating disorders, watch the “ARFID 101” presentation located on our Presentations page.

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