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Picky eater or something else? How ARFID affects children

Updated: Oct 4, 2022

ARFID is Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, previously known as Selective Eating Disorder. In children, it oftentimes gets overlooked as just being a picky eater.

“ARFID is a bit trickier to spot,” Relevé Counseling therapist, Alex Gonzalez.

Unlike picky eaters, though, those with ARFID don’t eat enough to maintain their health. Parents and caregivers may also notice their child’s safe foods get smaller and smaller over time.

“When it becomes [an] extreme reaction to the concept of eating something else, [that] is the big difference to look out for.”

That can even include how meals are prepared.

“If you try to offer… a grilled chicken as opposed to a chicken nugget, a child might say, 'It’s different. No, I don’t want it.’”

Common behavioral and physical ailments associated with ARFID include:

  • A consistent upset stomach

  • Fears of choking or vomiting

  • Lack of interest in food

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Feeling Cold

Dramatic weight loss is also a big red flag, which is why it’s often confused with other eating disorders.

“It’s not as easily as visible as the binge eating episodes, the anorexia or the bulimia, because it doesn’t have the binge. It doesn’t have the restrictive and negative body image. It doesn’t have the purge component.”

ARFID often is linked with a co-occurring anxiety disorder. While one component can’t be pointed to as the cause, studies show a correlation between the disorder and genetic, sociocultural, and psychological factors.

“Whether it’s confirmation that it exists, or that it might exist, or if it’s just something to continue to monitor, don’t be afraid to talk to other professionals in the field to make sure that you’re taking care of yourself and your child to the best of your ability.”


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