Most of us were fussy eaters growing up. We wanted junk food like cheese burgers and fries. Always begging for McDonalds and sweets. We’d sometimes run from our parents when they wanted us to eat our veggies. At times we may have been put in “time-out” for not eating all our food. But as we got older it became better. So, what truly is a fussy eater? Did you know that there is an actual diagnosis for it? It is called, Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). This eating disorder can be found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
It has been officially recognized since 2013 when the 5th edition of the diagnostic manual came out. It’s relatively a new known disorder, although many people have been struggling with it for years. What exactly is ARFID? Well, it’s an eating or feeding disturbance based on sensory characteristics in food. This means that people are extra aware of the food’s taste, smell, sound, temperature, texture and appearance. They also worry about negative responses associated with food intake, like choking, vomiting or indigestion. In some cases, people are simply uninterested in food. It is similar to anorexia because the individual with ARFID limit their food intake. With the only difference that those with ARFID aren’t stressing over losing weight or their body image.
This eating disorder starts during childhood and will extend into adulthood if it isn’t controlled. In infants this disorder can be observed in babies that are too sleepy and become distressed during feeding. Young children will avoid eating by expressing their need to play. There are risk factors that may contribute to ARFID such as, autism spectrum, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and anxiety. If the child or adult has a history of gastrointestinal conditions, then this may also exacerbate ARFID. This feeding disorder is equally common in both males and females, especially during early childhood.
A picky eater is simply someone who prefers certain foods over others, but it isn’t as complicated and dangerous as ARFID. A picky eater will be able to eat enough nutritional foods. Someone with ARFID will restrict their accepted foods so much. That they may end up only eating 5 foods. For example, chips, fries, fish sticks, cookies, cheese burgers, and nothing more.
Due to this people lose a lot weight because they aren’t receiving the adequate amount of calories and nutrition. Leading to significant nutritional deficiency such as, fatigue, hair loss, brittle nails, and difficulties concentrating. Those with ARFID depend on oral nutritional supplements and enteral feeding, which is a feeding tube that provides liquid supplements. In children and adolescents this disorder can affect their growth. There are also medical implications to this. People can develop anemia, electrolyte imbalances, kidney and liver failure, cardiac problems, bone density loss, low blood sugar, and gastrointestinal complications, among other health risks. In severe cases it can be life threatening.
ARFID also affects the individual’s psychosocial functioning because they have difficulties sustaining relationships or eating with others. For example, a child with this disorder may not get to school on time because of how long it takes them to finish eating and adults may evade work lunches. It can become so severe that those with it will completely avoid seeing their friends or family if there is food present.
ARFID is a serious feeding disorder and shouldn’t be brushed off as a stage in childhood. Yes, most people grow out of it, but if it isn’t addressed then it can extend into adulthood. People have become gravely ill because of it, so it shouldn’t be a laughing matter. Thankfully, there is research being done to further understand it and to create treatments. At the present moment psychologists use exposure and cognitive behavioral therapy in order to treat it.
Have you heard of this disorder before? What is your opinion on it? Let me know in the comment section below. If there are other mental disorders that you would like me to cover let me know as well.
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