COVID-19 Information »

What Is ARFID?

Lido Wellness Center Blog

What Is ARFID?

June 11, 2024

Understanding and Overcoming Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

When people talk about eating disorders, they usually are referring to the ones most people are familiar with.

Anorexia: extreme food restriction, intense fear of weight gain, and a distorted body image.

Bulimia: cycles of binge eating followed by purging through vomiting, laxatives, or excessive exercise to avoid weight gain.

Binge Eating: eating large quantities quickly, usually followed by shame.

But another disorder is lesser known but can be just as devastating.

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder: This is an eating disorder in which someone avoids certain foods in an extreme manner, which can lead to nutritional deficiencies.

What is ARFID—Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder?

You might think you are dealing with a picky eater if you are unfamiliar with ARFID. But the reality is a more complex mental health issue. It has little to do with taste buds and what a person likes.

Someone with this condition will find themselves only able to eat a narrow range of foods and avoid large swaths of food groups.

Imagine someone who avoids most fruits, vegetables, and meats. They eat only white bread, some cheese, and rice. This person will likely experience extreme anxiety at the thought of eating anything outside of these strict parameters. Over time, this kind of eating would result in malnutrition.

And the issues are more profound than just not liking certain foods.

But why does this happen? Let’s dig in.

Why Does ARFID Happen?

Just like any mental health issue, the reasons someone might develop ARFID are complex. There is not going to be a specific situation or reason. And each person diagnosed with this disorder will have a unique experience.

Some people develop food sensitivities because of a traumatic experience with food, such as a choking incident or severe food sickness. Some people have food sensitivities to everything from colors to textures. Of course, this can be concurrent with other anxieties or disorders, which amplifies the issue.

The Brain and ARFID

Humans have one thing in common: our brains try to help us avoid pain, harm, or discomfort. And sometimes, a person’s brain can go into overdrive on this. Indeed, extreme anxiety is an example of this happening.

But if you once had a life-threatening experience that involved choking on a carrot, your internal system is going to begin to warn you to avoid carrots.

The Real-Life Impact of ARFID

As you can see, living with ARFID isn’t just a quirky eating habit. Certain foods or food groups elicit a mental and physiological response from the person who suffers from it. Since eating happens every day, all day and many social situations also include it; life can be overwhelming.

it’s a daily struggle. Imagine navigating a world full of food when most of it feels off-limits. Social gatherings become stressful, and dining out is an obstacle course of anxiety. Beyond those things, depending on the foods, you may have nutritional deficiencies that can lead to several issues.

Diagnosing ARFID

The key to a diagnosis of ARFD is persistent patterns that result in nutritional deficiencies. Significant weight loss could also be part of the decision factor or simply how your relationship with food impacts your typical psychological health.

Does it ruin your life?

Treatment for ARFID

The good news is that ARFID is treatable.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the cornerstone of mental health techniques that help people change their relationship with food.

Here are a few ways that CBT can help if you or a loved one are experiencing Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder:

  1. Identifying Negative Thoughts: The first step in CBT is recognizing the negative thoughts that fuel food avoidance. These might include irrational fears about choking, contamination, or negative past experiences related to food.
  2. Behavioral Experiments: CBT often includes behavioral experiments where people gradually expose themselves to feared foods.
  3. Coping Strategies: CBT also equips individuals with coping strategies to manage anxiety and stress around eating. These strategies include relaxation techniques, mindfulness, and other routines that can help a person manage their approach to eating.

Exposure Therapy

For those whose ARFID is tied to specific traumas or phobias, exposure therapy can be incredibly effective. This approach involves:

  1. Gradual Exposure: Exposure therapy works by gradually and systematically exposing individuals to the foods they fear in a controlled and supportive environment.
  2. Building Tolerance: By slowly increasing the exposure, individuals build tolerance and reduce anxiety responses. For instance, someone afraid of choking on solid foods might start with pureed versions, then move to softer solids, and eventually more textured foods.
  3. Positive Reinforcement: Throughout the process, positive reinforcement plays a crucial role. Celebrating small victories and acknowledging progress helps to build confidence and motivation to continue the therapy.

Medical Monitoring

Given the risk of nutritional deficiencies, regular medical check-ups are vital for a person dealing with ARFID. These visits help monitor physical health and ensure that any deficiencies are addressed promptly.

While ARFID can feel overwhelming, it’s important to remember that with the right support, recovery is possible.

Getting Help for ARFID

The journey might be challenging, but every small step forward is a victory. Whether you’re personally affected by ARFID or supporting someone who is, know that understanding and patience go a long way.

If you want to talk more about ARFID, general eating disorders, or any other mental health condition, contact us at Lido Wellness Center in Newport Beach California: 949-541-8466.

[wp_ulike][addthis tool="addthis_inline_share_toolbox_4mpn"]


I am not just renewed. I AM NEW. I am found new in this freedom that breaking up the trauma has brought. I feel a true sense of clarity and oneness to the highest degree ever in my life. I was able to fully fall into trust with Lido Wellness Center and your clinicians. I was mightily impressed by the overall integrity, clinical and administrative competencies. You instilled such confidence in me about the paths and processes that lead to deep healing. I leave better and strengthened on all levels.

- Alumni, Lido Wellness Center

Going to Lido Wellness Center gave me a second chance at life. It equipped me with the tools and resources necessary to live my life the best way I can. I wouldn’t trade my time at Lido for anything. It was priceless to me and I’ll carry it with me for the rest of my life. I’m eternally grateful to the team I had around me that was dedicated to my recovery.

- Alumnus, Lido Wellness Center

Lido Wellness Center saved my life. I am endlessly grateful for the knowledgeable, empathetic, and supportive staff members that truly went above and beyond to provide a safe space to heal. Each staff member showed me kindness like I had never experienced before, and believed in me even when I was struggling to believe in myself. It is clear that the Lido Wellness Center team genuinely cares about every individual that walks through those doors, both during treatment and beyond through alumni services. Choosing to fully dive deep into treatment at Lido was one of the hardest and most rewarding decisions I have ever made, and I am now living a life that I never thought was possible.

- Alumnus, Lido Wellness Center

Find out more about Lido Wellness Center

Sometimes life puts us on a course that we recognize is not healthy and is preventing us from living the life we had imagined. We understand that reaching out is often difficult. Fill out the form below to find out more about our facility and how we can help you.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.