Text Link

Learn more about the results we get at Within

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

Learn more about the results we get at Within

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

Examining ARFID vs. anorexia

No items found.
No items found.

Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) and anorexia nervosa (AN) share a number of common signs and symptoms, leaving many people to confuse the two. 

But while the conditions may outwardly resemble one another, they’re rooted in two very different psychological standpoints, which ultimately manifest as two different disorders.

 minutes read
Last updated on 
January 18, 2024
In this article

What is ARFID?

ARFID is one of the newest additions to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the record of all officially-recognized mental health conditions, only first appearing in the manual in 2013.

Previously referred to as “Selective Eating Disorder,” people experiencing this condition encounter what’s referred to as “eating or feeding disturbance” in their everyday lives, which describes a range of behavioral patterns, including:

  • A general lack of interest in food or eating.
  • Avoidance of certain foods based on sensory characteristics like texture or color.
  • A fear of consequences from eating certain foods, typically tied to a fear of pain or choking.

ARFID can also present as severe anxiety around mealtimes or in the presence of certain foods, eating very small portions, difficulty chewing, or frequently vomiting or gagging after being exposed to certain foods.

One of the main factors distinguishing ARFID from more routine picky eating is the severity of the behaviors—and their consequences. 

While more routine picky eaters often have certain foods they can enjoy and eat without distress, individuals with ARFID may struggle to tolerate an amount or variety of foods which provide them with adequate vitamins and nutrients. And people with ARFID also tend to experience greater levels of distress when confronted with food they find aversive.

What is anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa is another type of eating disorder commonly characterized by a severe restriction or limitation on food intake.

People struggling with this disorder tend to exhibit a fixation on the concepts of weight, body image, diet, and body shape and size. Most people with anorexia nervosa display an intense fear of gaining weight, and many will also have a distorted perception of their own weight or body shape and size, in some cases believing themselves to present as far bigger than they actually are.

While a low body weight has historically been considered a marker of this disorder, medical experts now understand that it is possible for people of all body weights, shapes, and sizes to experience anorexia nervosa.

Some people who struggle with this disorder also use methods other than severe food restriction to attempt to manipulate their weight, including excessive workout routines, which may persist even in times of exhaustion or sickness, and the use of laxatives or other substances that help dispel the contents of the stomach and bowels.

Comparing ARFID vs. anorexia 

When comparing ARFID vs anorexia nervosa, it’s imporant to examine both the similarities and the differences of the two eating disorders. Avoidant food restrictive intake disorder and anorexia nervosa may appear very similar from the outside, and do share some common signs, symptoms, and risk factors. But the two disorders are ultimately very different from one another, for a number of reasons.

The similarities between ARFID and anorexia nervosa 

The most obvious similarities between AN and ARFID are the common physical and medical manifestations of the disorders. 

Both AN and ARFID can cause food restriction and undernutrition, which may result in weight loss in adults and failure to experience expected gains in height and weight in children. However, due to genetic differences, some people with either of these disorders may experience physiological symptoms of undernutrition without significant weight loss. Regardless of weight, individuals with ARFID or AN who are not consuming enough overall energy or enough of certain nutrients may develop symptoms including hair loss, impaired immunity, low body temperature, sleep disturbances, digestive problems, low energy, and difficulty concentrating. 

But the two conditions also share a number of overlapping mental and emotional aspects.

Both conditions have strong links to autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In fact, many behavioral and cognitive features of ASD represent the same psychological underpinnings of AN and ARFID, including cognitive inflexibility and impaired set-shifting (or shifting attention between tasks). (1)

Co-occurring—rates of autism and anorexia nervosa are estimated to be anywhere from 4.7% to 23%, while ARFID and autism spectrum disorder have been found to have a comorbid rate as high as 21%. (2,3)

Avoidant food restrictive intake disorder and anorexia nervosa also both frequently overlap with various anxiety disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). These conditions are often thought to be risk factors for developing both anorexia nervosa and ARFID, and vice versa.

The differences between AFRID and anorexia nervosa 

While anorexia nervosa and ARFID both involve the severe restriction or limitation of food, the driver behind these eating and feeding behaviors is different.

People struggling with anorexia nervosa are often motivated by an extreme fear of weight gain, or a desire for thinness – fixations that have been linked in some scientific literature to stress-borne traits like “perfectionism,” and even aspects of OCD. 

People struggling with avoidant restrictive food intake disorder, on the other hand, don’t put the same emphasis on body image. The motivation to avoid food in the case of people with ARFID is typically tied to the extreme fear of choking or severe sensitivity to food texture, taste, color, or smell. In fact, ARFID is often considered a sensory disorder as well as an eating disorder, due to these connections.

ARFID can also present as a general disinterest in food, whereas many people with anorexia nervosa fixate on the subject of diet, despite greatly limiting their own intake. And clinically, avoidant food restrictive intake disorder tends to have an earlier onset, and affect more people assigned male at birth, than anorexia nervosa. However, it is possible for both AN and ARFID to occur in people of any age and gender. 

Treatment for ARFID vs. anorexia

The best course of treatment for either disorder may also look different. While AN and ARFID are distinct disorders, it is possible for an individual to have both, either at the same time or at different points during their life. In individuals who present with both AN and ARFID, effective treatment must address both and be attentive to which set of cognitions is motivating each food fear or eating disorder behavior. 

While there is currently no standard treatment for ARFID, people struggling with anorexia nervosa tend to respond well to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a form of therapy that involves loosening up cognitive inflexibility and building up self-esteem. 

For people with either AN or ARFID who are malnourished, nutritional rehabilitation is an important part of the treatment process. In traditional treatment for anorexia nervosa, including a variety of foods in a recovery meal plan is often considered to be an important part of both providing adequate nutrition and disrupting disordered food choices. However, in people with ARFID, it is important that each individual’s meal plan incorporates adequate amounts of tolerated foods, and that any exposure to new or feared foods is done in a slow and safe way to avoid creating additional trauma around the experience of eating.

The good news is that both conditions can ultimately be addressed through treatment —and recovery is possible.

If you or a loved one are struggling with ARFID or anorexia nervosa, it’s never too late to seek the help you need that could lead you on the path to recovery.

Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.

Disclaimer about weight loss drugs: Within does not endorse the use of any weight loss drug or behavior and seeks to provide education on the insidious nature of diet culture. We understand the complex nature of disordered eating and eating disorders and strongly encourage anyone engaging in these behaviors to reach out for help as soon as possible. No statement should be taken as healthcare advice. All healthcare decisions should be made with your individual healthcare provider.


  1. Karjalainen, L., Råstam, M., Paulson-Karlsson, G., & Wentz, E. (2019). Do autism spectrum disorder and anorexia nervosa have some eating disturbances in common?. European child & adolescent psychiatry, 28(1), 69–78. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00787-018-1188-y
  2. Eating disorders. National Autistic Society. (n.d.). Retrieved December 21, 2022, from https://www.autism.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/topics/mental-health/eating-disorders 
  3. Koomar, T., Thomas, T. R., Pottschmidt, N. R., Lutter, M., & Michaelson, J. J. (2021, May 7). Estimating the prevalence and genetic risk mechanisms of ARFID in a large autism cohort. Frontiers. Retrieved December 21, 2022, from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2021.668297/full


Further reading

Can you prevent anorexia nervosa?

Rather than asking, "How can you prevent anorexia nervosa?" you may be better off asking how to prevent the co

ARFID treatment at home

Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) is a common eating disorder, though not widely understood...

Do I have anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is an eating disorder that may manifest differently in different people and can...

Do I have ARFID?

Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) is a serious mental health condition that involves a...

Fasting vs. anorexia

Fasting and intermittent fasting (IF) are popular methods of energy consumption that limit eating to...

Self-help for anorexia nervosa

With its ability to significantly impact a person's psychological and physical health, anorexia nervosa...

ARFID in adults

Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) is an eating disorder (previously known as selective...

What interventions are effective for individuals with anorexia nervosa?

If you have a friend or family member living with anorexia nervosa (AN), you are probably wondering how you...

The similarities between anorexia nervosa and orthorexia

Anorexia nervosa (AN) and orthorexia nervosa (ON) can often be confused with each other due to the similar...

Exposure therapy for eating disorders

Exposure therapy is a type of therapy used to treat eating disorders, phobias, and anxiety. It is typically...

Examining ARFID vs. anorexia

Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) and anorexia nervosa (AN) share...

Differences between anorexia and anorexia nervosa

People frequently use “anorexia” interchangeably with or as shorthand for “anorexia nervosa.” But the two...

How anorexia nervosa affects your mental health

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a serious eating disorder that involves a fixation on food, weight, and body image...

What is the restricting type of anorexia?

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a serious eating disorder, which involves an intense fear of gaining weight, a...

What is acute anorexia?

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a dangerous mental health disorder that impacts the way people feel about their...

What causes ARFID avoidant restrictive food intake disorder?

Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) is one of the rare eating disorders...

What causes anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a very serious eating disorder, second only to opioid use as the...

What are the long term effects of anorexia nervosa?

In individuals with anorexia nervosa (AN), some may experience its effects in the...

ARFID treatment: avoidant restrictive food intake disorder

Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) is an eating disorder that involves a severely limited...

Treating ARFID and autism

Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) is an eating disorder that involves extreme picky eating...

The limitations of using BMI for anorexia diagnosis

The body mass index (BMI) is a calculation made by comparing someone's weight and height. It's sometimes...

The dangers of anorexiant diet pills

Anorexiant diet pills have increased dangers for those with an eating disorder. There...

Signs you need treatment for anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a serious eating disorder that can have many detrimental effects on someone's...

Signs and symptoms of ARFID

Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) is an eating disorder where...

Signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a serious illness that may manifest in several ways...

Is anorexia genetic?

For decades, many assumed anorexia nervosa (AN) was a psychosocial illness...

Identifying anorexia risk factors

Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa (AN) are complex psychiatric conditions that can have a serious...

Is anorexia a disease?

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is not a disease. A disease is when there is a harmful change in...

How to help someone with anorexia nervosa

If you’ve found yourself on this page, it’s likely because someone in your life has anorexia nervosa (AN)...

How does anorexia nervosa develop?

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a serious eating disorder that involves caloric restriction...

The hidden characteristics of anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is one of the most widely-known types of eating disorders, but...

Harmful outcomes of the pro-ana movement

Imagine that there were websites that encouraged people not to get treatment for...

Examining the anorexia death rate

Eating disorders are routinely cited as being among the most lethal mental health...

Early warning signs of anorexia nervosa

Facing eating disorders like anorexia nervosa (AN) in your own life or that of a loved one can be a...

Can you have mild anorexia?

“Mild anorexia” is not currently a diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical...

Can anorexia nervosa be cured?

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a serious, and, unfortunately, sometimes deadly disorder. But...

ARFID eating disorder: Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder

Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder, or ARFID, is an eating disorder that...

Anorexia nervosa statistics: gender, race and socioeconomics

When examining anorexia statistics, or eating disorder rates in general, the results...

What is anorexia nervosa (AN)?

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is an eating disorder involving a severe limitation of food intake, intense fear of...

Anorexia in the transgender community

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a serious eating disorder involving severe caloric restriction...

Further reading

No items found.