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Learn more about the results we get at Within

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ARFID treatment: avoidant restrictive food intake disorder

Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) is an eating disorder that involves a severely limited caloric intake due to extreme aversions to certain foods, fear of vomiting or choking after eating, or a general disinterest in food.

Our program can help

We’ll help you take the self-doubt and guilt out of eating, make peace with food, and become highly attuned to what your individual body needs.

How we do it

To address the various underlying issues at play, ARFID treatment is often multidisciplinary, with a treatment team of healthcare professionals working to help with psychological, nutritional, psychiatric, and physical interventions. This offers a whole-person approach to recovery, as opposed to simply addressing disordered eating behaviors.

Last updated on 
August 29, 2023
January 18, 2024
ARFID treatment
In this article

Psychotherapy for ARFID

ARFID is still a relatively new medical designation, and research on the condition, including how to treat ARFID, is ongoing. How to treat ARFID in adults is especially underlooked, as the condition tends to impact children and adolescents.

Still, these forms of psychotherapy—or talk therapy—have been known to help treat other eating disorders, and may be helpful to treat ARFID in adults, adolescents, and children alike.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy for ARFID (CBT-AR)
Exposure therapy
Family therapy
Group therapy
Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT)

Nutrition counseling and meal support

Nutrition counseling is nearly always an important part of ARFID treatment. This type of support helps patients learn about their body’s nutritional needs and why certain foods are an important part of staying healthy.

Nutritional therapists can also play a big role in exposing people with ARFID to feared foods. With children, this could mean asking them to draw, color, or play with toys that look like certain foods, to help familiarize and destigmatize them.11

Nutritional counseling may also involve a meeting with a registered dietician to identify any nutritional deficiencies that have arisen due to a restricted diet. This can help them potentially create a meal plan or recommend other supplements.3

Virtual eating disorder programs
Residential care
Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs)
Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs)
Outpatient programs

Treating ARFID at Within Health

Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder is sometimes confused with anorexia nervosa or picky eating, but the condition is developed and maintained by its own unique factors and should be treated accordingly.

At Within Health, we create individual treatment plans for each of our clients, regardless of which eating disorder they're struggling with. We aim to support people with ARFID by helping them learn to embrace flexibility around food and eating, so they can overcome their food phobias and food restriction, and enjoy food and social eating once again.

Our ARFID treatment program is run entirely online or through our app, and consists of three levels of care:

  • Partial hospitalization program
  • Intensive outpatient program
  • Outpatient program

The level of care required for an individual living with ARFID will be determined depending on the severity of the restriction, overall health and wellbeing, and a person’s specific needs. 

Our multidisciplinary team of experienced psychotherapists, dietitians, nurses, and other mental health professionals not only provides cutting-edge treatment, but also unconditional compassion, support, and understanding.

Call for a free consultation
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We know how hard it is to seek help for ARFID, so we ensure you will not go through recovery alone. Supported group meals and group psychotherapy are there to make you feel like you’re part of a community, no matter what your gender identity, ethnicity, sexuality, or age, and reassure you that your struggle is not yours alone.

Through the Within Health app, help is available wherever you are, whenever you need it.

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.

Resources

  1. Brigham, K. S., Manzo, L. D., Eddy, K. T., & Thomas, J. J. (2018). Evaluation and Treatment of Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) in Adolescents. Current Pediatrics Reports, 6(2), 107–113.
  2. Levels of Care. (n.d.). University of California: San Diego. Accessed August 2023. 
  3. Eating disorder treatment: Know your options. (2017, July 14). Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Accessed August 2023.
  4. Treating ARFID. (n.d.). ARFID Awareness UK. Accessed August 2023.
  5. Howard, M., Hembry, P., Rhind, C., Siddall, A., Uddin, M., Bryant-Waugh, R. (2023). Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) as a psychological intervention in the treatment of ARFID for children and young people. The Cognitive Behaviour Therapist, 16, e5. 
  6. Sheldon-Dean, H. (2023, February 8). Family-Based Treatment for Eating Disorders. Child Mind Institute. Accessed August 2023.
  7. Markowitz, J. C., & Weissman, M. M. (2004). Interpersonal psychotherapy: principles and applications. World Psychiatry, 3(3), 136–139.
  8. Esfandiari, N., Mazaheri, M. A., Akbari-Zardkhaneh, S., Sadeghi-Firoozabadi, V., & Cheraghi, M. (2021). Internet-Delivered Versus Face-to-Face Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Anxiety Disorders: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. International Journal of Preventive Medicine, 12, 153.
  9. Comas, C. (2021, March 9). Supporting Your Loved One with ARFID. Eating Disorder Therapy LA. Accessed August 2023. 
  10. Williams, P., Goodie, J., Motsinger, C. (2008). Treating Eating Disorders in Primary Care. American Family Physician, 77(2), 187-195. 
  11. Białek-Dratwa, A., Szymańska, D., Grajek, M., Krupa-Kotara, K., Szczepańska, E., & Kowalski, O. (2022). ARFID-Strategies for Dietary Management in Children. Nutrients, 14(9), 1739.

FAQs

How do I support someone with ARFID?

Watching a loved one struggle with ARFID can be frustrating, heartbreaking, and difficult. Your first reaction may be to yell at them or argue about why they won't eat, or try to force feed them.

Instead, try to lead with compassion.

Validating that someone is struggling with a mental health disorder beyond their control can be freeing both for you and for them. Once you're more able to see their actions as part of a disorder, you can try to cultivate more patience. That's another key aspect of supporting someone with ARFID, both through treatment and recovery. And when it comes to trying new foods, it's important to give them room to make their own choices, even if they're choices you don't agree with.

But overall, one of the best ways to support someone with ARFID or any eating disorder is simply to be there for them. Listen to what they have to say, and make sure they know they're loved and cared for.

What is the best treatment for ARFID?

As ARFID is a relatively new diagnosis, treatment for the condition is still very much being studied. But for eating disorders in general, cognitive behavioral therapy is generally the first recommended line of therapy.

For ARFID in particular, there is CBT-AR, a version of cognitive behavioral therapy for ARFID, which aims at specific struggles people with that condition generally experience.

Nutritional counseling is also often recommended for treating ARFID, particularly in cases where someone has developed issues around malnutrition.

Are there ARFID support groups?

Yes. ARFID may be a new diagnosis, but it's becoming more widely recognized. As such, ARFID support groups have formed to help people with the condition find strength and support in a community of people who are going through similar challenges.

There may also be support groups for people with loved ones who have ARFID, to help them find a sense of understanding and share concerns, victories, and other common stories.

Support groups for eating disorders of all types are usually run on a local basis. An online search should be able to turn up some options, but you can also ask your doctor or call an eating disorder hotline for more information.

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