Picky Eating…Disorder?

Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) make not ring a bell but simply put, it’s a medical diagnosis arising out of selective eating. Many kids go through a picky eating phase at a young age but some never outgrow it, which is when this disorder can become a more of a reality. ARFID risk factors also interact differently from person to person, so your child avoiding carrots and peas at all costs doesn’t necessarily mean they have the disorder. However, understanding a bit more about risk factors and symptoms can provide insight in case your child does experience ARFID.

ARFID does not have an age limit. Adults can also suffer from this but in children, growth and development are impacted negatively versus weight maintenance being the primary challenge. Often times diagnoses is classified by a feeding disturbance with failure to meet nutritional or energy needs for the child. Furthermore, this is often marked by significant weight loss, nutritional deficiency, dependence on enteral feeding or oral nutritional supplements and interference with psychosocial functioning. Keep in mind that the disturbance can’t be related to lack of available food or attributed to a medical condition.

Research does not identify a specific cause but does show that factors can be biological, psychological and sociocultural. In addition, it is shown that children with intellectual disabilities or those that are on the autism spectrum are more likely to develop ARFID. Also, those with a co-occurring anxiety disorder may be more susceptible to other psychological disorders. Symptoms can include but are not limited to the following:

Behavioral and Psychological  

  • No body image disturbance or fear of weight gain
  • Limited range of preferred foods that becomes narrower over time (i.e., picky eating that progressively worsens).
  • Lack of appetite or interest in food
  • Dramatic restriction in types or amount of food eaten
  • Reports consistent, vague gastrointestinal issues (“upset stomach”, feels full, etc.) around mealtimes that have no known cause
  • Reports constipation, abdominal pain, cold intolerance, lethargy, and/or excess energy

Physical

  • Impaired immune functioning
  • Poor wound healing
  • Cold, mottled hands and feet or swelling of feet
  • Muscle weakness
  • Thinning of hair on head, dry and brittle hair
  • Dry skin
  • Sleep problems
  • Feeling cold all the time
  • Postpuberty female loses menstrual period
  • Abnormal laboratory findings (anemia, low thyroid and hormone levels, low potassium, low blood cell counts, slow heart rate)
  • Difficulties concentrating

Picky eating may very well occur for a time period with your child but it never hurts to keep an eye out. Being aware of the small things can help prevent the big things.