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ARFID & Picky Eating

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) and picky eating, though often used interchangeably, represent distinct phenomena with varying degrees of impact on individuals' physical and psychological well-being.

What is ARFID & Picky Eating?

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) and picky eating, though often used interchangeably, represent distinct phenomena with varying degrees of impact on individuals’ physical and psychological well-being.

ARFID is a feeding disorder characterized by limited food preferences, avoidance of certain textures or smells, and a restrictive diet that can lead to nutritional deficiencies and impaired functioning. Unlike other eating disorders, ARFID is not driven by concerns about body weight or shape. Instead, it often stems from sensory sensitivities, fear of aversive consequences associated with eating, or a lack of interest in food.

ARFID, recognized as a distinct feeding and eating disorder, goes beyond the typical picky eating observed in many children. Individuals with ARFID exhibit severe limitations in the variety or quantity of foods they consume, often resulting in nutritional deficiencies and impaired functioning. This eating disorder can persist into adolescence and adulthood, posing challenges to physical health and quality of life.

On the other hand, picky eating, while common in childhood, typically involves a reluctance to try new foods or a preference for a limited range of familiar foods. It is often considered a normal phase of development, but when it becomes extreme and impacts nutritional adequacy or social functioning, it may share some characteristics with ARFID.

ARFID vs Pick Eating

  1. Severity and Impact: ARFID is more severe than picky eating and can result in significant nutritional and functional consequences.
  2. Underlying Causes: Picky eating is often attributed to developmental stages or a child’s natural wariness of new foods. In contrast, ARFID is associated with sensory sensitivities, fear of negative consequences related to eating, or a general disinterest in food.
  3. Psychological Impact: ARFID can lead to anxiety or distress related to eating, whereas picky eating is generally less distressing and doesn’t cause significant impairment.

Treatment for ARFID & Picky Eating

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an effective approach in addressing picky eating behaviors and Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). Our specialized therapists at Light On Anxiety employ evidence-based CBT techniques to help individuals overcome their aversions to certain foods and expand their dietary preferences.

By identifying and challenging maladaptive thoughts and beliefs surrounding food, clients gain a deeper understanding of the underlying factors contributing to their selective eating patterns. Through gradual exposure and systematic desensitization, clients learn practical skills to reduce anxiety and increase their willingness to try new foods, ultimately fostering a more varied and balanced diet.

With compassion and expertise, our therapists provide tailored support to empower individuals and families on their journey towards improved nutrition and enhanced quality of life.


While medication is not typically the first-line treatment for Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), it may be considered in cases where co-occurring conditions such as anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are present and exacerbating food-related challenges.

Our experienced healthcare providers at Light On Anxiety collaborate closely with clients to assess their unique needs and determine whether medication may be a beneficial adjunct to therapy.

Medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) may be prescribed to target underlying anxiety or mood symptoms, thereby facilitating greater engagement in treatment and supporting overall well-being.

Our holistic approach to medication management prioritizes safety, efficacy, and client-centered care, ensuring that individuals receive comprehensive support tailored to their specific circumstances.

Integrating CBT + Medication

A combined approach of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and medication may offer the most comprehensive path to recovery for individuals with Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID).

By integrating therapeutic interventions aimed at addressing the cognitive and behavioral aspects of selective eating with pharmacological support targeting underlying anxiety or mood disturbances, clients can experience enhanced symptom relief and improved quality of life.

Our multidisciplinary team of therapists and medication prescribers collaborates closely to develop personalized treatment plans that address the unique needs and goals of each client. Through compassionate and evidence-based care, we strive to empower individuals and families to overcome ARFID and cultivate a healthier relationship with food.

Your Unique Path to Freedom From ARFID

Our approach involves a careful integration of CBT and medication, depending on patient preferences and clinical needs, to address both the biological and psychological aspects of ARFID.

What are the symptoms of ARFID & Picky Eating?

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) and picky eating manifest through distinct patterns of eating behaviors, each presenting its own set of symptoms:

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID):

Individuals with ARFID exhibit an extremely restricted range of food preferences, often limiting their diet to a few select items. This restriction goes beyond typical picky eating and may result in nutritional deficiencies.
ARFID may involve avoidance of certain foods based on sensory characteristics, such as texture, taste, or smell. Individuals may experience intense anxiety or disgust when faced with foods that trigger sensory aversions.
The restricted eating patterns in ARFID often lead to nutritional deficiencies, impacting overall health and development. The avoidance of entire food groups can result in insufficient intake of essential nutrients.
Individuals with ARFID may have a lack of interest in eating or may be indifferent to hunger cues. Eating may become a source of anxiety, making mealtimes challenging for both individuals and their caregivers.

ARFID can result in functional impairment, affecting social, academic, or occupational functioning. Individuals may avoid social gatherings or events where food is involved, leading to isolation and diminished quality of life.

Picky Eating:

Picky eaters typically prefer familiar foods and may be resistant to trying new or unfamiliar items. This behavior is often observed in children but can persist in some individuals into adolescence or adulthood.
Similar to ARFID, picky eaters have a limited food variety but may not exhibit the extreme restrictions seen in ARFID.
Picky eaters may also have sensory sensitivities, such as aversions to certain textures or tastes. Unlike ARFID, these sensitivities may not lead to severe nutritional deficiencies or significant functional impairment.

FAQs about ARFID & Picky Eating

Yes, ARFID can affect adults. It involves limited food choices, avoidance based on sensory characteristics, or an aversion to certain textures or smells. It can lead to nutritional deficiencies and impact an individual’s physical and mental health, regardless of age.

Yes, ARFID is categorized as an eating disorder. It involves restrictive eating patterns, but unlike other eating disorders, it’s not driven by concerns about weight or body image. ARFID is characterized by a limited range of accepted foods, often resulting in nutritional deficiencies and impaired functioning.

ARFID may improve with appropriate treatment, which often includes therapy and nutritional support. However, it’s important to note that the timeline for improvement varies among individuals, and complete resolution may not be guaranteed. Ongoing management and support are crucial for long-term well-being.

Yes, trauma can be a contributing factor to the development of ARFID (Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder). Traumatic experiences, especially those related to food or eating, can impact one’s relationship with food and contribute to avoidant behaviors. Addressing both the trauma and ARFID is essential for comprehensive treatment.

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