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Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

By

Evelyn Attia

, MD, Columbia University Medical Center, New York State Psychiatric Institute;


B. Timothy Walsh

, MD, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University

Last full review/revision Jun 2020| Content last modified Jun 2020
CLICK HERE FOR THE PROFESSONAL VERSION
GET THE QUICK FACTS
  • Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder can cause substantial weight loss, slower-than-expected growth in children, difficulty participating in normal social activities, and sometimes life-threatening nutritional deficiencies.

  • Doctors base the diagnosis on the nature of the restricted food intake and its effects after they have ruled out other causes of eating very little.

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help people learn to eat normally and help them feel less anxious about what they eat.

Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder typically begins during childhood and may initially resemble the picky eating that is common during this phase of life. For example, children may refuse to eat certain foods or foods of a certain color, consistency, or odor. However, picky eating typically involves only a few foods, and children who are picky eaters, unlike those with this disorder, have a normal appetite, eat enough food overall, and grow and develop normally.

People with avoidant/restrictive food intake may not eat because they lose interest in eating or because they think eating has harmful consequences. They may avoid certain foods because of their color, consistency, or odor.

Symptoms

People with avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder eat very little and/or avoid eating certain foods. They may eat so little that they lose a substantial amount of weight. Children with the disorder may not grow as expected.

Nutritional deficiencies are common and may become life threatening.

Because of their problems with eating, people with this disorder may have difficulty participating in normal social activities, such as eating with other people and maintaining relationships with others.

Diagnosis

  • A doctor's evaluation

  • Tests to check for physical disorders

  • Evaluation for other mental disorders

Doctors suspect avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder in people who avoid food or eat very little and have one or more of the following:

  • Significant weight loss or, in children, not growing as expected

  • A severe nutritional deficiency

  • The need for tube feeding or for nutritional supplements taken by mouth

  • Great difficulty participating in normal social activities and interacting with others

  • No evidence of a distorted body image

Usually, doctors also do not diagnose avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder if they identify another disorder or a medical treatment (such as radiation therapy or chemotherapy) as the cause.

Treatment

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy may be used to help people with avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder learn to eat normally. It can help them feel less anxious about what they eat.

More Information

The following is an English-language resource that may be useful. Please note that THE MANUAL is not responsible for the content of this resource.

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: CLICK HERE FOR THE PROFESSONAL VERSION
CLICK HERE FOR THE PROFESSONAL VERSION
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