Little girl at table with hand over her mouth because she has picky eating habits or ARFID.

Every parent knows that getting their children to eat the foods they should be eating can be tricky. It isn’t out of the ordinary for a child to not eat their veggies when given the choice between broccoli and pizza. However, most children do eventually grow out of this phase. Others do not, and this can usually indicate something more serious.

There are many known connections between Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and nutritional deficiencies caused by irregular eating habits, such as picky eating. And if anyone understands the relationship between food and ASD, it’s us. As you may know, Simple Spectrum Supplement was created to address dietary deficiencies and bridge any nutritional gaps that are commonly associated with picky eating habits in autistic children.

As parents, it is essential to be informed and aware of other disorders and/or diseases that may overlap with commonly reported symptoms of ASD. The first step of spreading awareness is through educating those around us. In the past, we have discussed the similarities and differences between ADHD and autism. Today, we will discuss another disorder that is often connected to autism; it is called Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID).

What is ARFID?

There are a lot of similarities between picky eating in autism and Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). However, the two conditions are not the same. Up until 2013, when it was updated in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), it was known as “Selective Eating Disorder” in children and adults. Today, ARFID is a recognized food or eating disorder that involves intense restrictions on various foods based on sensory properties. For example, a person with ARFID may feel internal stress when given the option to try new food. And as we know, eating issues are pervasive amongst those with neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism.

Although there are apparent similarities and differences between ARFID and picky eating in autism, there are individuals that live with both conditions. However, it must be noted that the two are not unequivocally connected. An individual can have ASD without having ARFID, and vice versa.

ARFID in individuals can look different depending on the severity. Still, for the most part, when an individual suffers from avoidant/restrictive food disorder, they most likely only eat within their comfort zone. In fact, the fear and anxiety of trying new foods can send their bodies to high alert, which creates a stressful situation. The restrictive eating disorder can present itself in three different ways:

  • Sensitivity to the taste, smell, or texture of foods (sensory properties that we also see in picky eating)
  • Zero-interest in food and eating
  • Fear of consequences of eating, such as stomach pains, vomiting, or choking

A person with ARFID may also experience difficulty chewing or swallowing and may even gag in response to the thought of eating a type of food that triggers their anxiety. In more severe cases, the stress and anxiety of food may cause an individual to avoid social situations that may involve eating– birthday parties, school lunch, etc.

Another critical thing to note is that Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder is often confused with anorexia nervosa, but unlike the latter, ARFID has nothing to do with body image, and people diagnosed with the disorder do not purposely restrict foods.

What Are The Causes of ARFID?

One of the main similarities between Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder and Autism Spectrum Disorder is how little is known about what causes the disorders. We have discussed possible causes of ASD in the past, but when it comes to ARFID, the exact cause remains unknown. Researchers and experts believe that there may be more than one cause for the eating disorder. It can be a combination of genetics, psychological factors, and other triggering events (such as a past negative experience of choking or vomiting).

ARFID can be managed through nutritional support or cognitive therapy, if the proper resources are available, but when the eating disorder is not managed, it can have lasting effects on a person, such as continued weight loss, malnutrition, and a decline in cognitive and body function (due to the lack of food and nutrition).

Simple Spectrum was created to help bridge the nutritional gap for children with ASD and dietary deficiencies. Although treating ARFID requires more resources and professional support, our Nutritional Supplement can provide benefits for anyone who needs nutritional support.