If you’re wondering WTF Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (AFRID) is, read this post.

Nikki Stevenson

Nikki Stevenson

Nikki is a parenting writer and a mom to three wild boys who keep her on her toes (and occasionally make her question her sanity). With over 15 years of experience in the parenting industry, she has more tips and tricks than Mary Poppins on speed dial. When she's not typing away at her keyboard, you can find her sipping on coffee, hiding in the bathroom for five minutes of...
Updated on Jan 21, 2024 · 4 mins read
If you’re wondering WTF Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (AFRID) is, read this post.

Let’s set the scene, shall we? Parent: “Just try it.” Child: *shakes head emphatically Parent: “You don’t even know what it tastes like – you could love it more than chocolate!’. Child: *rolls eyes in toddler or tween Parent: “I’ll let you (insert bribe here) if you just LICK it.” If your mealtimes reflect some version of the above, let’s talk about the possibility of your child having ARFID before you delve head-first into the world of parent bribery.

So, what is AFRID exactly?

Navigating your child’s eating habits can be challenging for most parents, but especially so for those that have children experiencing a condition like Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder. While the condition may be a mouthful to say, it means that your child is reluctant to take a mouthful of a variety of food types.

It’s a relatively new diagnosis added to the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) in 2013. Medically speaking, it’s a feeding disorder that affects both children and adults and is characterised by a persistent avoidance or restriction of food intake, which leads to nutritional deficiencies, weight loss, or problems with psychosocial functioning.

Unlike other eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia, children with ARFID do not have a distorted body image or fear of weight gain. Instead, they may genuinely lack interest in food or aversions to certain textures, smells, or tastes.

Could your child have ARFID?

You, and well-meaning inlaws, may have brushed mealtime drama off as your child being fussy, as most of us would do. However, if any of the following seems to ring true to your child or gives you a parent intuition tug while reading it – your child may be struggling with more than food fussiness.

Infants and toddlers with ARFID:

In infants and toddlers, ARFID could be the refusal to breastfeed or bottle-feed, difficulty transitioning to solid foods or a limited acceptance of certain textures or flavours. This does not mean that your baby spitting out their first taste of pureed carrots is a definitive sign of ARFID, but rather a carried-through trend of not enjoying feeding in any form from birth.

Preschoolers with ARFID:

Preschool-aged children with ARFID may have a limited diet, eating only a small number of foods and refusing to try new ones. They may also be very sensitive to textures, smells, and flavours. Your dining room table has spent many a night flooded with tears (and not just your child’s!) Mealtime is an ongoing nightmare for your family, regardless of what is served.

School-aged children with ARFID:

As children get older, ARFID may begin to impact their social interactions and ability to participate in activities. You may find them hesitant to attend social events that involve food, such as birthday parties or school events. They could also experience anxiety around mealtimes.

Tweens with ARFID:

Teenagers with ARFID may experience social isolation and difficulty participating in social activities that involve food. They may also be at risk for nutritional deficiencies and possibly struggle with body image concerns.

What to do if your child has ARFID?

As always, if your child has ARFID or you suspect they do – your first port of call should be a healthcare professional who specialises in caring for children with eating disorders. Your GP should be able to point you in the right direction for diagnosis and a more thorough treatment plan.

In the meantime, you can build these small habits to assist you and your child while you tackle AFRID.

Encourage a positive environment around mealtime

Make mealtime a positive and stress-free experience for your child. Avoid pressuring them to eat or making negative comments about their food choices.

Offer a variety of foods

While your child may have aversions to certain foods, it’s important to continue offering various options. Depending on their age, you can also try presenting foods in different ways (e.g., pureed, mashed, or cut into small pieces) to see if that makes them more appealing.

Make mealtimes fun

This will be a 180° turn for most of you. But try to make mealtime a fun experience by involving your child in meal planning and preparation. Let them pick a new recipe, or have them help you cook. If you have any shade of green thumb, consider starting a herb or veggie garden and get your child involved in planting and harvesting. They will be more likely to become excited about the prospect of meals when it is the food they have grown themselves.

Seek the help of a registered dietitian

A registered dietitian can help you create a meal plan that considers your child’s preferences and aversions while still ensuring that they’re getting the nutrients they need.

Be patient

We know it’s tough, and mealtimes can make you want to pull your hair out. But remember that managing ARFID can be a long process. Be patient with your child and celebrate small victories along the way. And that includes licking the spoon.

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