How Common is ARFID in Adults?

How Common is ARFID in Adults?

Woman pushes away a plate of food.

Parents know the struggle that is a picky child: hiding veggies and making sure foods don’t touch. Thankfully, the struggle usually only lasts for a few years.

But what about when that picky child grows up and becomes a picky adult? And what about when “picky” really doesn’t quite encapsulate your child’s experience with food, and it’s actually an eating disorder?

We’re talking about Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). This eating disorder involves picky eating to the max. And while children are more susceptible to ARFID, adults can suffer from this eating disorder as well.

But just how common is ARFID in adults? And should you be concerned about whether or not your own picky eating as an adult actually qualifies as an eating disorder? Let’s discuss!

What is ARFID?

The acronym ARFID stands for avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder. This eating disorder may look like picky eating on the surface, but ARFID will eventually lead to nutritional deficiencies, extreme weight loss and other physical problems.

It’s important to note that ARFID doesn’t stem from a desire to achieve weight loss or as a result of body image issues. Instead, this severe form of picky eating is usually caused by one of the following:

  • An aversion to certain food groups
  • A strong dislike of particular textures
  • Concerns over the way a food looks or smells
  • Fear of choking on food or getting sick from it

And in order to be officially defined as ARFID, these food aversions must also result in clear physical complications like the weight loss or nutritional deficiencies mentioned above. (1)

How Common is ARFID in Adults?

While binge eating disorder, bulimia, and anorexia are more commonly discussed as adult eating disorders, nearly 10% of adults with eating disorders suffer from ARFID. (1) Psychcentral.com points out that adults with autism have an enhanced risk of developing ARFID because of the association with sensory issues. (1)

Interestingly, researchers found that of the above reasons for food aversion in children and adults with ARFID, the majority of adults suffering from this eating disorder do so because of one reason: fear. One study found that 93% of adults with ARFID avoided food because of the fear of consequences, including gastrointestinal symptoms. This distinction sets ARFID in some adults apart from how ARFID presents in children, which typically includes specific concerns about a food’s taste, smell or look. (2)

What is the Outlook for Adults with ARFID?

 If you’re an adult with possible ARFID, you may take comfort in knowing that this a treatable eating disorder, and we are here to help! One study offered adults with ARFID 25 sessions with a cognitive behavioral therapist. At the end of the sessions, 47% of the adults no longer met the criteria for ARFID with most of the remaining patients well on their way. (3)

And if we can help, we’d love to! Give us a call today at 562-434-6007.




  1. https://psychcentral.com/eating-disorders/avoidant-restrictive-food-intake-disorder-symptoms#symptoms
  2. https://advances.massgeneral.org/digestive-health/journal.aspx?id=1736
  3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2589979120300470