Are you or a loved one living with Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)? If so, you may wonder how this condition developed and what you can do to manage or treat the disorder. Researchers are beginning to uncover the causes of ARFID. We’ll explore the evidence for a genetic link to ARFID and what this could mean for those suffering from the disorder.
What Is ARFID?
ARFID is an avoidance or restriction of certain foods, leading to significant weight loss, nutritional deficiencies, or problems with psychosocial functioning. Individuals suffering from ARFID may avoid certain foods based on their texture, smell, taste, or appearance or may lack interest in food. ARFID is unrelated to body image or a fear of weight gain, distinguishing it from other eating disorders. Instead, sensory sensitivity or aversions to certain foods are the primary drivers of ARFID, and psychological or developmental factors may also influence the condition.
Is ARFID a Genetic Disorder?
Some studies have suggested a genetic component to ARFID and shown that certain conditions can increase a person’s risk of developing the disorder (1). These include anxiety disorders, autism spectrum disorder, and selective mutism. Furthermore, research has shown that certain environmental factors, such as exposure to food allergies, malnutrition, and family dynamics, can increase the risk (2). Thus, genetic and environmental factors can contribute to the onset and development of ARFID (3).
It is essential to recognize the potential risk factors for developing ARFID. Early intervention can be critical in helping an individual learn how to manage their symptoms and lead a productive life. Common symptoms of ARFID include reduced appetite or avoidance of certain foods, difficulty with mealtime behaviors and new foods, and weight loss. If these symptoms are present, seeking help from a mental health professional is crucial for receiving the necessary treatment.
Potential Implications of ARFID for Families Who Have a History of the Disorder
Families with a history of ARFID may need to be more mindful of any potential implications that the disorder can cause in their homes. Parents should be aware of their child’s eating habits to ensure they are not developing any symptoms. Additionally, families must seek professional help if they believe their loved one is exhibiting any signs of ARFID. Families who have a history of ARFID may face several potential implications, including the following (3,4):
- Increased risk of developing ARFID: Individuals with a family history of ARFID are more likely to develop the disorder. This risk factor is because certain genetic and environmental factors may predispose them to the condition.
- Challenges in meal planning and preparation: Families may struggle with meal planning and preparation. It can be challenging to ensure that the individual with ARFID gets the nutrition they need while accommodating their food aversions and restrictions.
- Family stress and conflict: ARFID can be a source of stress and conflict within families. Other family members may become frustrated or resentful if they feel that the individual with ARFID is overly demanding or challenging to please.
- Social isolation: Individuals with ARFID may avoid social situations that involve food, such as family dinners, parties, or eating out at restaurants. This avoidance can lead to social isolation and feelings of loneliness.
- Financial strain: Individuals suffering from ARFID may require specialized meals or supplements to ensure they are getting the necessary nutrients. These eating plans can be costly and may financially strain the family.
- Emotional burden: Parents and caregivers may feel guilty or responsible for their child’s ARFID, even though it is not their fault. They may also experience feelings of helplessness or frustration if their efforts to help their loved one are unsuccessful.
With proper diagnosis, treatment, and support, individuals with ARFID and their families can manage the disorder and improve their quality of life.
Best Ways to Manage ARFID If There Is a Family History of the Disorder
ARFID eating disorder treatment typically involves a combination of approaches, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, nutritional education, and family therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps identify and modify thought patterns and behaviors that may contribute to the disorder. Nutritional education helps to develop positive eating habits and address any nutritional deficiencies. Family therapy can handle any family dynamics contributing to the condition. Healthcare professionals may also prescribe medications to help manage other symptoms. Individuals suffering from ARFID need to find the combination of treatments that works for them, as this can be critical to managing the condition and leading a productive life.
Furthermore, family members play a crucial role in managing the disease. They should ensure that their loved ones follow a balanced meal plan focused on adequate nutrition and understand that food is also a source of energy and pleasure. Parents should also ensure that their children eat in a relaxed, supportive environment free of distractions. It is essential to help children identify and manage their triggers, such as certain foods or smells. Finally, providing positive reinforcement for eating, such as praise and rewards for trying new foods, is crucial. With the right strategies, families with a history of ARFID can manage the disorder and help their loved ones achieve a positive relationship with food.
Considering genetic and environmental risk factors, support groups can help families care for an individual suffering from ARFID. In addition, skilled treatment facilities can ensure families receive the best care and support for their loved ones. To learn how a treatment center like Shoreline can help your family understand what causes ARFID and move forward, contact them online or call 1-562-434-6007.
- Kennedy, H.L., Dinkler, L., Kennedy, M.A., Bulik, C.M., Jordan, J. (2022). How genetic analysis may contribute to the understanding of avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID). Journal of Eating Disorders, 10(1), 53. doi: 10.1186/s40337-022-00578-x. PMID: 35428338; PMCID: PMC9013144.
- National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). (2022). Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/by-eating-disorder/arfid
- Nemours Kids Health. (2023, April). Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID). https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/arfid.html
- Paczosa, A. (2022, December 15). How to recognize and treat ARFID eating disorder. Nourish. https://www.usenourish.com/blog/arfid-eating-disorder
Kim English is a Nursing Professor and has been teaching nurses at the undergraduate and postgraduate level since 2002. Kim has supported a family member through the lived experience of eating disorders and works to advocate for support in rural areas.