Written by Nourished Not Deprived Practitioners

Unveiling the Hidden Struggles: Understanding ARFID, Diagnosis, Therapy, and Personal Passion

Why Nourished is passionate about ARFID.

Nourisheds’ passion for raising awareness about ARFID stems from a personal experience by our founder, Bronte.

“The driving force behind Nourished’s development and my unrelenting passion to improve our community’s health stems from a deeply personal story that continues to resonate.

Let’s rewind to my childhood…

In those formative years, I witnessed my father grappling with a rare autoimmune disease. It was a journey through uncharted territory, mainly because there was very little research or understanding about his condition at the time. Our family, profoundly affected by his struggle, shared a common wish—to alleviate his suffering. However, as a young child, there was only so much I could do.

It wasn’t until my early adulthood that I could offer meaningful assistance. By then, my father had become something of an expert in his own right. Over two decades of being told, “We can’t help you,” had made him resilient and resourceful. His experience taught me that resilience is often born out of necessity, but it shouldn’t have to be that way.

My father’s battle with his illness had a ripple effect throughout our family. When one family member is unwell, it touches everyone’s lives. We faced numerous moments of frustration, confusion, and sometimes even despair.

Through this experience, I gained a profound understanding of the importance of support and recognition for those affected by limited access to healthcare, understanding, and support. It became evident that our mission as an organization should be to bridge these gaps wherever we see them.

My dad’s journey required a great deal of patience, unwavering perseverance, and a strong advocacy spirit. These are the very qualities needed by individuals facing an ARFID diagnosis, or any health challenge, for that matter.

Thus, Nourished doesn’t just offer therapy; we also aim to raise awareness and assist individuals in navigating the healthcare landscape, whether it’s through our organization or by connecting them with the right resources. Our mission is to ensure that no one has to endure the arduous path my father faced alone. We’re here to provide not only therapy but also support, understanding, and a guiding hand on the journey to better health and well-being.”
– Bronte Williamson APD & Founder.

Introduction

In the world of eating disorders, ARFID (Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder) is a lesser-known but deeply impactful condition that affects individuals of all ages. Often misunderstood and misdiagnosed, ARFID can significantly impact a person’s life, both physically and emotionally. In this article, I will delve into what ARFID is, how it is diagnosed, therapy options, its diverse presentations, and why Nourished is personally passionate in advocating for those facing this disorder.

What is ARFID?

ARFID, an acronym for Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, is a complex eating disorder characterized by extreme selectivity in food choices, avoidance of certain foods or textures, and a limited dietary repertoire. Unlike other eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia, ARFID is not primarily driven by body image concerns but rather by sensory sensitivities, fear of aversive consequences, phobias and/or a lack of interest in eating.

How is ARFID diagnosed?

Diagnosing ARFID can be challenging due to its unique nature and the wide range of symptoms it can present. However, mental health professionals typically use criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to diagnose ARFID. To receive an ARFID diagnosis, an individual must exhibit restrictive eating patterns that lead to significant weight loss, nutritional deficiencies, or impaired daily functioning. Certain screening tools such as the NIAS can be utilised by health professionals alike to screen for ARFID, but diagnosis by a trained clinician is encouraged before beginning treatment.

What are the therapy and treatment recommendations for ARFID?

Fortunately, there are effective therapeutic approaches to help individuals with ARFID, however as the illness is not as readily studied in comparison to more well known eating disorders, there is no set therapy recommendation for ARFID as of yet.

Therapies that have been recommended through varied systematic reviews aim to address the underlying causes of the disorder, gradually expanding the individual’s food choices, and improve their relationship with food. Some common therapy options for ARFID include:

  1. Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT): CBT can help individuals challenge and change negative thoughts and behaviours related to food and eating.
  2. Exposure Therapy: This involves gradual exposure to feared or avoided foods to reduce anxiety and increase tolerance.
  3. Family-Based Therapy: Especially effective in children and adolescents, this therapy involves the family in the treatment process to create a supportive and structured environment.
  4. SOS feeding: The SOS protocol is used as an intervention for feeding difficulties over a twelve week period that uses progression and gradual introduction of foods based on a desensitisation hierarchy that includes aversive and non-aversive foods.

The Diverse Presentations of ARFID

ARFID can manifest in a variety of ways, making it difficult to recognise and is usually misdiagnosed as ‘fussy eating’. Some individuals may struggle with a limited range of accepted textures, while others may avoid entire food groups. Picky eating in children is a common presentation, and is usually transient by nature, but ARFID can persist into adulthood if not appropriately treated. This can have dyer consequences and impacts on the individuals quality of life, drawing important attention to why appropriate treatment is essential.

Misdiagnosis and misunderstanding of ARFID

ARFID can also be undiagnosed or is misdiagnosed as other conditions, such as autism spectrum disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or generalised anxiety disorder. This misdiagnosis can delay the proper treatment and support that individuals with ARFID need.

In Conclusion

ARFID is a complex eating disorder that can have a profound impact on individuals and their families. Understanding what ARFID is, how it is diagnosed, therapy options, and its diverse presentations is crucial in providing the support and treatment that individuals with ARFID need and deserve. As an organisation who has seen the transformative power of advocacy and awareness, we are committed to shedding light on ARFID and fostering a more compassionate and informed society. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of those affected by this often-overlooked disorder.

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