How to Help Someone with ARFID

Schedule a Consult
High angle view of a multi-generation Caucasian family sitting outside at a dinner table set for a meal, talking and smiling. Family enjoying time at home, lifestyle concept

Eating disorders are multifaceted, often misunderstood, and can deeply impact an individual's life. One such eating disorder that's gaining increased recognition is Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). As the name suggests, ARFID is more than just picky eating – it is a complex condition with deep emotional, psychological, and physical implications. If you know someone grappling with ARFID, understanding and support can make a significant difference. For individuals or loved ones struggling with ARFID, learning more about how to help someone with an eating disorder can make a monumental difference.

How Does ARFID Affect Someone?

ARFID is distinct from other eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia. It does not stem from concerns about body image, weight, or appearance. Instead, it is characterized by the avoidance or restriction of food intake, either due to its sensory characteristics (like texture or taste) or a fear of negative outcomes (like choking or vomiting).

The effects of ARFID are varied and significant:

  • Physical Health Issues: Consistent lack of adequate nutrition can lead to weight loss, stunted growth in children, and malnourishment.
  • Psychological and Emotional Strain: Living with ARFID can cause significant stress and anxiety, especially in social settings involving food.
  • Social Implications: Avoiding meals or specific foods can make it challenging to participate in social events, leading to isolation and feelings of exclusion.

It's noteworthy that a 2014 study indicated that ARFID patients tended to be younger compared to those with bulimia and anorexia. While it's more prevalent in younger adolescents, it's essential to recognize that adults can also face challenges with ARFID.

Ways to Support Someone with ARFID

Supporting someone with ARFID requires a combination of understanding, patience, and practical guidance. Here's an enhanced exploration of strategies to better assist someone facing this challenge:

Educate Yourself

Research is essential. To genuinely comprehend ARFID's nuances, delve into credible sources such as the National Eating Disorders Association or renowned medical journals. Participate in any workshops or seminars provided by local mental health organizations. These sessions often shed light on lesser-known aspects of eating disorders, including ARFID. Moreover, joining or engaging with support groups can provide a first-hand understanding, as hearing personal experiences can often bridge knowledge gaps.

Be Patient

Comprehending the sensitivities associated with ARFID is crucial. Realize that these individuals might have heightened sensitivities to certain textures, smells, or tastes that might seem normal to others. Refrain from labeling or passing judgments like calling them "difficult" or "stubborn." Their reactions or aversions to specific foods aren't whimsical choices but are deeply rooted in their condition.

Create a Safe Environment

A little adjustment can go a long way. Consider adapting the meal settings to be less overwhelming. This might mean having meals in quieter environments or presenting fewer foods on their plate at once. Encouraging open communication allows them to voice out any concerns or preferences about meals without fear of ridicule. Collaborating on diverse meal plans can also help. The goal is to strike a balance between their nutritional needs and food aversions.

Encourage Professional Help

Highlighting the importance of expert intervention can make a significant difference. It's recommended to connect with therapists who have a specialty or deep understanding of eating disorders, particularly ARFID. Regular medical check-ups are also crucial to ensure they aren't battling nutritional deficiencies. As the world of eating disorder treatments is continually evolving, it's beneficial to stay updated about emerging therapies or interventions.

Be There for Them

Your unwavering support can be their anchor. Practice active listening. It entails truly hearing their concerns without interjecting with your personal opinions. Regularly checking in, even with a simple message or call, can reinforce the feeling of being supported. It's also wise for caregivers or close ones to seek support themselves. Whether through support groups or counseling, this can better equip you to aid your loved one in their journey.

In essence, while ARFID presents unique challenges, the pathway to support is paved with understanding, empathy, and consistent effort. This approach is crucial not just for ARFID, but for all eating disorders. Whether you are navigating how to help your daughter with anorexia or seeking guidance on helping your wife with anorexia, the principles of patience, support, and informed care remain the same. Your role in their journey can make a tangible difference, underlining the importance of tailored support for each individual's needs."

Treatment Options for Someone with ARFID

ARFID can be effectively managed with a combination of therapeutic and nutritional interventions:

  • Nutritional Counseling: This helps individuals understand their nutritional needs and find ways to meet them despite their food aversions.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT can help individuals challenge and change their thoughts and behaviors related to food, addressing the underlying fears or anxieties.
  • Exposure Therapy: This therapy gradually exposes individuals to feared foods in a controlled setting, helping them become more comfortable over time.
  • Family-Based Therapy: Since family dynamics can influence eating habits, especially in children and adolescents, involving family in the treatment process can be beneficial.

Evidence from recent clinical research suggests that a multifaceted approach, blending both therapeutic and nutritional interventions, presents the most promising outcomes in ARFID management. Such an integrative treatment model not only addresses the immediate food aversions but also the underlying psychological factors, paving the way for sustainable recovery.

Treatment for ARFID at the Kahm Center

Located in Vermont, the Kahm Center provides specialized outpatient treatment for ARFID. Recognizing the distinct challenges posed by this disorder, we have developed programs that deliver individualized care with a holistic perspective.

Central to our approach is the formulation of personalized treatment plans. Collaboratively developed with our seasoned therapists and nutritionists, these plans address the distinct needs of each patient. For ARFID sufferers, meal support is integral, guiding them through the disorder's immediate challenges. For individuals grappling with Binge Eating Disorder, our emphasis is on establishing behavioral adjustments and fostering emotional regulation, essential components in understanding how to help someone with a binge eating disorder.

Our outpatient framework is designed to be both effective and adaptable, allowing patients to undergo treatment while maintaining their daily routines. This ensures they receive consistent care with minimal disruption to their everyday lives.

Beyond individual therapy, at the Kahm Center, we strongly advocate the therapeutic power of community. Our group therapy sessions create an environment where patients can share experiences, derive insights, and build a supportive network. These sessions are facilitated by our dedicated professionals, each an expert in the field of eating disorders. In essence, the Kahm Center stands as a beacon of comprehensive care for ARFID, grounded in expertise, community engagement, and adaptability to each individual's unique journey.

Clinically Reviewed By

nick kahm reviewer

Nick Kahm, PhD


Nick Kahm, a former philosophy faculty member at St. Michael's College in Colchester, VT, transitioned from academia to running the Kahm Clinic with his mother. He started the clinic to train dietitians in using Metabolic Testing and Body Composition Analysis for helping people with eating disorders. Now, he is enthusiastic about expanding eating disorder treatment through the Kahm Center for Eating Disorders in Vermont.

Looking for treatment?

We're Here to Help!
Call for Assessment