What is avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder?
Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) previously known as a selective eating disorder (SED) is a type of eating disorder where certain foods are limited based on appearance, smell, taste, texture, brand, presentation, or past negative experience with the food.
To be considered for having selective eating you would eat less than 20 foods, cut out at least two whole food types, for example, vegetables or fruit and be greatly distressed when presented with those goods to eat.
ARFID is most common with young people under the age of 13 and is presented with having difficulty eating. This difficulty could be a lack of interest in food, or it could be sensory aversions to food, or for some people, they may worry that something bad may happen to them if they eat. If this sounds like you, you may fear they will choke, vomiting, or have pain.
Restrictive eating is not anorexia or bulimia, and the difficulties with eating are not due to concerns about your body weight or shape, the restrictive eating is related to your fears.
How could a parent distinguish between picky eating and ARFID in their child?
Picky eating shouldn't be confused with ARFID as this is a relatively normal situation with children. Most children outgrow their picky eating habits or are able to meet their nutritional needs on a picky diet. A child may have ARFID if he or she fails to gain weight or grow as expected or begins to lose weight.
Parents should also suspect ARFID if a child’s range of foods becomes severely restricted or a child has a great deal of distress or fear surrounding eating. If this is the case I always recommend that the first step is to take medical advice.
Many parents worry that they may be responsible and it is important to share that there is no evidence that parents are to blame for ARFID or any other eating disorders. Rather parents are often best positioned to help and support their children recovery.
It is also important to mention that although selective eating is most likely to become evident under the age of 13, many adults are also affected and also need to support to make changes in their eating habits. Hypnotherapy and the methods mentioned here can also support adults through the changes they wish to make.
There are three common ARFID presentations, fear of vomiting or choking, and fear of eating due to gastrointestinal complaints and this is where the work starts to alleviate those fears.
How to overcome ARFID
The goal is to work with your eating style – not against it – and to make your eating style as adaptable as possible. When working with you, it is important to give consideration to your anxiety and stress levels and first work to first calm your mind and body.
The focus is to reduce anxiety and the fear that is the underlying reason behind this condition, working with you at a pace that is comfortable for you and no pressure at all to increase the number of foods you eat but rather to support them through changes by alleviating their fears so that you will try new foods when they are ready to do this.
A hypnotherapist can do this by working with you and your unconscious mind. The unconscious mind is your guardian, your protector and will take steps that it believes is right for you to keep you safe and well. Something will have likely taken place in the past to cause your own mind to believe that the foods you avoid are a risk or a danger in some way and makes you feel the fear and panic to stop you from coming to harm.
This is a confused unconscious mind, acting with the best intentions, which is why we work with this part of your mind to calm and reassure and remove any anxieties and fears.
The aim is to make small changes or additions to your diet and those changes are intended to help you be more successful and comfortable, not only eating but feeling more relaxed and less anxious in social situations.
Hypnotherapy and NLP is a method which can help you make the changes you wish for in a gentle, calming way, without pressures or fear.
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