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Is There a Link Between ARFID and Past Trauma?

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Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) is a type of eating disorder in which individuals compulsively and, in some cases, totally avoid eating certain types of food. ARFID is different from other eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa in that it is not primarily driven by concerns about body weight or image, though ARFID can lead to severe nutritional imbalance and other health risks.

ARFID is a medically identified disorder – it’s much more than a simple preference or a religious restriction. ARFID is listed in the DSM-V (the scientific community’s list of mental health disorders). However, unlike better-known disorders that necessitate eating disorder treatment, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, ARFID is less often associated with weight loss and does not necessarily include a binge/purge cycle.

The Health Risks that Come with ARFID

Although ARFID can contribute to extreme weight loss, it doesn’t always result in malnutrition; in some cases, the individual with ARFID’s body mass index is high. However, it may cause a severe nutritional imbalance, leading to health consequences. Because of this, specialized eating disorder treatment is often required in long-term cases.

The most common symptom of ARFID that may require eating disorder recovery treatment is malnutrition, resulting from a refusal to eat a variety of proteins and vitamins. Other common symptoms of ARFID include:

  • Avoiding some kinds of texture (gooey, crispy, etc.)
  • Nutritional deficiencies (especially iron and certain vitamins)
  • Discomfort eating in public
  • Noticeable anxiety when the disliked foods are present
  • Abusing supplements
  • Anemia
  • GI problems like constipation and gas
  • Osteoporosis
  • Diabetes type 2
  • Kidney and liver issues

How Does ARFID Get Started?

As with most mental health disorders, genetics play a factor in the development of ARFID – a person who has a parent with an eating disorder is much more likely to develop one.  Body image distortions are sometimes present in ARFID cases, although it’s not an essential factor in the development of the disorder, as in cases of anorexia nervosa. Co-occurring mental health disorders such as anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have been linked with ARFID – many of the compulsive behaviors associated with OCD are extremely similar to those that come with ARFID.

PTSD is another common trigger point for the onset of a selective eating disorder. Not just a soldier’s disorder, PTSD can be caused by traumatic events of any type. Physical or mental abuse, a bad breakup, or even a car accident can have very strong effects on the psyche. Trauma during childhood, even if it seems to have been suppressed, can cause issues later in life. As a result, ARFID’s initial onset is most commonly observed during the late teenage years and early adulthood.

How Trauma and PTSD Are Linked to ARFID

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is much more prevalent than society once thought it to be. Trauma and stress don’t simply go away after a difficult experience, especially in childhood. PTSD often manifests years later, causing sudden behavioral and emotional changes – it has been linked clinically to the development of drug and alcohol abuse issues, panic attacks, repetitive behavior patterns like those seen in cases of OCD, and clinical depression. Eating disorders are no different – PTSD symptoms can cause people to engage in coping mechanisms such as binge eating, purging, or the behavioral symptoms of ARFID.

How Can I Help a Loved One with ARFID?

The preferred, modern approach to treating eating disorders is a combined program of medical, psychiatric, and therapeutic interventions. These programs tend to focus on mindfulness to identify the disordered behaviors and eliminate them through talk therapy while addressing the medical needs of the client if needed. When applied to treatment for ARFID, this can mean nutritional programming to help balance vitamin and protein deficiencies, which may have developed.

CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), a form of therapy that trains the individual to view their disordered thoughts and emotions objectively, can promote emotional regulation and the ability to tolerate stress without resorting to disordered coping mechanisms. Helping loved ones into a program or even individual therapy is the first and most effective way to help them recover – as is providing emotional support and encouragement.

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

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CARRIE HUNNICUTTWith 20 years of behavioral health business development experience, Carrie combines world-class marketing, media, public relations, outreach, and business development with a deep understanding of client care and treatment. Her contributions to the world of behavioral health business development – and particularly eating disorder treatment  – go beyond simple marketing; she has actively developed leaders for her organizations and the industry at large.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.

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