Conference Coverage

ARFID or reasonable food restriction? The jury is out



Problems with eating and nutrition are common among patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and other gastrointestinal disorders, but clinicians who treat them should be careful not to automatically assume that patients have eating disorders, according to a psychologist who specializes in the psychological and social aspects of chronic digestive diseases.

On the other hand, clinicians must also be aware of the possibility that patients could have a recently identified syndrome cluster called avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), said Tiffany Taft, PsyD, a research associate professor of medicine (gastroenterology and hepatology), medical social sciences, and psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University, Chicago. In a recent study, she and her colleagues defined ARFID as “failure to meet one’s nutritional needs owing to sensory hypersensitivity, lack of interest in eating, or fear of aversive consequences from eating, and is associated with negative medical and psychosocial outcomes.”


ARFID “is a hot topic that we really don’t understand,” she said in an online presentation at the annual Crohn’s & Colitis Congress®, a partnership of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation and the American Gastroenterological Association.

Nutritional deficiencies

Nutritional deficiencies are common among patients with IBD, “and nutritional deficiencies themselves can lead to symptoms or side effects that can cause people to eat less,” she said.

“As our vitamin B12 goes down, our cognitive functioning starts to decline, and we might not be making clear decisions in how we’re deciding what to eat, when to eat, if we should be eating at all – just something to think about in your patients who have nutritional deficiencies,” she told the audience.

Other common nutritional deficiencies that can affect eating and food choice among patients with IBD include low folate (B9) levels associated with sore tongue and weight loss, low iron levels leading to nausea and loss of appetite, and zinc deficiency leading to loss of appetite and alterations in taste and/or smell, she said.

Newly recognized in GI

She noted that “ARFID actually originates in the pediatric psychiatric literature, mostly in children with sensory issues [such as] autism spectrum disorder, so this is not a construct that started in digestive disease, but has been adapted and applied to patients with digestive disease, including IBD.”

The DSM-5 lists four criteria for ARFID: significant weight loss, significant nutritional deficiency, dependence on enteral nutrition or oral supplements, and marked interference with psychosocial functions.

Helen Burton Murray, PhD, director of the gastrointestinal behavioral health program in the Center for Neurointestinal Health at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, who is familiar with Dr. Taft’s work, said in an interview that inclusion of ARFID in DSM-5 has put a name to a syndrome or symptom cluster that in all likelihood already existed.

However, “the jury is still out about whether, if we do diagnose patients who have digestive diseases with ARFID, that then helps them get to a treatment that improves their relationship with food and improves nutritional issues that may have occurred as a result of a restricted food intake,” she said.

“We don’t know yet if the diagnosis will actually improve things. In our clinical practice, anecdotally, it has, both for patients with IBDs and for patients with other GI conditions, particularly GI functional motility disorders. We’re a little bit more confident about making the diagnosis of ARFID in GI functional motility disorders than we are in IBD of course,” she said.


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