How to Support a Child with ARFID: by a Specialist Dietitian

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What is ARFID?

 

If you’re noticing that your child has a complicated relationship with food, they might be struggling with ARFID, or Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder. ARFID is an eating disorder that goes beyond typical picky eating, as it involves limited food preferences, avoidance of certain textures, or an intense behavioural reaction to food. We have a blog explaining in more detail what ARFID is.

What to Do If I Think My Child Has ARFID?

 

If you suspect your child may have ARFID, the first step is to consult with your doctor to ensure that there are no current risks to their health and to refer you to local services. Services for ARFID are often very limited or have long waiting lists. Having a consultation with a specialist dietitian is a good place to get help a bit faster.

 

They can assess your child’s nutritional needs, evaluate their current diet, and create a personalised plan to address their unique challenges. Establishing a relationship with a professional in nutrition and mental health is vital for a comprehensive and effective approach to ARFID management.

 

Techniques to Support Dietary Change

 

Graded Exposure

 

One effective technique in ARFID recovery is graded exposure, a systematic approach to introducing new foods in a gradual and controlled manner. One way of graded exposure is food play, getting your child comfortable with touching and being around the food can help reduce anxiety of the food. Smelling, licking, and even chewing and spitting the food out are great signs of progress.

 

Food Chaining

 

Food chaining is another method of exposure that involves expanding food choices based on taking steps towards very similar foods to preferred foods. Both techniques aim to make the process of incorporating new foods less overwhelming and anxiety-inducing for the child.

 

Here is a photo example of food chaining from Jenny Freidman

 

 

 

 

Keeping Calm and Avoiding Punishments or Rewards for Eating

 

Maintaining a calm environment during meals is crucial. Applying punishments or rewards for eating can increase stress and negatively impact the child’s relationship with food. Instead, focus on creating a positive and supportive atmosphere, emphasising nourishment and your child’s autonomy in their food choices.

 

Providing Safe Foods for Nourishment

 

Recognise the importance of safe foods – those that your child is comfortable with and routinely eats. Always ensure that the safe foods are available and are served at mealtimes. It can be worrying if your child only has a small number of safe foods or they are all in the same food group, but the most important thing is that get enough calories and a dietitian can support you to ensure they are meeting their nutritional needs.

 

Find out more

Connect with other parents facing similar challenges by joining support groups, reading books and online modules to gain more insights into the disorder and its management.

Support groups:

ARFID Parents Facebook Group

Beat carer support Group.

Books:

Food Refusal and Avoidant Eating in Children, including those with Autism Spectrum Conditions: A Practical Guide for Parents and Professional by Gillian Harris and Elizabeth Shea 

ARFID Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder: A Guide for Parents and Carers by Rachel Bryant Waugh

Online modules and information:

Be body positive– Online module on ARFID for parents and carers

National Autistic Society- information on autism and eating

 

Summary

In conclusion, supporting a child with ARFID requires a holistic approach that considers both their nutritional needs and mental health.

Seek guidance from a registered dietitian to create a tailored plan, utilise techniques like graded exposure and food chaining, and maintain a positive atmosphere during meals.

Engage with supportive communities and educational resources to stay informed and empowered on your journey to support your child with ARFID.

Remember, patience and understanding play key roles in fostering a healthy relationship with food for your child. With ARFID change can take a very long time but it’s important to continue working on exposure and supporting your child.

 

Take the First Step

 

If you are looking for a dietitian to support your child who is a fussy eater or has ARFID, we can help! Professional support is crucial.

Libby is registered dietitian specialising in ARFID, who can provide personalised guidance and support to help your little person establish healthy eating patterns and broaden the variety in their diet.

You can get in touch with Libby here.

 

 

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