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Selective Eating Disorder - Avoidant or Restrictive Food Intake

By Deborah Fields, BSc (Hons), PgDip, MCIPR

Selective eating disorder, also known as avoidant or restrictive food intake disorder, is when a person will only eat certain types of food. The condition usually manifests itself during childhood with the individual growing out of it but at times it can continue into adulthood.

The condition is referenced in DSM-V, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders which health professionals often use as a reference point in the diagnosis of different mental health conditions.

Diagnosis

Medical staff will examine and monitor the patient to rule out other reasons for the disorder before settling for this condition.

The condition must not be due to a lack of availability of certain foods. The person should also not be showing any signs that the disorder is due to anorexia, the limiting of food or over-exercise to increase skinniness. Additionally, it should also not be linked to weight control through bulimia nervosa where a person seeks to control their weight through binge eating and then purging the food from the body.

Weight loss is not necessarily a factor in this condition. The person with it can have a normal weight. The condition is also not linked to body image.

The person’s repulsion to certain foods can be extremely strong. The individual can find themselves wanting to vomit and gag as a result. The reason for avoiding the specific foods can vary quite significantly. Whole food groups such as fruits or vegetables can be ruled out from the diet. Alternatively, the individual may dislike the textures of certain types of food such as all foods that are crunchy or all foods that they perceive as slimy.

Children with autism can have the condition. A feeding disorder can affect up to 80% of children with the condition. They can exhibit obsessive compulsive disorder, unwelcome obsessive thoughts, images and doubts that a person finds hard to avoid. Anxiety can also bring on this type of eating disorder in some people.

Risks

The person with the condition can be at risk of deficiencies in their diet due to ruling out specific types of foods.

Treatment

Medical professionals can try a number of different therapies to reintroduce the patient patients to foods that are avoided. Cognitive behavioural therapy, a way of talking through the issue, can help with adults.

In the case of children, a process of recording the food eaten, rewarding through reintroducing the forbidden foods, relaxation techniques to reduce the feeling of stress and review to monitor the situation over time, can be beneficial.  

Reviewed by , BPharm

References

Further information

International Journal of Eating Disorders, Picky eating in adults a web-based survey: http://www.dukehealth.org/repository/dukehealth/2012/11/21/12/59/32/3725/Picky%20Eating%20in%20Adults_2012.pdf

Further Reading

Last Updated: May 25, 2016

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