Treatment for ARFID will range from therapy to medical care. Many people use more than one option to meet their needs.

Some people misinterpret ARFID as picky eating. But unlike picky eaters, people with the eating disorder ARFID show a lack of interest in eating and chronic weight loss that can impact long-term health and growth.

While ARFID can occur at any age, it’s often diagnosed in children. The National Eating Disorders Association says that children with a history of selective eating and resistance to new foods could have ARFID.

ARFID treatment depends on your needs. Research suggests that treatment should address multiple aspects of the condition, including:

  • sensory concerns around eating, such as dislike of certain textures
  • lack of interest in new food
  • anxiety about eating, such as the fear of choking on food

If left alone, ARFID isn’t likely to get better. Treating ARFID usually involves working with a team that boosts your physical, mental, and nutritional health.

Because ARFID is associated with weight loss and malnutrition, a person with ARFID might need to spend a few nights in the hospital for refeeding.

In one study, 73% of doctors had teens with ARFID spend some time in the hospital for nutritional rehabilitation. While this was commonly done with regular food, about 50% of the surveyed doctors also opted for nasogastric tube feeding.

Once any immediate healthcare needs are met, it’s common to move to an outpatient care plan with occasional hospital visits. During these visits, your doctor will make sure your health levels are stable and address any concerns that might have come up since your last visit.

Meanwhile, working with a dietitian could help you create a nutrition plan to fill any nutrient gaps in your diet. They might also recommend nutritional supplements, but these are usually limited and shouldn’t compensate for meals.

A recent review reported that some ARFID cases might lead to dependence on nutritional supplements, which carries a risk for mental and social difficulties over time.

Your team could also include a psychiatrist or psychologist for the mental health issues associated with AFRID, such as anxiety.

Therapy for AFRID can range from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to address the intense feelings around food to speech therapy to help with the muscle movements involved in eating.

If you need more support as you follow your ARFID treatment plan, an ARFID treatment center could help.

These locations support people through the treatment process with:

  • in-house staff who monitor weight and nutrition
  • help following personalized treatment plans
  • mental health support in managing ARFID and secondary conditions

When choosing a treatment center for ARFID, here are some things to look for:

  • a multidisciplinary team with treatment plans that include evidence-based therapies
  • support systems such as group outings
  • support for refeeding if needed

An essential part of ARFID treatment is managing any mental health concerns that add to stress around eating.

While there’s no single best therapy for ARFID, your doctor could help you decide which is the best choice for you.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT is a common therapy used for anxiety, depression, and other eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa. Research suggests CBT is also effective in treating ARFID by focusing on thought patterns and promoting weight gain.

In CBT, you might focus on changing unhelpful thinking habits by reevaluating thought patterns surrounding eating. Sessions can also include learning problem-solving skills when faced with a challenging situation.

CBT can also help you learn new behaviors through methods like role-playing eating scenarios and trying new foods.

Exposure therapy

Exposure therapy works by creating a safe environment where you directly face your fears or visualize the object causing your anxiety. The goal is that through repeated exposure, you become less scared and start to develop more constructive beliefs about the object.

Research combining exposure therapy with CBT helped people with ARFID reduce fear of new foods.

Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)

DBT has been effective in treating several mental health conditions. Early research suggests it could be promising for eating disorders in children. The pillars of treatment focus on self-acceptance while also acknowledging ways you can grow.

There are four aspects of DBT:

  • teaching behavioral skills
  • increasing motivation to grow
  • coaching through the phone on applying new skills
  • meeting with a consultation team

Interpersonal therapy (IPT)

IPT involves resolving distress, such as anxiety about trying a new food. In IPT, the focus is on where your relationships and eating disorder overlap. You might explore how difficulties in relationships contribute to stress about eating.

Sessions could help reduce your symptoms and increase social support.

Family therapy

If you’re looking to reduce stress around eating and encourage weight gain, family-based therapy could help. This therapy has been a go-to treatment for people with anorexia and has shown benefits for treating ARFID.

In this type of therapy, family members come together to explore how they respond to one another. Together, family members learn how to make interactions around food less stressful.

  • Research found a link between reduced symptoms in teens with ARFID and participating in family-based therapy.
  • A case report found family therapy combined with a plan for managing emotional conditions reduced fears surrounding food.

Family therapy has three phases:

  1. Getting you back to the right weight for you by involving parents in the decision-making process around mealtimes.
  2. Teaching parents techniques to encourage eating.
  3. Reviewing progress made during therapy and identifying potential triggers for ARFID.

Since ARFID was only recently recognized as a condition in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), there’s no official ARFID treatment.

But some medications could help calm psychological symptoms of ARFID, like anxiety. These medications include:

  • antianxiety medications
  • antidepressants
  • antipsychotics

Research found adding the low-dose antipsychotic olanzapine (Zyprexa) to ARFID treatments reduced anxiety and depression.

And one case study used the antidepressant mirtazapine to stimulate appetite and reduce the fear of choking on food in one teen with ARFID.

It’s easy to feel at a loss when you’re trying to help a loved one with ARFID, but you don’t have feel this way. If your child is currently getting or planning to get treatment for ARFID, here are some ways you can support them:

  • Keep anxiety levels low by maintaining “safe foods” that your child feels comfortable eating, even when undergoing exposure to new foods.
  • Ensure a stress-free eating environment, which can include not having a mix of food smells in the area.
  • Educate other family members who may not be aware of ARFID to avoid confrontations with your child about their “picky” dietary habits.
  • Avoid pressuring your child into eating new foods when they’re uncomfortable. Instead, have them use other senses such as touch and smell to help them get used to the new food.

While research on ARFID treatment is ongoing, there are many resources to support your mental and nutritional health.

Therapy and medical care (when needed) can make ARFID more manageable. Doctors, psychologists, and nutritionists all help people reduce symptoms caused by ARFID.

Resources exist to help you navigate any bumps on the road to ARFID recovery. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) has a helpline where you can call, text, or chat for support or ask any questions you may have about ARFID.