What is Selective Eating Disorder?

Selective eating disorder falls under the umbrella of Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder or ARFID. Someone with a selective eating disorder may have a phobia of certain foods, maintain an excessively limited diet, and have sensory aversions to specific tastes, textures, or scents, or anxiety or aversion to swallowing, which is far more severe than merely being a fussy or picky eater.


This type of disordered eating is rather frequent. More than half of eating disorders fall into the Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder group because they do not fit the diagnostic criteria for more well-known eating disorders such as binge eating disorder, bulimia, or anorexia.
It usually does not become chronic. Many primary care professionals and pediatric specialists say that it is common that children will grow out of a “fussy eating” period by the age of six. Individuals can have anxiety at the thought of putting certain “unsafe” items in one’s mouth and it can be crippling for those who suffer from this illness. Children and adults with selective eating disorders believe that if they consume certain foods they will die, regardless of their age. As a result, comprehensive mental health care (and frequent medical treatment) is critical in helping them overcome their anxieties and develop healthy eating habits.

Selective Eating Disorder

Symptoms of Selective Eating Disorder

Anxiety and depression, as well as social impairments, are all typical psychological disorders that accompany a selective eating disorder. A person with a selective eating disorder will only eat foods that they deem safe or acceptable and will go to great lengths to avoid foods that have particular tastes, colors, textures, or scents. When someone with a selective eating disorder is urged (or forced) to try new foods, they may become uncomfortable or nervous. Anxiety can be caused by food phobias, a fear of choking or vomiting as a result of consuming the meal, or anxiety-inducing memories associated with a food or food group. Other common symptoms and warning signs of a selective eating disorder include having a limited list of foods that one will eat, eliminating entire food groups, eating foods with similar characteristics (texture, color, etc. ), and becoming visibly emotional or stressed when presented with or around unfamiliar foods.

Causes of Selective Eating Disorder

Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, unlike other well-known eating disorders, has nothing to do with body image or the desire to reduce or maintain weight. Instead, trauma is a common cause of Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder. Early trauma in infancy typically leads to the development of this eating disorder and it convinces the individual that eating certain foods they are frightened of may kill them.

Risk factors of Selective Eating Disorder

The traumatic event could be anything from choking to, in some cases, repressed memories of infants who were born preterm and spent months in the NICU with tubes running through their mouths and noses. Selective Eating Disorder is a sensory disorder, hence it is centered on fear, unlike other eating disorders.

Complications of Selective Eating Disorder

When compared to someone who does not have a selective eating disorder, long-term selective eating can cause malnutrition, digestive issues, low blood pressure, electrolyte imbalances, and a slower heart rate.

In addition to the aforementioned issues, children who acquire a selective eating disorder at a young age may have developmental delays and weight loss. It can be difficult to use weight as a visual indicator of a selective eating disorder in adults. Some adults may lose a lot of weight in a short period of time. In some circumstances, though, their weight may be perfectly normal and within medically recommended parameters.

Prevention of Selective Eating Disorder

Individuals with Avoidant Resistant Food Intake Disorder may be able to create better, safer coping skills for managing food phobias by examining the fundamental causes of their concerns and aversions to food. They will gradually begin to eat a more nutritious, well-balanced diet. Seeking treatment for selective eating disorders is typically far more beneficial and effective in modifying behaviors than hoping for symptoms to go away on their own.

Diagnosis of Selective Eating Disorder

A selective eating disorder is defined as an eating or feeding disturbance (e.g., apparent lack of interest in eating or food; avoidance based on sensory characteristics of food; fear of aversive consequences of eating) manifested by persistent failure to meet appropriate nutritional and/or energy needs associated with one (or more) of the following:
• Weight reduction is significant (or failure to achieve expected weight gain or faltering growth in children).
• Nutritional deficit to a significant degree.
• Nutritional supplements or enteral feeding are required.
• Significant disruption in psychosocial functioning

Treatment of Selective Eating Disorder

Graduated exposure therapy, also known as systematic desensitization, is frequently used in the treatment of younger children. This is a type of behavioral treatment that aims to help people overcome their fears and anxiety problems. It incorporates cognitive-behavioral therapy and applied behavior analysis techniques.

The capacity to control selective eating disorders is heavily influenced by the age at which symptoms appear. Seeking treatment as an adult can help you discover safer and healthier ways to cope with triggering and fear-inducing events. If you suspect your child is suffering from a selective eating disorder, you should immediately contact their primary care provider or a mental health specialist.