What is the difference between ARFID and picky eating?

Child picky eating

A lot of people are familiar with picky eating, or Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (R-FID), but don’t know what ARFID is.

If you’re not sure how to tell them apart, you’re not alone!

ARFID stands for Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, and it can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between picky eating and ARFID, especially if it hasn’t been diagnosed correctly. Here are some helpful distinctions between the two conditions.

Definition of ARFID

ARFID stands for Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, and is sometimes referred to as extreme picky eating. Sometimes also called food selectivity, food avoidance, or feeding disorder of infancy or early childhood. ARFID consists of an aversion to whole categories of food.

While most people are selective about what they eat—picky eaters tend to avoid only certain foods within a given category. For example, an individual with ARFID might avoid all fruits or vegetables but will eat other items from other categories such as proteins or carbohydrates. Those with severe cases can be at risk for starvation because their diets are so limited.

If you suspect that your child has ARFID or another eating disorder it’s important to get treatment right away. There are several ways that therapy can help someone who has trouble consuming food in general or specific types of food.

Is ARFID and Picky Eating the Same Thing?

ARFID is a relatively new term in psychology, but there’s a growing understanding of it among researchers. It’s a specific diagnosis within a broader category known as feeding and eating disorders of childhood.

Picky Eating, on the other hand, isn’t a formal disorder at all—instead, it’s more of an informal way to describe children who are selective about their food choices. In that sense, then, picky eaters aren’t necessarily disordered or unhealthy; it just means they don’t like what most people do.

Similarities Between Picky Eating and ARFID

Child eating food

Picky eaters, or those with Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), share many similarities. Both groups consume a restricted diet because they dislike certain textures, colours, smells, or taste of food.

In fact, these individuals may fear new foods to such an extent that they will only consume a very limited number of food items over a long period of time. While these two conditions have several things in common, there are some clear differences as well.

Understanding what separates them can help a parent identify ARFID symptoms in their child and encourage them to seek out help from a medical professional if needed.

Differences Between Picky Eating and ARFID

People with extreme, selective food habits are often mistakenly labelled as picky eaters or children who are unwilling to try new foods.

However, ARFID (Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder) is considered an actual mental health disorder that should be taken more seriously than just labelling someone as picky. There are many factors that can lead to extreme picky eating habits, such as sensory processing disorder (SPD) or autism spectrum disorders. Extreme picky eaters may not feel their mouth or stomach at all, so they cannot know when they are full. Many people with ARFID have trouble controlling their impulses and knowing what foods might make them feel ill after ingestion.

To make things even more complicated, some children with ARFID can feel anxious about going to a party or sitting at a table with other kids who eat a variety of foods. If a child has selective food habits, parents should work with a dietitian or nutritionist to find ways for them to learn how to eat healthier foods, but understand that it may take time.

Instead of trying to force them into situations where they will feel overwhelmed by food choices, you can try setting up an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) at school if your child doesn’t want to eat their lunch or snacks. This could help them develop positive coping skills so they can have control over what happens around food instead of being stressed out every day.

Strategies to help children eat a variety of food

There are several different strategies to help children to increase their willingness to try a variety of foods.

For instance, you can help a child realize that food tastes differ from person to person, but that a new food should not be judged until it has been tried.

Additionally, visual cues may sometimes aid in increasing a child’s willingness to try a new food. For instance, some parents cut out starts or dinosaurs out of the food, or arrange the food in a way that can make the excited to eat ( like a smiley face).

If you think one of these strategies could work for your family, consult with your healthcare provider or get advice from other parents who have succeeded with these techniques. The most important thing when approaching issues around children’s eating habits is communication. Sign post them whenever necessary and make them aware of what’s happening. This way, they will feel more confident to tell you if, or when, they feel uncomfortable or anxious.


It can be difficult to find strategies that help children eat a variety of foods, but with the right approach and understanding about food preferences, picky eating is manageable. We recommend reading through our blog post for more information on ARFID versus picky eating in order to understand which one your child may have. If you’re looking for ways to build healthy habits or improve nutrition in general, don’t forget we offer an online course so people like you can learn how!

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