'Extremely worrying' rise in people seeking support for previously little-known eating disorder

Charity sees ‘dramatic increase’ in people seeking help for eating disorder. Credit: PA

People suffering with an eating disorder that makes them avoid certain foods should be offered specialist treatment amid a "dramatic increase" in those seeking help, a charity has said.

The number of people seeking help for a previously little-known eating disorder called Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) has risen sevenfold since 2018, charity Beat said.

Patients with AFRID usually avoid certain foods or limit what they eat. The eating disorder can occur in children, teenagers and adults.

This can happen for a number of reasons, including sensitivity to tastes, textures, or smells, distressing experiences while eating such as choking, and low interest in food.

Eating disorder charity Beat said its helpline received more than 2,000 phone calls in 2023, 10% of the total, from people seeking support for ARFID.

The figure is up from 295 calls in 2018. Andrew Radford, chief executive of Beat, described the spike as “extremely worrying”.

He said: “All too often we hear from people who have been unable to get treatment close to home, or have faced waits of months or even years to get the help they need."

What is ARFID?

ARFID is when someone avoids certain foods, limits how much they eat or does both.

Beliefs about weight or body shape are not reasons why people develop ARFID.

Possible reasons for ARFID include:

  • negative feelings over the smell, taste or texture of certain foods

  • a response to a past experience with food that was upsetting, for example, choking or being sick after eating something

  • not feeling hungry or just a lack of interest in eating

Beliefs about weight and shape do not contribute to the avoidance or restriction of food intake.

Mr Radford added: “ARFID is an eating disorder that rarely gets the attention it deserves, and it’s unacceptable that that seems to apply to funding, too.

“Now is the time for NHS decision-makers to ensure that anyone who needs support can get it from trained and fully equipped teams across the country.”

An NHS spokesperson said: “During the pandemic, referrals for eating disorders for children increased by almost 50% and the NHS is clear that improving care for people with an eating disorder including ARFID is vital, with investment, targeted support and training helping to develop community eating disorder teams in all areas in England.

“Since 2016, investment in children and young people’s community eating disorder services has risen every year, with an extra £54 million per year since last year and extra funding continues to enhance the capacity of community eating disorder teams, including the needs of those with ARFID, across the country.”

Do you or someone you know suffer from ARFID? Here are a few helplines that can provide advice:

You can also anonymously join online support groups to speak with people going through similar experiences to you.

The Nest: A confidential, inclusive and welcoming space for anyone wanting to share their eating disorder experiences, open daily.

Hummingbird: A confidential, inclusive and welcoming space for anyone with an Arfid diagnosis and/or experiencing Arfid symptoms.

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