Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

Clinical features of adult patients with avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder presenting for medical stabilization: A descriptive study

International Journal of Eating Disorders
By Allison Nitsch, MD, FACP, CEDS Jamie Manwaring, PhD Maryrose Bauschka, MD, CEDS Melanie Hebert, MD Philip S. Mehler, MD, FACP, FAED, CEDS


Objective: The purpose of this study is to describe the clinical features of adult patients with avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) to better understand the medical findings, psychological comorbidities, and laboratory abnormalities in this population.

Method: We completed a retrospective chart review of all adult patients with a diagnosis of ARFID, admitted for medical stabilization, between April 2016 and June 2021, to an inpatient hospital unit, which specializes in severe eating disorders. Information collected included anthropomorphic data, laboratory assessments, and medical history at time of admission.

Results: One hundred and twenty-two adult patients with ARFID were identified as meeting inclusion criteria for the study. The most common ARFID presentation was "fear of adverse consequences." The majority were female (70%), with an average age of 32.7 ± 13.7 years and mean percent of ideal body weight (m%IBW) of 68.2 ± 10.9. The most common laboratory abnormalities were low serum prealbumin and vitamin D, hypokalemia, leukopenia, and elevated serum bicarbonate. The most common psychiatric diagnoses were anxiety and depressive disorders, and the most common medical diagnoses were disorders of gut-brain interaction (DGBI).

Discussion: This is the largest study to the authors' knowledge of medical presentations in adult patients with ARFID. Our results reflect that the adult patient with ARFID may, in some aspects, present differently than pediatric and adolescent patients with ARFID, or from ARFID patients requiring less intensive care. This study highlights the need for further investigation of adult patients with ARFID.

Public significance: ARFID is a restrictive eating disorder first defined in 2013. This study explores the medical presentations of adult patients (>18 years old) with ARFID presenting for specialized eating disorder treatment and identifies unique features of the adult presentation for treatment, compared to pediatric and adolescent peers.

Written by

Allison Nitsch, MD, FACP, CEDS

Dr. Allison Nitsch obtained her Bachelors degree in Chemical Engineering from The University of Texas at Austin. She then matriculated to Texas A&M Health Science Center where she completed her…
Written by

Jamie Manwaring, PhD

Dr. Jamie Manwaring began clinical research in eating and weight disorders after graduating with her degree in psychology from UCLA. This clinical research continued in graduate school at Washington…
Written by

Philip S. Mehler, MD, FACP, FAED, CEDS

Dr. Philip S. Mehler began his career at Denver Health more than 35 years ago and was formerly its Chief of Internal Medicine and then Denver Health’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO) until he was promoted…

ACUTE Earns Prestigious Center of Excellence Designation from Anthem
In 2018, the ACUTE Center for Eating Disorders & Severe Malnutrition at Denver Health was honored by Anthem Health as a Center of Excellence for Medical Treatment of Severe and Extreme Eating Disorders. ACUTE is the first medical unit ever to achieve this designation in the field of eating disorders. It comes after a rigorous review process.

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