The diagnosis of avoidant restrictive food intake disorder in the presence of gastrointestinal disorders: Opportunities to define shared mechanisms of symptom expression.

Journal Article (Journal Article)


Individuals with a gastrointestinal (GI) disorder often alter their diet to manage GI symptoms, adding complexity to understanding the diverse motivations contributing to food avoidance/restriction. When a GI disorder is present, the DSM-5 states that Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) can be diagnosed only when eating disturbance exceeds that expected. There is limited guidance to make this determination. This study attempts to address this gap by characterizing the presentation of ARFID in adults with and without a self-reported GI disorder.


Participants were 2,610 adults ages 18-44 who self-identified as "picky eaters." Participants reported on motivations for food avoidance, affective experiences towards food, and perceived impairment. Responses were compared across four groups: GI issues and likely ARFID (L-ARFID/GI), L-ARFID-only, GI-only, and No-ARFID/No-GI.


Groups with a GI disorder (L-ARFID/GI, GI-only) reported more fear of aversive consequences of eating than those without a GI disorder, while groups with L-ARFID (L-ARFID, L-ARFID/GI) evidenced significantly greater sensory aversion to food and indifference to food or eating, negative emotional reactions to food and overall disgust sensitivity, and eating related impairment.


Consideration of the interplay of a GI disorder with ARFID can add precision to case conceptualization. Food avoidance may be attempts to manage fears of aversive consequences that are augmented by a history of GI symptoms, while sensory aversions and negative emotional reactions towards foods may be more elevated in ARFID. These findings emphasize the need to consider an ARFID diagnosis in patients with GI disorders to optimize care.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Nicholas, JK; van Tilburg, MAL; Pilato, I; Erwin, S; Rivera-Cancel, AM; Ives, L; Marcus, MD; Zucker, NL

Published Date

  • June 2021

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 54 / 6

Start / End Page

  • 995 - 1008

PubMed ID

  • 34028851

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC8352498

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1098-108X

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0276-3478

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1002/eat.23536


  • eng