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  • Writer's pictureMim Kempson

ARFID in relationships

For some autistic people, food and eating can present significant challenges. The reasons (or driving factors) for such difficulties can vary widely.

Why raise this subject as a Sex and Relationship Therapist?

Well, for one, food can be such a HUGE part of connection - across cultures, families, dating, even! A first date might be grabbing a drink or two, and the second, sharing a meal.

Last week I watched psychologist Marie Camin's webinar on ARFID, avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder.

Now, I'm NOT a dietician or practitioner that can diagnose, but it really got me thinking about the unique challenges people with ARFID may face in their relationships.

Before going on, it's important to note that ARFID is NOT:

  • an eating disorder (but can sometimes co-occur with ED's)

  • the result of compromised access to food

  • not a manifestation of another condition

  • not due to the effect of any substances

According to the ICD, ARFID leads to an insufficient quantity or variety of food to meet nutritional requirements. This can lead to significant weight loss, deficiencies, dependence on supplements and other health impacts. It can also significantly impair other areas of people's lives - social, personal, work, education, family.

The 4 common mechanisms behind ARFID are:

  • Low appetite and low interest in food

  • Restrictions based on sensory needs

  • Avoidance of food due to fear (i.e. choking, vomiting)

  • Familiarity (changes can be stressful)

As a Sex and Relationship Therapist specialising in working with ADHD and autistic couples and individuals, potential effects ARFID could have on relationships include:

  • Romantic date locations & options limited

  • Greater prep & planning can be required

  • Low nutrition leading to reduced energy & libido

  • Lack of ARFID education leading to misunderstandings

  • Person with ARFID may face judgement from others

  • Partner may not understand the importance of “safe foods”

  • Lack of empathy for how disregulating food can be

  • Lack of awareness around needing certain conditions to eat

There's so much more I could dive into about ARFID, so please understand that this post is not comprehensive.

The effects of ARFID on relationships that I've listed are only possible (not global or definite) experiences people may have.

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