The Heath

Hypnotherapy Treatment for Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)

Previously known as Selective Eating Disorder (SED)

Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) is a phobia related to trying new foods. A person with ARFID may sincerely desire to eat new foods, might even like the look and smell of new foods, but be unable to bring themselves to taste them. The most common reasons is that they start to gag or retch if they do.

In the past ARFID was referred to as ‘fussy eating’ or ‘picky eating’. This however is a widespread misconception. My young children are fussy eaters (they will not eat any food that does not look in pristine condition). That is normal for young children. They do not however have a phobia, so to simply label people with ARFID as ‘fussy eaters’ is doing them a grave injustice. ARFID is as real and as valid as spider-phobia, snake phobia or flying phobia. It is the same phobic mechanism at work. It just so happens to have been historically associated with food rather than the more familiar targets of phobias. As a general rule of thumb: the difference between picky eaters and people with ARFID is that picky eaters they CAN eat foods but choose not to and in ARFID people want to eat foods but CANNOT.

Back in 2010 I was invited to be the psychologist on BBC3s Freaky Eaters (series 3), working with 8 people with extreme ARFID. I never had any specialist formal training in selective eating disorders. In fact I’d never even heard of ARFID. But I studied the subject and I cracked it. Following on from that programme, I was a member of the ‘fussy-eaters’ forum and as a result of the attention my work got on these two mediums, I have since seen over 1,400 people to date (Spring 2016) for ARFID, probably inadvertently making me the most experienced therapist for ARFID in the UK, if not in the world.

There is a forum on Facebook open to the general public called ‘Selective Eating Disorder’ which I joined in April 2013. In this forum you will find testimonials from parents who have tried hypnotherapy with other therapist without success. One lady even had 8 sessions with a doctor with over 25 years of clinical experience in hypnosis (twice mine) and yet her son had still not tried even one new food. I saw her son for just over an hour on Skype and afterwards he calmly started eating foods which he had never tried before. I’ve openly asked the hundreds of forum members to list any hypnotherapist or medical clinic they have come across with good success rates, and so far no one has matched my one session results. My point is that I am not an expert on eating disorders and yet I have more success and understanding about the true underlying subconscious mechanics than a typical specialist eating disorders clinic, with doctors formally trained in the field. What I do know, and know very well, is the relationship between the conscious and subconscious mind and how to get these two to work together for any challenge they face (see my book ‘Take Charge of Your Life with NLP’). This is what allows me to crack similar challenges quicker and far more effectively than most other methods I am aware of.

My ARFID protocol involves a single two-hour session where I combine several therapies including my particular brand of clinical hypnotherapy. The main aim is to release the fear that prevents individuals from eating the foods they want. Occasionally, there is more than just fear in the way as a block. There might be issues to do with family dynamics and relationships, in younger clients there may be the presence of secondary gains (such as subconscious attention-seeking or preferential treatment from parents). A few times I have had ARFID combined with OCD, all of which mean more work is needed to address the extra threads. To date my success rate for adults and older teenagers is approaching 100% (only one or two people out of every couple of hundred clients do not try food after the session), and approx 75% with children after one session.

Please note that the 2 hour protocol actually includes just over an hour and 20 minutes of therapy and about 20-30mins for preparing and presenting foods so that clients can taste them in their own time without pressure. I believe in testing my work and always ask client to bring at least 5-6 foods of increasing challenge which they would like to try but currently cannot bring themselves to eat. Sometimes clients love most of the food they bring, but more importantly most clients will still dislike one or two foods they have brought to eat – but they do not gag or are not afraid of eating them, and it does not prevent them from trying other foods. An extra 20 minutes is factored in just in case clients get lost finding me or held up in traffic (they often travel from far away and I would hate to run out of time if they were delayed and not complete the therapy after the effort made to see me). And sometimes some extra time may be needed to go over anything.

FAQ about ARFID Treatment

  • Can you help me with my ARFID? – the short answer is I don’t know until I’ve tried. At the time of writing (Spring 2016) I have now helped over 1,400 people with ARFID so help is obviously possible, I just have to find out whether I can do so with you. You may have just ARFID, or you may have other things going on that need more work. The best attitude to adopt before trying my approach is an open-minded sense of ‘Let’s see what happens in my case’.
  • How long is the session? – it’s best to allow for up to two hours (which includes time for tasting foods and any time for delays in finding me). For most people this is all that is needed. You still have to expand your comfort zone to try new things, but having the fear gone or massively reduced allows you to do this.
  • How much is it? – Please enquire for current fee structures.
  • Do you treat young children – Yes I have now successfully treated dozens of young children from 7 years old onwards. The success rate is approx. 70% after one session.
  • Can you offer sessions by Skype? – The success rate for Skype seems to be the same. Sometimes Skype has the added advantage that children feel more comfortable and secure in their own home or living room. I am happy to offer ARFID treatment at home.
  • How far in advance do I have to book? – at present I have an approximate two week waiting list.
  • How can I tell if I have ARFID or a sensory processing disorder? – by a process of elimination. Once I do my basic protocol, sensory perceptions will change once the fear has gone. If not, then a formal sensory processing disorder may be present.
  • Do I have to prepare anything before the session? – just bring in 5-6 foods of increasing challenge that you would like to eat but currently cannot. I prefer that we taste the salad and veg from the local deli around the corner rather than the bland, tasteless affairs of supermarket versions. Please do not buy extra mature cheddar or cold pasta or overly flavoursome foods for the first session. The taste buds need a little bit of time to adapt.
  • I don’t believe I can be hypnotised / I’ve tried hypnosis before – About one in four of my clients have tried hypnosis before, often more than once with different therapists to no avail, but have had success with me. What’s even more interesting is that some of them turned out to be excellent hypnotees, which proves that we all have different levels of competence, understanding, experience and ability. I have even developed a ‘non-hypnotic’ form of hypnosis for those worried about the hypnotherapy side of things, which still gets results!
  • Will I need more than one session? We won’t know until we have completed the standard protocol. The majority of people only require just the extended session.
  • Will this help create permanent life changes or is it temporary? The majority of time it is permanent. Clients still have to build on the success so the changes ‘set’. In a few instances people have been re-traumatised e.g. one lady was fine for over a year then she got pregnant and the morning sickness reminded her of her old gagging fears. She just needed an extra reinforcement session.
  • Can you give me tips on overcoming ARFID? – I treat ARFID as a phobia. As with all phobias it is an emotional problem, not an intellectual one. I cannot give you any ‘common sense’ advice you have not already heard or already know yourself. The way I help is through using a systematic protocol to release the phobia. If you would like to speak with others about their experience consider joining my Facebook forums: Selective Eating Disorder ARFID / SED Support Group and ARFID / SED Parents Support Group.

For more information on how I can help with ARFID contact me today on 0207 794 8730.

Felix Economakis

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