A recruitment consultant who is so scared of healthy food that she finds eating fruit and vegetables like feasting on “a plate of dog poo" told how she survives on pizza, plain pasta, chips and chicken nuggets – despite fearing her diet could make her blind.
After cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and hypnotherapy failed to cure her phobia, Jade Youngman, 25, of Norwich, Norfolk, England, fears she will never be able to vary her nutrient deficient menu, putting her at risk of serious health problems in the future.
Told she has avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), Jade said: “The way I describe how I feel is that if someone puts a plate of fruit or vegetables in front of me, it's the equivalent of putting a plate of dog poo down and saying, 'Eat that'."
Jade (PA REAL LIFE/COLLECT)
She said: “It will make me vomit if I eat it. It will make me wretch and gag to have it in front of me.
“It's like a physical reaction. If I put it to my mouth with my left hand, my right hand will pull my left hand away before it gets there.
“I know that it won't kill me if I eat it and I know that it will probably taste nice, but I can't get it in my mouth."
Jade explained: “I have tried to push through it but I can't."
Strangely, Jade would eat anything until she was about three years old, when she started to refuse certain food, although she cannot recall there being a trigger for it.
Doctors dismissed it as fussy eating and told her parents she would grow out of it.
Chicken nuggets (PA REAL LIFE/COLLECT)
“My mum said she can't think of anything that triggered it," she recalled.
“There were no incidents of choking or anything like that.
“My parents took me to the doctor at that age, but they just said I was a fussy eater and it was a stage I would grow out of. But I never did."
Jade (PA REAL LIFE/COLLECT)
“I began to notice I was different to other kids when I started school," Jade recalled.
Especially on trips, when other children would bring their packed lunches and I couldn't eat anything like the food they had.
“I would get comments – things like, 'Shall we get you a high chair to go with that meal?' because I was, basically, eating food for little children."
Jade continued: “The texture is a defining thing for me. It's not so much flavor. For example, I like the flavoring of fajita seasoning, but I could never eat peppers or chili because of the texture.
“My tastebuds are quite strong and I end up putting a lot of salt on my food, but it is overcoming that texture that I can't manage. I can't get the food into my mouth. Even if I think I might like the flavor, my head won't allow me to eat it.
“I've always just eaten chicken nuggets, pizza, plain pasta with cheese, and chips – processed food, basically."
She said: “I don't eat breakfast, and for lunch I will have a slice of pizza from Greggs with just cheese on it. Then for tea it will be chicken nuggets, chips or pasta. These are what I call 'safe foods.' I will never eat anything new or that I've not tried before."
Now Jade fears that, like fellow ARFID sufferer Harvey Dyer, 18, of Gloucester, whose story shocked Britain when it transpired that he suddenly went blind in his left eye in October 2018 because of his restricted diet, she will develop serious health problems in the future.
Told by a therapist she most likely had ARFID in summer of 2013, it is defined by eating disorder charity BEAT as an umbrella term for conditions in which sufferers have a restricted diet, as they avoid certain foods – the most common reason being extreme sensitivity to their taste, texture, smell, or appearance.
Chicken nuggets and chips (PA REAL LIFE/COLLECT)
Sufferers may also have had a distressing experience with food, such as choking or vomiting, and the condition can leave them with health problems if they are not receiving enough nutrients.
“When I was 17 I started having CBT, but I still couldn't work out why it was all happening to me," said Jade.
“Then, when I was 18, I went to one of the top hypnotherapists in the UK, someone who had cured thousands of people, but it didn't work on me."
What is ARFID?
- They might be very sensitive to the taste, texture, smell, or appearance of certain types of food, or only able to eat foods at a certain temperature. This can lead to sensory-based avoidance or restriction of intake.
- They may have had a distressing experience with food, such as choking or vomiting, or experiencing significant abdominal pain. This can cause the person to develop feelings of fear and anxiety around food or eating, and lead to them to avoiding certain foods or textures.
- Some people may experience more general worries about the consequences of eating that they find hard to put into words, and restrict their intake to what they regard as 'safe' foods. Significant levels of fear or worry can lead to avoidance based on concern about the consequences of eating.
- In some cases, the person may not recognize that they are hungry in the way that others would, or they may generally have a poor appetite. For them, eating might seem a chore and not something that is enjoyed, resulting in them struggling to eat enough. Such people may have restricted intake because of low interest in eating.
Jade added: “I think I managed to swallow one blueberry, but I wouldn't class that as eating one."
Jade said her despair is increased by the number of people who think she is making her condition up.
She said: “People do not believe you. They just put stuff in front of you and say, 'Why don't you just try it? You will like it.' But I know it will make me sick."
She continued: “I miss out on a lot of family occasions – things like 21st birthday parties. I hate having to ask for special food or having to deal with questions about it. I worry about people's reactions. It's just easier not to go out.
“I rarely go out with friends now for the same reason. If I do go out it will be to places like Nandos, where I can order plain food, or Pizza Hut – never to a fancy restaurant.
“I won't go to networking meals with work. What would it look like if they were having nice meals and I ordered a plate of chips? And I can't expect them to plan things around me."
And she sees Harvey Dyer's experience – after he was diagnosed with nutritional optic neuropathy, a dysfunction of the optic nerve resulting from a poor diet – as a cautionary tale.
She said: “I have not lost my sight but Harvey's background is very similar to mine, so I do really worry about it.
“People have used him as an example, telling me I need to change. But I can't just change the way I eat, no matter how much I want to."
Chips (PA IMAGES/PA REAL LIFE)
“I know it is impacting on my health. I am constantly tired – I can sleep for England. I find life really hard on a day to day basis and end up relying on caffeine, which I know is also not good for me," she said.
“I have an iron deficiency and have to take tablets for that. I'm not sure what the other health impacts are yet, because doctors don't seem to recognize my problems as a medical condition, so are not testing me for anything. They just say at some point I will need to change my diet.
“I'm so worried about how it will affect me if I decide to have children. I worry about the lack of vitamins in my diet and the impact it will have on the baby's health during pregnancy."
Jade asked: “Then bringing children up. How can I encourage them to eat a healthy diet if I can't do it myself?"
Jade said her condition has also affected her mental health.
She continued: “I suffer from a lot of anxiety and depression. I worry about where I'm going to be able to get lunch from, whether there will the right type of food available."
At 5ft 8in and fluctuating between 168 and 182lbs, Jade is a size 14 and, while she is glad her diet has not made her fat, she said this can, at times, lead to negative reactions.
She added: “It feels like people are very judgmental. Because I do not look obese or really thin, they think it can't be possible that I have an eating disorder.
“I feel helpless, like I can't do anything about it. It makes me really unhappy. I would do anything for someone to fix me. I just want to find someone that will help me."