A woman with a severe food phobia says she’s lived on a plain diet of pizza, pasta, nuggets and chips for 22 years – calling fruit and vegetables the equivalent of ‘dog poo’.
Jade Youngman, from Norwich, isn’t just your bog-standard fussy eater – she suffers from avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID).
The 25-year-old has made several attempts to curb her affliction with hypnotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy, to no avail.
She’s been battling the disorder since the age of three, when she suddenly became absolutely repulsed by healthier foods.
Explaining her struggles, 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’.
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.
It’s not a case of not enjoying the taste, it’s more a case of the texture. Jade says she knows the fruit and vegetables will be nice, but despite many, many tries to ‘push through’, she simply can’t.
The 25-year-old felt compelled to speak out after two teenagers lost their sight due to their eating disorders.
Harvey Dyer, 18, went blind in October 2018 due to a near-exclusive diet of chips, crisps and chocolate.
Earlier in September, an unnamed 17-year-old from Bristol was left blind and deaf due to serious nutritional deficiency – for chips, he only ate chips, Pringles, white bread, processed ham and sausages.
People have used [Harvey] 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.
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.
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 recognise 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.
People in Jade’s position can go blind over a period of time due to condition known as nutritional optic neuropathy – when the optic nerves lose their ability to transfer visual information to the brain due to a lack of vitamins.
According to Beat, an eating disorder charity, ARFID is often seen as an umbrella term – however, ‘all people who develop ARFID share the central feature of the presence of avoidance or restriction of food intake in terms of overall amount, range of foods eaten, or both’.
Speaking of how it affects her life, Jade added:
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.
Her disorder started at the age of three, but her mum says she can’t think of what triggered it. Problems with food can often stem from traumatic incidents as a child, such as choking or a severe allergic reaction, but for Jade this wasn’t the case.
Jade’s daily food routine is as follows: she skips breakfast altogether, heads to Greggs at lunchtime for a slice of margarita pizza, then dinner will either be chicken nuggets, chips or pasta. ‘I will never eat anything new or that I’ve not tried before,’ she said.
Describing the toll on her mental health, Jade explained:
I suffer from a lot of anxiety and depression… it feels like people are very judgemental. 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.
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After graduating from Glasgow Caledonian University with an NCTJ and BCTJ-accredited Multimedia Journalism degree, Cameron ventured into the world of print journalism at The National, while also working as a freelance film journalist on the side, becoming an accredited Rotten Tomatoes critic in the process. He’s now left his Scottish homelands and took up residence at UNILAD as a journalist.