Last week it was reported that a teenage boy was left deaf and blind after eating only chips, crisps, ham and sausages for a DECADE.
The 17-year-old, known only as Jake, from Bristol, suffered from a condition where picky eating is taken to extremes.
ARFID — avoidant-restrictive food intake disorder — can make sufferers oversensitive to the taste, texture, smell, look and even temperature of certain foods.
Dr Gillian Harris, a psychologist from the University of Birmingham, told The Sun: “You get a lot of people saying, ‘If that was my child, I’d sit them down in front of something and make them eat it’.
'IT'S NOT CHILDREN BEING NAUGHTY'
“But parents who have tried this will know it doesn’t work.
“All children go though what we call the neophobic stage when they are aged around two to four, but some will be worse than others.
“Neophobia has a biological function. It’s not children being naughty or trying to control you. It’s a biologically determined behaviour which has a function, ‘I won’t eat that in case it’s poisonous’.
“If something doesn’t look right the child will not eat it. Most will grow out of it by the time they are five or six. They will start to imitate others and to try new foods.”
But for children with ARFID the aversion can continue for many years and even into adulthood.
Dr Harris said: “It’s to do with hypersensitivity with the senses — smell, taste and texture. There are other indicators too. Sometimes you might have a child who is cleaner, tidier and more of a perfectionist.
“They don’t like getting messy or splashed in the bath. They don’t like lumps in their food.”
'IT'S NOT ANYTHING A PARENT HAS DONE'
ARFID children will have “safe foods” and won’t eat anything else.
Dr Harris added: “Quite often it is hard when you try to move them on from purees to lumpy foods and you may get gagging and vomiting. ARFID children will usually have been more difficult right from the six-month to eight-month stage.
“Parents hide foods and try to disguise them but this makes it worse. I had one case where a mum tried to change the pasta her son ate to gluten free. He wouldn’t eat it, then refused to eat pasta ever again.
“Most children with ARFID will only have ten exact foods they will eat. So not just crisps, but Walkers salt and vinegar crisps. They are loyal to brands and flavours.”
Children with the disorder find it hard to eat with others, as the mere smell or sight of foods they don’t like can provoke a reaction.
Dr Harris added: “It’s genetically determined. It’s not anything a parent has done. I’ve seen parents with four children, three of whom all eat normally but one doesn’t.
“Parents think it is their fault because other parents and teachers make them feel guilty. You should feel no more guilty than if your child has anorexia. This is an eating disorder.”
Weight loss can be a side effect of the condition, but if children are allowed to eat their safe foods they should continue to grow.
Dr Harris added: “If your child has a reasonable range they should be able to eat enough of these foods to keep putting on weight and growing normally.”
ARFID has only recently been added to an official list of mental disorders. There is no data on its prevalence, although one US expert in childhood eating disorders, Prof Keith Williams, believes ARFID is on the rise.
He said: “I’ve been seeing kids with nutritional deficiencies for 30 years but not as many as we’ve been seeing in the past few years.”
Psychologist Felix Economakis, one of the UK’s leading experts in food phobias, said: “ARFID can have a serious impact on lives, socially, at home, in school and even in their jobs. It’s not just children, I see adults that suffer too.
“Sadly, it is not taken very seriously because of the confusion with fussy eating.
“If you tell a GP, ‘My child doesn’t eat any more and they are losing weight’, they will diagnose anorexia and refer accordingly.
“If you tell a GP your child only eats a limited amount of foods, the GP is likely to say, ‘Don’t worry, they will grow out of it’. The No1 thing to know is that it isn’t a parent’s fault. “You could be mother of the year, but this is a phobic response. There is no logic to it.
You can read more of the article, including stories from three mums whose children have all been diagnosed with ARFID to learn more about their experiences by clicking here