LIFESTYLE

Food Phobia Makes Teenager Live Off A Diet Of Chips: 'It's Like A Never Ending Cycle Of Hell'

20/01/2015 15:13 GMT | Updated 20/01/2015 15:59 GMT

For most people, eating out at a restaurant is a treat. But for Jennifer Radigan it's an absolute nightmare.

The 17-year-old, who suffers from a food phobia, has lived off a diet of mostly oven chips for almost five years

She's so repulsed by the thought of eating meat and vegetables, she often heaves at the sight of a regular plate of dinner.

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Radigan is thought to suffer from a condition known as Selective Eating Disorder (SED) which causes sufferers to be anxious or nauseous when they're presented with new or feared food, leaving them at greater risk of extreme weight loss and malnutrition.

Her eating habits, thought to be one the main reasons she regularly faints in public, have caused 5ft Radigan's weight to drop to 6st 10tbs giving her a low BMI of 18.4.

The teenager, from Galston, East Ayrshire in Scotland, is also particular about the brand of the chips she consumes. Her typical daily diet consists of a plate of McCain chips topped with cheddar cheese.

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The college student, who volunteers at a local vet, said: "I used to live off mostly chicken, but now the smell makes me sick.

"It feels like the older I get, the fewer foods I can actually stomach, but I can't go wrong with chips and cheese.

"It affects my everyday life, not so much the eating around people or out, but the symptoms that come with the health issues it has caused.

"I can't go one day without feeling completely exhausted or ill at at-least one point. It's like a never ending cycle of hell."

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Although Radigan was a fussy eater throughout her childhood, it wasn't until she turned 16 that she realised her eating habits had spiralled out of control.

It was only when she smashed her head on a concrete floor after fainting on her first day of work experience that she decided to go to the doctors for help.

Tests were run by doctors who found Radigan had a deficiency of iron and vitamin B12. They suggested Radigan's food phobia could be Selective Eating Disorder and have referred her to a specialist for formal diagnosis.

Radigan said: "Fainting on a concrete floor on my first day of work experience was not the nicest of things.

"I've fainted a total of five times now, and each time was different. One time I was shaking and when I came round I was still shaking – it was terrifying.

"I find myself getting very easily upset by it. I'll look in the mirror and think 'I'm nothing but skin and bones' and ' is this how people see me?'."

chips mum

The teenager says she hasn't been able to finish a proper meal in five years, narrowing down her diet to mostly chips and cheese with the rare exception of boiled potatoes and readymade pasta – but only when she feels like it.

Radigan will usually skip breakfast, have a plate of chips and cheese for lunch at college and pick at whatever her mum, Karen Radigan, 41, puts in front of her at dinner.

She said: "There is nothing worse than having a beautiful meal put down to you and going to take the first bite and thinking I can't put this in my mouth.

"No matter how much I want to eat it, I can't. I've always had major issues with meats. The fat on it is just sickening.

"On school days I wouldn't eat lunch I'd live off a KitKat and a small part of my dinner at night, no breakfast or anything.

"It wasn't because I felt fat or wanted to lose weight or anything, it was because that's all I felt I could eat."

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Mum Karen, said: "Her eating habits really scare me, she seems to go through stages where she improves slightly but they never last very long.

"To be honest her food phobia started at primary with her mainly avoiding red meat but has spiralled and can result in her eating virtually nothing in a day.

"I have let Jen make a shopping list and buy the foods she wants, but even this can fail.

"Jen will often come shopping with me and I let her get what she wants but this mainly consists of junk food.

"I support Jen as does the rest of the family, I attend doctor's appointments and dietician appointments with her and will support her to overcome this disorder."

Currently studying for a Higher National Certificate, Radigan, who hopes to start university in September, is terrified her phobia of food will only get worse when she moves away from home.

But having been recently referred to a specialist by her GP, she is finally hoping to be diagnosed with SED so she can get the therapy she needs.

"I'm quite fearful about going to university, I've got used to eating around people I know but being around people I don't know will be quite scary.

"I feel I will have to explain my situation in case I faint or don't eat in front of people. The foods I know I can't eat make me nervous as I know I need to eat them for the nutrients and that makes me upset.

"I can still get nervous when eating out but I've learned to brush it off. The only thing that scares me most is what could come from my eating or lack of eating.

"What if I fainted and no one was around to help me and I never woke up. I've worked hard myself to get to the stage that I'm at but I feel it slipping away as more foods are added to my 'can't to eat list'.

"Hopefully a proper diagnosis will help me get the therapy I need."

If you are concerned about an eating disorder or food phobia, visit your GP or check out the advice from eating disorders charity Beat .

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