Sunday, 8 April 2012

Food Neophobia Part 1

This blog was suppose to me about me and my life. I have shared some of my opinions, my love of books and craft and history, my uni work and my life with my friends. But one thing I have kept purposefully secret. I have kept it secret because its embarrassing and difficult to understand if you don't have it or are close to someone who has it. However I have decided to talk about in the hope of spreading awareness and understanding. The secret is I have an eating disorder. However unlike the famous three of Anorexia, Bulimia and Over Eating, my eating disorder is not so well known and definitely not met with understanding and sympathy when revealed in the same way the famous three are. I have something called Food Neophobia. In simple terms this means I have a fear of trying and eating new foods. Usually this disorder gets brushed off as "fussy eating" or the "picky eating" syndrome. A lot of people even laugh it off, denying it is a real thing! Well as someone who has suffered with this for nearly 30 years, I can honestly tell you its a very real thing!!

Usually this disorder sets in between the ages of 2 and 5 when a child is going through crucial development stages including their relationship with food. Something happens that interrupts this process and the natural development is halted or even stopped. This is particularly noticeable when you find yourself as an adult saying you won't eat something because it has bits in, or has a sauce on it or it or has green vegetables with it! Psychologically speaking the child suffers a traumatic or stressful experience where they react by exerting control over the only thing they can, which is what they eat. Alternatively they associate a negative experience with a particular type of food. Luckily Food Neophobia is becoming more and more understood so children with this disorder are being identified at a younger age and receiving the help they need to correct this disorder and not carry it into adult life. The problem is this change is only just happening now. When I was a child and for hundreds of other Food Neophobics this condition was not understood when they were children and they are now walking around as adults still with it. To add to this, Food Neophobia is only just being recognised as a condition found in children. To get this diagnosis as an adult takes forever. It also means there isn't really any treatment for adults with this disorder.

For me I was about 3 years old when my eating problems started. They continued on until I was about 7 years old. By then the damage was done and my range of foods has not really changed or developed since then. With no understanding of this condition I was labelled a fussy eater and that was that. I was finally diagnosed as a Food Neophobic when I was 24, only 6 years ago. The reality of this disorder affects every aspect of my life. It is not simply being a bit fussy or particular about what you eat. When people find out it is usually by me saying I don't like something for the 100th time and question why I can't just try something or how do I know I don't like something if I haven't tried it. If only they could understand!

Being a Food Neophobic means that trying new food is almost impossible. Even the thought of trying something new can trigger a serious panic attack. For me there are various stages of trying a new food. To actually put something in my mouth, chew it and swallow it is an amazing achievement. That's without any discussion of flavour or whether I like it! The panic usually sets in as soon as trying something raises its head. You start to breath quickly, your heart beats faster, you get very hot and sweaty, you start to feel sick and start to shake. This is before you have even put something on the plate. In order to try the food all these elements have to be overcome. You lift the food to your mouth, but you cannot get your brain to open your mouth. Its clamped shut. You may consciously be thinking you want to try the food but sub-consciously your brain is having done of it. It reacts by releasing large amounts of adrenaline into your blood stream, it's natural reaction to fear, the fight or flight response. However despite your fear your not going to run away as its only a piece of fruit or a spoonful on pasta for God's sake! This means the adrenaline doesn't get used. The adrenaline makes your heart beat faster, your breathing quicker and as its not being used up, makes you feel queasy too. If by some miracle you get the food in your mouth now you have to close your mouth and chew. At this point the panic attack really gets going and your throat starts to tighten and the saliva that you desperately need to help chew seems to disappear. Then the retching starts. Sometimes you can hold it back but most of the time this leads to vomiting and  game over. If you do fight it and manage to chew, cope with the new textures and flavours and then swallow, one of two things happen. One, the piece of food comes back up at lightening speed or two, full panic attack, trouble breathing, retching, crying, shaking etc. Only after this can you think about such frivolous things such as did you like it!

As I hope you can see being Food Neophobic is far more than being a bit fussy! In my next post I will look at my Food Neophobia in more detail, how it affects my life and what it is like living with it. I am also currently trying to overcome the various elements and try new foods with the help of my friend. I will use my blog to share my attempts, celebrate my successes and record my tries. As I have mentioned in previous posts I am turning 30 this year. I would really like to mark my 30th year by making significant progress on the eating front. Lets see how I do!


  1. What a brave thing to do by posting on here where so many people can see it. I hope that in doing so others will benefit from this and will receive the help they need.

    I am that friend who is trying to help and together we will overcome this. If this blog helps only one person then i feel that together we will have achieved something. And i hope that the person who has been helped by this blog also goes on to do the same, and so on until the message is out there and it is a well understood and publiscised Phobia.

    Good Luck xxxx

  2. Being the mother of the above friend and also your friend I am so proud of you. I understand (as much as anyone can) without this phobia how difficult it is for you and how much you struggle with it. I know how hard you are trying to overcome it and am proud that my daughter is helping you. I think you are both very brave and I will also help if I can even if it is only by celebrating each little step with you. You can do it little by little, and as has been said if it helps only one other your bravery in aknowledging this awful phobia in public can only do good

  3. Thank you both of you. Its not easy being diagnosed with an eating disorder, especially one that is not very well known or understood. You both know how hard this is for me and I am very grateful for your support and help.
    If my ramblings can help someone else with Food Neophobia or help a parent recognise it in their child and get them help then revealing this will be worth it. I also hope that by writing about it on my blog it will inspire me to keep going and keep trying and not taking the easy way out which is to give up!