- A 25-year-old UK woman fears she may lose her vision due to a nutritional deficiency. She’s eaten nothing but pizza, plain pasta, french fries, and chicken nuggets since she was 3 years old.
- The woman has avoidant restrictive food intake disorder, an eating disorder that can involve an extreme phobia of certain foods and textures, prompting anxiety or even nausea.
- A severely restricted diet can cause a condition called nutritional optic neuropathy, leading to blindness. At least two cases of blindness from malnutrition have been reported this year.
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A 25-year-old woman from Norwich, England, may be the third known person this year to lose her vision because of food – or rather, a lack of certain foods.
Jade Youngman hasn’t touched a fruit or vegetable in 22 years, eating only pizza, plain pasta, french fries (or “chips” to her), and chicken nuggets, according to the Daily Mail.
The reason? She has a severe eating disorder known as avoidant restrictive food intake disorder, or ARFID. Formerly known as selective food intake disorder, the condition involves an extreme phobia of certain foods or textures, which can cause some people who have it to eat only “safe” foods. In this case, those foods are bland, processed, and low in vitamins.
“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,'” Youngman told the Daily Mail.
Medical professionals have attempted to treat Youngman for the disorder and have warned her that she can go blind if she continues to limit her diet due to a rare condition called nutritional optic neuropathy, but she’s been unable to stomach fruits and vegetables.
‘I know it is impacting on my health,” she said.
At least two others – both teenage boys from the UK – have already lost their vision this year from the usually-rare disorder.
Nutritional optic neuropathy is rare and reversible, if caught early
Nutritional optic neuropathy is usually rare in developed countries. It can be caused by drugs, severe alcohol and tobacco use, and poor diet.
Specifically, the optic nerve is damaged by a lack of nutrients like folic acid and B vitamins, which help with healthy cell maintenance. Without them, toxic metabolic byproducts can build up within the cells, damaging and eventually killing the nerves, research has found.
The condition can be treated early by providing patients with the right nutrients, but once the nerves are damaged, they can’t be repaired.
At least two other reports of the disorder have surfaced in recent months
In early September, the Annals of Internal Medicine published a case study of a teen boy in Bristol who went blind from nutritional optic neuropathy, Insider previously reported.
The teen, who subsisted on fries, white bread, chips and processed meats, had complained of tiredness, and received a diagnosis of anemia and B vitamin deficiency. A year later, he began to lose both his vision and his hearing. A severe lack of vitamin B, vitamin D, and other nutrients permanently damaged the boy’s vision, leading to total blindness by age 17.
And an 18-year-old boy from Gloucester, England, was declared blind after eating nothing but fries, chips, and chocolate since he was two years old, according to the Daily Mail. He also reportedly had ARFID.
Eating only junk food can leave you malnourished and lead to a host of problems
While blindness from a junk-food-only diet is still unusual, the eating pattern can lead to plenty of other problems. Excessive junk food can increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes in people of all ages and crowd out healthier options like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains in your daily diet.
Limiting junk food is especially important in children because filling up on it can lead them to miss out on nutrients they need to fuel growing brains and bodies.
If you have a young picky eater in your life, you can encourage more balanced food choices by following these tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics:
- Offer a choice between two healthy options – kids are more excited about eating something they have picked for themselves.
- Find healthy foods they do like and keep them on hand, so they will always have something to rely on.
- Talk to your children about where food comes from and let them help with meal prep – being engaged will make them more interested in healthy food.
- Provide balanced meals and eat together as a family.
If you think your child may have an eating disorder, the National Eating Disorder Association’s hotline can help direct you to resources and professionals near you.
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