A teenage boy made headlines last month when the medical journal Annals Of Internal Medicine published his unusual case. The boy, who came to doctors’ attention at age 14, experienced legal blindness by the age of 17 due to his highly restrictive diet of only French fries, processed meats, and potato chips. Just two weeks later, news came of the woman in the U.K. who can eat only cheese sandwiches. Now, another U.K. woman—this time, a 25-year-old from Norfolk—has come forward to share her struggle with a similar disorder that she fears will also render her blind.
This woman, Jade Youngman, tells The Daily Mail she also suffers from Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), as did the 17-year-old boy whose case drew such attention last month. ARFID is a medical condition that was added to the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders in 2013, making it a known psychological disorder. Youngman says she hasn’t eaten fruit in 22 years, as the sight of fruit or vegetables is enough to make her ill. Despite concerns for her health that led her to seek psychological treatment and even hypnosis, she has been unable to rid herself of her restrictive eating disorder.
What’s missing from much coverage of these cases is, of course, nuance. “Junk food causes boy to go blind” was the gist of most of the September headlines about the teenage boy’s case, and the medical journal’s original headline (“Blindness Caused by a Junk Food Diet”) is partially to blame. But it behooves the media to call these people’s affliction what it is: an eating disorder. As more individuals like Youngman and Harvey Dyer—another man who’s spoken publicly about his disorder—share their experience with ARFID, the narrative shouldn’t be about the freakishness of their diets, but about the fact that this is a real medical condition. It’s not just picky eating; it’s psychologically and physically distressing to the people who experience it.
As Science-Based Medicine notes, junk food and “fussy eating” didn’t cause either of these individuals to go blind: “As is often the case, a lot of the media coverage lacked nuance, and an opportunity to educate the public about a severe and recently recognized eating disorder was largely wasted.” Though much media coverage of these cases has been overly sensationalized, hopefully some good has come of these young people sharing their experiences. The public should now be slightly better educated on ARFID as an eating disorder, and the headlines on these types of stories should reflect that. It wasn’t—and never really was—about the potato chips.