Teen suffers from rare eating disorder that only lets him eat dry yellow food
Jake Thompson ate anything until he was 3 years old.
However, traumatic experiences involving his allergies to food when he was younger shaped a diet that consisted mainly of chips, bread, chicken tenders and nuggets.
For the 18-year-old from Greymouth, his intense aversion to anything mushy or wet, combined with a severe allergy to peanuts and dairy, led to a diet only consisting of only dry, yellow coloured foods.
Common fruit and vegetables would bring on a severe extreme physical or emotional reaction.
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His parents would serve dinner, but his refusal to eat would lead to clashes at the table.
"There was obviously a lot of fear and resistance from Jake and you're trying to make him do something that I didn't realise he actually physically couldn't," his mother Dearne said.
"I couldn't understand why he couldn't just sit down and eat it. Everyone has to eat things they don't like. But, then it just upsets everybody and there is screaming and yelling."
"Chicken tenders every night," Jake chips in, laughing.
Jake's picky eating was something that "became normal for us", his mum said. His eating habits were raised with doctors when he was about 10 or 11 and GPs thought he would grow out of it.
It wasn't until a psychologist said he was on the extreme end of a rare eating disorder only recognised in 2013 – Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder or ARFID – that the family realised what had been plaguing Jake for so long.
Jake was "getting slammed" with illness after illness including deteriorating eyesight, glandular fever, a bone infection and recurrent Bell's Palsy around the age of 15.
He eventually began an assessment week with Blind and Low Vision Education Network NZ (BLENNZ). An ophthalmologist looked at his eyes and immediately said a nutritional deficiency caused his blindness.
"I was crying my eyes out. Just going 'it's all my fault, I didn't feed you right' and Jake's sitting there going, 'it's all my fault because I didn't eat'," Dearne said.
He was struggling with the diagnosis and was recommended to see Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. "So we ended up going to a psychologist and she was the one who first brought up the eating disorder," Dearne said.
Jake described his revulsion to certain foods as the "fear of the unknown".
"Half of it is kind of like this voice in your head, that puts up a wall of just things that could happen. Your conscious or whatever is looking at that wall and saying 'that's scary I'm not going anywhere near that then'."
He then began food therapy. Some sessions would take up to an hour and half just to eat one food from his list and he recalls only walking out once.
Despite his struggles, he has finished therapy now, which gave Jake the confidence to enrich his diet to include foods such as almonds, black beans "straight out of the tin" and a liking, or tolerance at least, of broccoli and cooked carrot.
"He will generally try stuff now and before there was no way he would consider it," his mum said.
The pair will feature in a TVNZ special tonight titled The Secret Lives of Fussy Eaters.
"Given what's happened to him, if people can pick it up and get some help earlier then you should," Dearne said.
Dietician and chef Andrea Palmer said parents should seek help if a child is showing anxiety around food, or refusing to eat with the family.
"I think that parents need to trust their own instincts, and they know their children so to trust that and seek help."
* Jake's story features on The Secret Lives of Fussy Eaters, on Sunday at 7.30pm on TVNZ 1.
- Sunday Star Times