A mum-of-two with a “fear of food” has revealed that she’s been living off cheese sandwiches for almost 30 years.
April Griffiths, 29, has a severe food phobia and experiences intense anxiety at even the thought of eating food that isn’t a cheese sandwich.
In a bid to overcome her mealtime phobia, the mum has forked out a fortune on hypnotherapy sessions, but nothing has been able to cure her of the obsession.
Now, April is concerned that she may pass her habits on to her children, Charlie, two and Daisy, eight months.
"Every time I attempt to try new things, I have a panic attack, my whole body begins to shake, and I am terribly nervous,” the UK woman said.
"The fear of choking and experiencing a different texture of food scares me and even though I have tried to eat pea-size portions of rice, pasta or vegetables, I have never been able to swallow it without throwing up.”
She said she finds it very awkward going out for meals with new people because she has to explain why she’s ordering a cheese sandwich.
The phobia has affected her relationships too.
"When I first met my partner of nine years, Leigh Kendall, 34, I had to pre-warn him about my food phobia to save myself of the embarrassment on our first date,” she said.
Though Leigh attempted to encourage April to try some new foods, she never managed to do so. She has now resigned herself to the possibility that this might be the diet she lives off for the rest of her life.
"I am bored of cheese sandwiches but even with years of counselling, I am unable to overcome my phobia,” she said.
Even the way the cheese is prepared has an impact on whether April can eat it.
"Sometimes I have a cheese toastie to mix it up, but I must eat it when the cheese is hot because I start to gag when it cools down and the texture changes,” she said.
“It sounds silly but if I have sliced cheese I have to avoid thinking about it because the texture is completely different to my usual grated cheese sandwich.
"But I don't have a panic attack because I know it is still cheese, and I can eat toast as I know bread is safe to eat.”
The mum said she dreams of eating certain foods, like a roast dinner, but the thought of vegetables, potatoes and meat touching makes her feel sick.
"The only other thing I can stomach is crisps and that is the only excitement my tastebuds get so I always pick a flavoured pack,” she said.
"I usually eat cheese and onion crisps or prawn cocktail, and treat myself to sour cream Pringles on special occasions."
April is conscious of not passing her eating phobia on to her two kids.
She says it is becoming difficult to feed her toddler Daisy as she notices she isn't eating the same, so she eats after her in another room to ensure she doesn't develop the same eating habits.
April says her eating phobia likely developed when she was little.
"When I was a baby and moving from milk to solid foods, my parents became extremely worried as I wouldn't eat or vomit straight away,” she said.
"A lot of people say my parents weren't tough enough but that isn't the case. I am genuinely scared of food and always have been.
“They have had so many nights crying and stressing over it. They took me to our GP but there wasn't anything medically wrong with me and there still isn't – I have been told by doctors I am healthy.”
Though she has had counselling since she was a child, April said it hasn’t worked and the only time, she came close to being “cured” was following hypnotherapy.
"I had two sessions and I managed to eat rice a couple of months after which was a massive deal for me, I was so proud,” she said.
But at $550 a session, she couldn’t afford to continue, meaning she was left with no choice but to return to her diet.
The online saleswoman now hopes something similar will be available on the NHS.
For now, she has to make do with the foods she’s comfortable eating, plus three cartons of orange juice a day to get essential vitamins.
What is a food phobia?
According to UK-based mental health group Mind, an eating problem is any relationship with food that you find difficult.
Among a checklist of ways eating can impact people’s lives, the site explains that it is possible to feel strongly repulsed at the idea of eating certain foods and be scared of certain types of food.
A lot of the times an eating or food phobia is mistaken for an eating disorder, but Mind says there is a difference.
“An eating disorder is a medical diagnosis based on your eating patterns and medical tests on your weight, blood and body mass index,” the site says.
“An eating problem is any relationship with food that you find difficult. This can be just as hard to live with as a diagnosed eating disorder.”
Anxiety Care UK says there are two distinct types of eating phobia. One is an inability to swallow for fear of choking, which may lead to the rejection of most solid foods.
The other is more of a food aversion, where certain food textures or odours cause nauseous feelings or even vomiting.
For confidential support about eating disorders and body image issues, you can free call the Butterfly Foundation National Hotline on 1800 33 4673.
Additional reporting by Marie Claire Dorking.
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