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Eating Disorders & Phobias

I received the following letter from a man suffering with a food phobia. In talking about phobias in relation to Eating Disorders I felt it was important to share this man's story...

It may be useful to others if you gave some coverage to the type of problem I have. I have found little or no coverage on similar problems, but I cant believe that I am a totally unique freak.

If I try and explain the problem. Its not how much or how little I eat, no binging or purging, its what I eat. I have read numerous times that EDs are a symptom of another problem. What if food is the problem?

Many people suffer to one degree or another from irrational phobias, often relating to a traumatic experience. what if that phobia is food. Many people dislike a particular food due to its asociation with an experience, now take that to its extreme.

Until the age of 6-7, I was continually ill and in and out of hospital, whooping cough, tuberculosis annd meningitis,anyone of which could have proved fatal, with the usuall run off the mill childhood illnesses filling in the gaps. During this time, it was often very difficult to keep food down, all I could keep down was fairly bland. Overtime, bearing in mind my age, this created an assoociation food cause me harm, this included any form of meat, veg, cheese or anything with any real taste. I wont go into what my daily diet usually consists, but suffice to say that their is nothing really that you could term as a socially exceptable meal.

As with any phobia, there is a tendancy to aviod situations where you are going to have to confront it, such as eating socially. My parent's attempts at solving the problem only made matters worse, first were attempts at force feeding which only served to reinforce the problem. Probably the cruellest thing was trying to 'shame' me into eating normally, effectively making me feel like an abnormal freak only serving to make me more self conscious of a problem that I felt was outside of my control.

I am very secretive regarding the problem, most of my friends dont even know, I avoid any event where I could be 'outed' like the plague and those that I cant get out of such as invites to relatives weddings etc will cause anxiety attacks similar to those many of you may experience.

I do suffer from low self esteem, lack of confidence and depression, mainly though not feeling like a normally fully participating member of the human race and as I get older becoming a very lonely social leper.

I am now nearly 34, I know my behaviour is totally irrational, I am an otherwise intelligent graduate running my own computer company.

I have had comments like why dont you just try. What people dont realise is that my body reacts to what they consider as a normal diet in the same way as their's would is asked to eat something they wouldnt consider as food or if they were eating something, then found out they were eating their pet cat for example. You cant swallow, if you do your throat goes into spasm and you start reaching. This is compounded by the fact that my tastebuds/palette are uneducated and trigger this reaction to 'non food'. This reaction then goes someway to reinforcing the original phobia and you end up going round in circles.

I have tried getting help at different times. I have found doctors to be totally unhelpful, often failing to comprehend the problem or its impact on me neither mentally or socially let alone the totally imbalanced diet. To get them to realise the scale of the problem, I would have to tell them what I lived on, which is something it took a therapist many weeks to get out of me. Unfortunatly at that time, I had just come out of a relationship and facing being alone again for the first time in 8 years and the impact of my eating if I were not to lead the life of a total hermit. The therapist spent most of her time trying to stop me going totally unhinged.

I can't be the only 'freak' out there.

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