Have you seen the new article going around about a teen going blind from eating french fries & chips? Should you be scared to eat these foods now? Keep reading to see why you shouldn’t be so worried.
Disclaimer: It’s important to note here that I am not making a diagnosis on this particular case and this should not be used in place of medical advice. If you are concerned about your or your child’s health, it is important to contact your medical provider.
There has been a lot of buzz going around about a BBC Article entitled, “Teenager ‘blind’ from living off crisps and chips.”
I’ve seen it shared a lot and likely due to my job as a dietitian, it’s been sent to me a few times.
So let’s get into it a bit…
First things first…Do french fries and chips cause blindness?
Have no fear, french fries and chips are in the clear.
I always like to remind people that no one food will harm or heal you. In our culture, we have an obsession with making foods either superfoods that will save us or evil foods that will harm us. Honey, there is so much more to our health. There are environmental factors, genetic factors, socioeconomic factors, systemic factors, and so much more.
It wasn’t the french fries and chips that caused the blindness in this case written in the BBC article.
The article alleges that this teen’s blindness was due to malnutrition from only eating these things (plus it’s noted they did consume some lunch meat here and there)
Which means if you only ate 2-3 things, you, too, could be at a risk for nutritional deficiencies and malnutrition. But often if you are only eating 2-3 things, there may be something else going on.
So with the article in question, what was going on with this particular teen?
The article states, “since leaving primary school, the teen had been eating only French fries, Pringles and white bread, as well as an occasional slice of ham or a sausage. Tests revealed he had severe vitamin deficiencies and malnutrition damage.”
Furthermore, it was noted that the teen, “explained this as an aversion to certain textures of food that he really could not tolerate, and so chips and crisps were really the only types of food that he wanted and felt that he could eat.”
My instinct, prior to reading even reading this article, was to question if the teen likely had something called ARFID, or Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder.
While I definitely cannot say with certainty this was the case here, it led me to get inspired to write a post with a brief overview of what ARFID is and why you shouldn’t be so quick to judge things you may not know more about.
So what is ARFID?
According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) website, ARFID is “a new diagnosis in the DSM-5…” and ” is similar to anorexia in that both disorders involve limitations in the amount and/or types of food consumed, but unlike anorexia, ARFID does not involve any distress about body shape or size, or fears of fatness.”
Picky eating is commonly observed in children, but ARFID goes beyond what we would classify as “typical” picky-ness.
According to NEDA & the DSM-5, some criteria for diagnosis include:
- An eating or feeding disturbance (e.g., apparent lack of interest in eating or food; avoidance based on the sensory characteristics of food; concern about aversive consequences of eating) as manifested by persistent failure to meet appropriate nutritional and/or energy needs associated with one (or more) of the following:
- Significant weight loss (or failure to achieve expected weight gain or faltering growth in children).
- Significant nutritional deficiency.
- Dependence on enteral feeding or oral nutritional supplements.
- Marked interference with psychosocial functioning.
- The disturbance is not better explained by lack of available food or by an associated culturally sanctioned practice.
- The eating disturbance does not occur exclusively during the course of anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, and there is no evidence of a disturbance in the way in which one’s body weight or shape is experienced.
NEDA further states, “The eating disturbance is not attributable to a concurrent medical condition or not better explained by another mental disorder. When the eating disturbance occurs in the context of another condition or disorder, the severity of the eating disturbance exceeds that routinely associated with the condition or disorder and warrants additional clinical attention.”
NEDA note’s some of the following symptoms, which include:
- Dramatic weight loss
- Reports constipation, abdominal pain, cold intolerance, lethargy, and/or excess energy
- Reports consistent, vague gastrointestinal issues (“upset stomach”, feels full, etc.) around mealtimes that have no known cause
- Dramatic restriction in types or amount of food eaten
- Will only eat certain textures of food
- Fears of choking or vomiting
- Lack of appetite or interest in food
- Limited range of preferred foods that becomes narrower over time (i.e., picky eating that progressively worsens).
- No body image disturbance or fear of weight gain
With all that being said, what should we take away from this article?
We should not make judgements about people or things we don’t know more about.
French fries and chips definitely don’t cause blindness.
No one food will harm or heal you.
Yes, lack of food variety, in general, can lead to some nutritional deficiencies. (For most people, with access to food options and in a developed world, this isn’t a huge concern!)
Just because your child is a picky eater does not mean they will necessarily develop malnutrition.
In most cases, picky eating does not lead to malnutrition, nutrition deficiencies, failure to thrive, or other developmental issues. Often times it is improved as children get older and they do often begin to include more variety.
However, if your child is having symptoms as above and it is leading to more health and developmental concerns, it may something to explore further with a specialist.
If you are interested in learning more about ARFID, head to NEDA’s website by clicking here to learn more!
Are you concerned about picky eating with your children? Working with an Eating Disorder and/or ARFID specialist may help parents who are feeling concerned if their child is exhibiting similar behaviors as listed above.