We all have foods we can’t bear to eat. But some people can’t stand food at all. The Secret Lives of Fussy Eaters investigates the new extreme of picky eating called ARFID, a terrible disorder that can turn a childish refusal to eat your greens, into a psychological phobia that could even take your life.
Avoidant / restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) is a newly discovered eating disorder, and although extremely dangerous, is far less recognized than anorexia and bulimia. It also has a different cause. ARFID sufferers are not trying to be skinny.
The documentary The Secret Lives of Fussy Eaters is an intimate, inside look at the daily lives of very selective eaters and ARFID sufferers. It touches on subjects that affect everyone; our perceptions of taste, our parenting skills, and how phobias and dislikes are formed.
Imagine if every meal was like eating disgusting plate of raw liver. Or dog food. Even the sight of a normal meal makes you want to spew. That was what life was like for Jake Thompson, whose food phobia became so serious he’s now legally blind.
“I was too tired to leave the house. I couldn’t be awake for more than three hours,” says Jake.
Suffering from allergies, from the age of three Jake Thompson has only eaten dry, mostly ‘beige’ foods. Chippies, fries, white bread and chicken nuggets were his staple diet. No fruit and apart from the extremely rare piece of raw carrot, no vegetables. This severely restrictive eating continued for over a decade and ruined Jake’s life, while taking a huge toll on his body.
Blind because of vitamin deficiency, Jake’s fear of food had a catastrophic outcome but he’s just the tip of the iceberg, as some experts say ARFID may affect 3% of the population.
“Jake’s mother Dearne fought hard to change his diet, but fussy eating in children can just be as normal developmental phase, an expression of independence that toddlers usually grow out of” says director and producer Gary Scott. “ARFID kids would rather starve than eat other food, so how can parents tell the difference?”
The documentary meets teenagers Rebecca Heath, who could take over an hour to eat her favourite cheeseburger, and Kayleigh McLachlan, who lives on ice and Nutella. It opens the pantry of popular radio DJ Jase Hawkins (ZM) who can’t even bear to peel a banana, let alone eat tomato sauce out of the fridge.
Latest research into the mysteries of the ARFID condition are explained by experts Kellie Lavender and Dr. Roger Mysliwiec from the NZ Eating Disorders Clinic where they are seeing an increase in cases, and Duke University specialist Dr. Nancy Zucker (USA) discusses her investigations into the emotion of disgust.
Dr. Mysliwiec explains that ARFID “is a diagnosis that captures quite a range of presentations, usually of young people who have problems with eating that also include also anxiety.”
Fussy eaters Jake and Jase enter the food lab to check if they are ‘supertasters’, with surprising results. Dr. Cath Conlon and Emily Jones from New Zealand’s Massey University let cameras into their treatment programme to show how they desensitise fussy eaters and break frightened children’s ‘fight and flight’ response to food.
How should you react to a picky eater? Humour them? Threaten them? How quickly will a mild distaste turn into something much more catastrophic? These questions are answered in The Secret Lives Of Fussy Eaters.
Length - 44 minute Documentary
Broadcaster - TVNZ (Sunday Specials)
Initial Broadcast Date - 30th July 2017
Executive Producer - Gary Scott
Producer - Jane Robertson
Director - Gary Scott
Director of Photography - Sean O'Donnell
Editor - Raewyn Humphries
Sound Mix - Phil Burton Underground Sound