With a trembling hand, Beth put a tiny piece of red pepper to her lips. A huge grin spread across her boyfriend’s face as she put the pepper in her mouth and chewed slowly.
“This is incredible,” he said, as Beth broke into a smile. It was the first time in her life she’d managed to put any kind of vegetable in her mouth without gagging.
While most people wouldn’t think twice about chomping down on a piece on veg, Beth, from Cornwall, had suffered from a life-long terror of most foods. Even looking at a tomato or carrot would make her heart race.
Until the age 23, Beth’s diet consisted solely of beige, bland processed foods.
“I mainly lived off chips and white bread cheese sandwiches,” she explains. “There were a couple of cereals I’d eat with milk, and cake bars and crisps, but apart from that it was chips and sandwiches, day in, day out. It made me feel terrible about myself.”
Beth had struggled with a Selective Eating Disorder her whole life.
“My family would eat normal things like chicken stews and roast dinners, but even the smell of a roast made me gag,” says Beth.
Beth’s parents tried every trick in the book to get Beth to eat normally – but eventually gave up and Beth began to prepare her own meals. Every morning, she would make a packed lunch for herself and her little brother, but was so terrified of touching the ham for his sandwiches that she’d use two forks to layer the slices onto the bread.
“Going round to friends’ houses after school was a nightmare,” says Beth. “I’d have to keep saying, ‘I don’t eat that.’ I hated feeling like an annoyance.”
Unsurprisingly, Beth’s poor diet led her to gain weight, and she piled on 6 stone in her teenage years. She felt bloated and uncomfortable, and fantasised about leading a normal life where she could go out to dinner with friends.
“I’d look at people eating a salad, and wish it was me,” says Beth.
At 18, Beth went to her GP, and was shocked when she was diagnosed with an iron deficiency, and was told she was at risk of developing diabetes. The GP diagnosed her with a Selective Eating Disorder and referred her to specialists and counsellors, but nothing worked.
|I felt run down,” says Beth. “I’ve always liked running, but I ran out of energy during exercise.”
Beth and her boyfriend Richard loved the idea of having children one day, but she knew her terrible diet wouldn’t provide enough nutrients during pregnancy. She was also afraid her phobias meant she wouldn’t be able to prepare food for the baby.
In desperation, she began to research Selective Eating Disorders online and came across a hypnotherapist who specialised in food phobias. Although she’d tried hypnosis before with no success, she decided to fork out £250 for the treatment.
Eight weeks later, Beth and Richard travelled to London together for the appointment. The hypnotherapist spent an hour chatting to Beth about her problems with food before beginning the hypnosis.
“I can’t remember that much about it, but I was very relaxed,” she says. “He spent some time talking to my conscience, asking whether I wanted to continue being afraid of foods.”
Afterwards, the hypnotherapist suggested she try some of the salad Richard had brought with them.
“I ate some small pieces of pepper, cucumber, and chicken, and this was absolutely massive for me,” remembers Beth. “I’d never tasted anything like them before, so it was a strange sensation.”
Over the next few days Beth began to try new foods she’d never dreamed she’d be able to eat. Although she wasn’t keen on a lot of things she tried, even tasting them felt like overcoming an enormous hurdle.
Three years later, Beth now eats a much more varied diet. She loves making lasagnes and spaghetti bolognese, and fruit is her favourite snack. She can even go out for a Chinese with friends.
Beth has also lost weight since she started to eat more healthily, and hopes to lose more.
“I feel so much healthier now, mentally and physically – like a whole new person,’ she says. “And the best thing is – my family are over the moon I can eat roast dinners with them now.”
Britain’s fussiest eaters
● Georgie Scotney, 21, from Portsmouth, eats only KFC chicken and chips or toast. As a
child on school trips, Georgia would go hungry if these foods weren’t available.
● Daniel Pennock, 22, from Wakefield, lives off sausage and chops, and says all other foods make him sick. He wants to overcome his issues in order to become a personal trainer.
● Jodie Brown, 17, from Wolverhampton, existed solely on lemon curd sandwiches until she had hypnotherapy last year. Now she eats normal meals.
● Sophie Ray, 19, from Wrexham, has eaten nothing but pizza for eight years, sometimes getting through three Margheritas a day. She became terrified of most foods after having a stomach bug aged 2.