Dr Ranj is exploring the perils of extreme food phobias (Picture: UKTV/Metro.co.uk)
‘You sound like all the people on the show who don’t want to be judged or ridiculed by other people’s reactions but ask, “is there something I can do?’” Dr Ranj tells me as I lay bare my biggest phobia, the one thing in the world that strikes total dread, fear and crippling anxiety when put before me: cheese.
Since I can remember there has been nothing that genuinely makes me more nervous than a cheese board, I’ve had nightmares of enormous Babybels rolling through cities, causing irreparable destruction in their path.
But it turns out I’m not alone and in Dr Ranj’s new series, Extreme Food Phobias, he proves such cases can be cured in a matter of hours, and they shouldn’t be ignored.
I’ve often been taunted and labelled as ‘fussy’ or ‘ridiculous’ even for appearing to make such a song and dance about my distain for the fromage. Arguably, I don’t help my cause when I’ll happily tuck into a pizza, but like any phobia it doesn’t stem from logic.
There’s a lot of guilt and embarrassment that comes with a food phobia, ‘why should anyone else pander to it? And wtf is wrong with me?’
But in the new programme which comes to W channel, the This Morning doctor explores all forms of food phobias which come in various guises – from the drag queen who will only eat chicken sandwiches, the person who can’t go near an onion or garlic, to the mum who will only eat chips – where they stem from, the burden they carry on someone’s everyday life, and how they can ultimately be conquered.
‘It’s much more common than people think,’ explained Dr Ranj.
‘It’s called avoidant restrictive food intake disorder and it’s only recently been recognised as a disorder and some of the people who have this will fall under that category and only until recently being taken seriously. Up util now we’ve either trivialised it or just worked our way around it. I want people watching it to think, “Oh gosh that is me and I can do something about it.”
‘On one extreme we’ve got eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia – it’s not that extreme, it falls into this mid category of people who have always been labelled as fussy. It may not be as bad as those eating disorders, but it has a major impact on people’s lives. It affects more people than we realise, and the reason we don’t realise it because we hide it or we want to minimise it.’
There’s a strong possibility you know someone with a food phobia, but they may be hiding it or unaware of it themselves. While Babybel may haunt my dreams, I can with some reassurance it’s highly unlikely I’ll be crushed by a giant cheese wheel coated in red wax on my way to work.
As Dr Ranj puts it, I can ‘learn to live with it’. I don’t need to eat cheese, it’s not an important part of my diet and so I have subsequently brushed it off.
‘But when it affects other foods and spills over into other areas of your life It really does need to be addressed,’ he says.
Guests are confronted by their food intake (Picture: W Channel)
In one case on Extreme Food Phobias, a man has a panic attack before meeting Dr Ranj and the show’s therapists.
‘He probably had bigger anxieties than he was letting on, only part of his anxiety came form food and food he didn’t like.
‘By addressing that he may be able to address other anxieties going on. Some of his anxieties about food spilled over into his life in general, and his anxieties about confidence but he would mask that with humour.’
Another woman would only eat beige foods and, while it could be unrelated, was suffering from type 2 diabetes.
Fruit and vegetables are common triggers of anxiety, sparking comfort in beige foods because they feel safe.
‘I understand that but the problem is what you’re losing out on,’ says Dr Ranj. ‘Are you losing out on an experience or nutritional value? If you’re missing out on nutrition you need to think,” what am I doing to my health?” You can survive but you won’t live or be healthy.’
The origins of a food phobia can be complex, but often it’s about exerting control.
‘If someone isn’t able to exercise control in an aspect of their life one way of exerting control is in what they eat,’ Dr Ranj tells me.
‘Some of it can be to lose weight or to look a certain way and I think that’s what we saw a surge in eating disordered in the pandemic because their lives were out of control and one thing they could control is what they ate.
‘In a world that feels out of control one thing we can control is what we’re eating.’
Extreme Food Phobics airs Wednesdays at 8pm on W Channel.
Credit: Original article published here.