Amber Scott wishes she could eat stir fry.
But the University of Dayton law student can’t imagine putting a fork full of the dish in her mouth.
“I love the smell of it, but it is too complicated,” the New Carlisie resident said. “I need to know what to expect ahead of time.”
The 30-something’s diet is limited to French fries, cheese pizza with light sauce, cheese ravioli, apples, bananas, green grapes and strawberries.
Stir fry and mostly everything else from corn on the cob to lasagna might as well be dirt.
Scott, a single mother to one, suffers from Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID).
She calls herself an adult picky eater and says the condition, although rare, is more common than people might think.
“There are a lot of us out there but we all hide it because we think it is our fault,” Scott said. “I want other people to know they are not alone.”
Scott recently discussed her eating disorder on the ABC’s news program “20/20” (Scott said the show only focused on French fries even though producers knew about the few other things she eats). She’s also appeared on Dr. Phil and TLC’s Freaky Eaters and has produced a podcast on the subject.
At age 28 she found another person suffering from the same condition thought to affect thousands of people. She is now a member of Picky Eating Adult Support, a online group that claims to have 10,000 members.
Not just a phase
Scott’s aversion to most foods started when she was 3 or 4 years old.
Her mom, Paula Scott of Enon, put green beans in front of her little girl, who refused to eat them.
While she drinks a variety of beverages, for years Amber would only eat hand-cut, skinless potatoes fried in canola oil.
“We were making French fries three times a day,” Paula Scott recalled.
The pizza and ravioli came in recent years.
At certain points Amber Scott would only eat certain brands of fries.
She wanted it to be just a phase.
“Doctors told my mother, ‘She’ll get tired of it. Just give her what she wants’,” Amber Scott recalled. “My whole life I dreamed of waking up and it would be that day.”
Longing to be like everyone else, Scott said she tried to eat a salad when she was 20. She became ill as a result.
“I am not afraid of food. I am not afraid it is going to hurt me. Something prevents me from eating it,” she said. “What is it that tells you eat that, don’t eat that? Is it going to hurt you to eat dirt? Are you afraid of the dirt?”
Scott said she worked hard to hide her disorder and avoided activities as a child that would have her eat away from home. She remembers being called an anorexic and alienated by classmates after it was discovered at a cheerleaders’ camp held in Springfield that she was only eating Doritos and an apple that she brought.
Some former high school classmates still accused her of doing “it” for the attention.
Scott said she has tried to understand.
“People are going to get upset when they have no explanation or understanding of something. If someone doesn’t enjoy the same kind of food you do, it is kind of insulting,” she said. “It is almost like saying you don’t like their music, ‘What do you mean you don’t like the Rolling Stones?’”
A mother blamed
Although her daughter was always healthy, Paula Scott said she worried that Amber was not getting enough
protein and other nutrients. Still, she said she felt she had no other choice but to give her daughter what she wanted.
Amber Scott said her mother never force fed her and took heat as a result.
“If we didn’t get her French fries she wouldn’t eat. No matter how long it was she didn’t eat,” Paul Scott said. “Relatives would say, “If that was my child, she’d be eating.’ Friends would say, ‘Make her eat something’.”
Paula Scott’s two sons ate everything put in front of them. While family members enjoyed a feast, Amber ate only French fries. Thanksgiving was the worse. “Socially she was set back because of it,” Paula Scott said. “She kind of felt like an outcast with the family.”
“She would have starved,” Paul Scott said. “I am not going to let my child starve.”
Rachel Riddiford, a registered and licensed dietitian at Dayton Children’s Hospital, said a person’s relationship with food can be as complicated as his or her relationship with other people.
A disorder like the one Scott suffers can occur for reasons ranging from an association to a painful experience like a stomach ache after eating to a childhood trauma to hyper-sensitivity to tastes, smell or texture, she said.
“I get why people can struggle like this. There is hope and there is support,” said Riddiford, the hospital’s clinical nutrition manager. “So many people are demoralized by it, but they don’t let anybody know.”
It is normal part of development for children to refuse certain foods when they are around ages 2 or 3, Riddiford said.
For reasons that go back to our prehistoric days and avoiding unsafe foods, it typically takes seven or eight tries before a child becomes comfortable with a new food, she said.
“Sometimes it can take up to 20 times,” Riddiford said. “(Children) wanted to be cautious about what they put in their mouths.”
That said, she said it might be a sign of a deeper problem if the situation last more than a few weeks or the parent became extremely frustrated.
“Where a parent can go wrong is to push the food on somebody. It is totally up to the child if they are going to eat,” Riddiford said. “In any power struggle between an adult and child, the adult might win in the short-term, but in the long-term they are going to lose.”
Spreading the word
Amber Scott she wants to help other struggling with the disorder.
“Nobody would consciously make the choice to be this way,” she said. “It is such a hindrance socially that if I could change it, I would change it.”
Fears that her disorder would make it difficult for her to entertain clients kept Scott from pursuing a law degree for years.
Scott said realizing she is not alone gave her courage. She hopes to graduate in 2015 from UD and work as an entertainment lawyer.
“I am not going to let it be a limiting thing,” she said.
Video of Amber Scott at MyDaytonDailyNews.com