It Happened To Me: I'm Terrified Of Fruits And Vegetables

Just the thought of eating an apple is enough to bring me out in a cold sweat. A salad garnish is my mortal enemy. It's a really, really annoying phobia.
Publish date:
May 6, 2013
healthy, fruit and vegetables, phobias

I’m afraid of fruit and vegetables

I haven't eaten any fruit or vegetables for about 21 years. I stopped eating them when I was 4 and old enough to refuse to ingest any more of that slimy, juicy, squishy filth. Just the thought of eating an apple is enough to bring me out in a cold sweat. A salad garnish is my mortal enemy.

If an otherwise edible piece of food has so much as touched tomato, a leaf or a condiment, it has to be thrown away because it has been contaminated. This isn't fussy eating, it's a really, really annoying phobia. It's not that I don't want to tuck into a bowl of leaves or fruit salad, it's that I can't. Not without having a panic attack and serious dry heaves anyway.

One of the strangest things about my experience of living with a food phobia is that people get genuinely offended about what I do and don’t put in my mouth. They take my rejection of greenery as a personal affront, which seems pretty unreasonable to me. I’m always tired, always bloated, and without my clothes on I resemble a marshmallow. I don’t drink, smoke or do drugs, because I figure I’m already taking enough chances with my health as it is. Hardly a desirable lifestyle choice is it? Even I’m not that contrary.

I'm well aware of the health implications of my weird diet, because I'm not a total idiot. But people somehow think I could have missed the years of "five-a-day" healthy eating campaigns and all school biology lessons. They relish telling me that I'll probably die of cancer. Or worse, get fat.

It’s kind of ludicrous that they think I’ve chosen to eat such a restricted diet. Whenever I get ill, somebody will tell me it’s because I don’t eat fruit. Obviously this is exactly what I want to hear when I’m in bed with the sweats and a throat that feels like somebody’s given it a good scrub with wire wool. Maybe it’s just me, but trying to scare somebody doesn’t seem like a logical way to rid them of a phobia.

The other thing that seems to piss people off about my "food thing" is that I live in a prosperous country with easy access to a varied diet, and don't take advantage of it. Yes, I know that millions of people are dying through lack of nutritious food, and it disgusts me but that doesn’t mean I’m going to tuck into a banana.

These days, everybody is a "food snob." They know the best place to get authentic Lebanese food, and where to find cheap, good sushi. This is something that middle-class, educated people are supposed to enjoy. If you don't enjoy these big food rituals, you can become a bit of a social pariah. My "weird food things" seem to surprise people in a, "I thought you were a bright, cultured woman, but you're actually just the sort of person who shops in Iceland" kind of way. This is seriously uncool as it smacks of class prejudice.

If you think less of me because I don’t eat kale or butternut squash, then you can kindly jog on back to your local artisan food market and leave me alone. This is also why I find proselytizing veggies and vegans quite difficult to bear. I don’t eat animals because I hate them and want them to die. I’m just too scared to eat anything else.

As I've got older, I've grown more and more embarrassed about ordering my weird, dry, unhealthy meals in restaurants. Asking for things with no salad garnish or sauce (I don't eat those either) often raises eyebrows, and sometimes waiters don’t bother to write down my requests, or even relay them to the kitchen. I'm always super apologetic and polite when placing my order because I used to be a waitress, and dealt with pernickety arseholes every day. My worst nightmare is that staff in a restaurant think I’m one of those entitled pigs.

Despite this grovelling politeness, a shocking level of hostility has been directed toward me during meals out. Recently, I had a plate of food literally thrown down in front of me in a well-known cafe in London. I had gently asked for a plate with no salad on, like I'd ordered.

Obviously, I am the worst person to go out for a meal with. If you’re meeting me for dinner, you’d better put your hiking boots on because you’re going to have to wander around the city for at least half an hour before we find somewhere that cooks anything I can eat. And you’d better not fancy Indian, Mexican or Sushi because that’s just not going to happen.

Telling dates about this is pretty humiliating. I usually try to do drinks for a first date and maybe pizza for a second. Because telling somebody you fancy that you only eat dry, beige food with next to no nutrients in it because you’re afraid of fruit and vegetables is basically the opposite of sexy. I have a number of stock jokes that I tell in order to disguise my abject humiliation. I usually proudly declare that I’m a medical miracle for being able to survive on carbs alone for over 20 years. The response is often a forced chuckle.

It’s hard for the people who care about me, too. They want me to be healthy, and to be able to get the same enjoyment out of food as they do. Some of them just want to be able to cook dinner for me without the crying and panicking. I do appreciate the concern, but it adds a heavy layer of guilt to my anxiety. I want to not be a pain in the arse to go for dinner with, to live a really long time in good health, and to really enjoy food. The fact that I can't make people happy by doing these apparently simple things is quite miserable.

Nobody is forced to justify their fear of spiders or their phobia of flying, so it feels a bit unfair that I have to explain the details of my phobia to every new person I meet over dinner. Just talking about it with insensitive nosy-parkers is enough to make my heart race, my eyes fill, and my voice crack embarrassingly.

So, just to clear a few things up: Yes, I'm aware my diet is unhealthy. No, I can't just "eat around it." Yes, of course I'd like to be able to try and enjoy different foods. Yes, I'm aware and angry that millions of people in the world are starving, but no, I still can't eat that celeriac mash.