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January 28, 2012

Newsflash: Eating Only One Food for Fifteen Years Isn’t Healthy

Filed under: Food,Health — Twistie @ 12:35 pm

Many of you may have read this article from Yahoo Health that went up two days ago. It’s the sad tale of British teen Stacey Irvine who collapsed and was rushed to the hospital with severe breathing problems.

Turns out what was wrong with her was that since she was two years old – that’s fifteen years, folks – Irvine has subsisted on a diet of Chicken McNuggets meals. That’s pretty much it. Just incredibly processed, deep-fried chicken nuggets and fries, with an occasional slice of toast or handful of potato chips to mix things up. No leafy greens, no root veggies that aren’t fried potatoes, no fruit, no fish, no red meat, no pulses: nada else.

As a result, Irvine suffers from anemia and swollen veins in her tongue. Clearly what she was doing was not good for her health.

But what interests me is the fact that the article seems to focus on the badness of Chicken McNuggets as opposed to what was really wrong with Irvine’s diet: she was eating only one thing and had done so for fifteen years.

In many ways, what shocks me the most about this story isn’t that eating nothing but Chicken McNuggets is bad for you, but the fact that she managed to get along on that and so very little else for so freaking long.

Even proponents of fad diets based around a single food, such as grapefruit or cabbage soup, only recommend you stay on them for roughly a week at a time and then stop for at least a couple weeks. For my money, that’s a great big flashing red warning sign to stay away from that diet. After all, if it were healthy to eat nothing but grapefruit, you wouldn’t have to stop so quickly or give it as long a rest, would you?

In a more nuanced article at CBS News, it’s pointed out that even if what Irvine had been eating every day to the exclusion of all other foods had been something generally recognized as healthy, such as carrots, she would still be suffering ill effects on her health because no single food item can fulfill all of a person’s nutritional needs.

So if you like McNuggets, eat the freaking McNuggets. Just make sure you eat something else once in a while, too. And if you like carrots, eat the freaking carrots… and make sure you eat something else once in a while, too.

It’s not what food you eat that makes it unhealthy: it’s eating only one food.

Variety isn’t just the spice of life. It’s also good for you.


  1. I’m currently doing a nutrition seminar with The Fat Nutritionist (which I suspect I got from your sidebar) and the whole ‘more variety is always better than less variety’ is a big part of what she encourages.

    Comment by Jacquilynne — January 28, 2012 @ 1:24 pm

  2. My son is on the autism spectrum and does eat (quite literally) just two foods. We are relieved that those foods are healthy, but still work endlessly with doctors, therapists and teachers to try to expand the foods he will tolerate while maintaining his health on his limited diet as best we can.

    Parents, doctors and other caregivers need to be aware that a diet this limited is not just a health problem, it may signal an eating disorder known as Selective Eating Disorder, which can appear at a very early age. (My son refused to even try his first birthday cake.) People with this disorder would rather starve than eat a new food, so the usual approaches to feeding kids based on the assumption that all kids will eat when hungry won’t work and may make the problem worse. SED is usually associated with sensory issues and can be treated with occupational and other therapies. But many in the medical community and out confuse it with typical childhood picky eating and or lazy parenting, so being taken seriously and getting help may take years of persistent work.

    Comment by Amy — January 28, 2012 @ 2:51 pm

  3. @Jacquilynne: The Fat Nutritionist is absolutely fabulous, isn’t she? Best of luck in your work with her.
    @Amy: You know, both articles I read mentioned that Stacey Irvine’s mother had tried many approaches with her to get her to expand her food choices, and none of them worked for her. I wasn’t aware of Selective Eating Disorder, but I begin to wonder if that’s what Stacey’s problem has been all along. After all, while most very small children go through periods where they will only eat one or two foods, those periods are usually fairly short. It’s a normal phase that most children grow out of spontaneously. But Irvine’s mother did try not giving her the nuggets on the assumption that eventually she would have to eat something else… and it didn’t work. If there wasn’t more to it than simple preference or basic boundary pushing, chances are she would have eventually eaten something else.

    I wish you the very best of luck in working with your son to help him get what he needs. The fact that his problem has been recognized and diagnosed correctly is a great start. Having a committed parent like you advocating and working for him is a tremendous help.

    Comment by Twistie — January 28, 2012 @ 3:17 pm

  4. My friend linked me this article, and I had the same reaction. They had a little blurb from an actual doctor that said chicken mcnuggets were good nutrition-wise in this and this, but sorely lacking in other things, but then further down the writer was like, SALT and FAT and BLABLABLA. Yeah, cos THAT’S the biggest problem facing a girl who’s been eating the same food for 15 years, she might gain weight, oh my goodness gracious.

    Comment by lu — January 28, 2012 @ 4:43 pm

  5. I have to say this– it seems obvious to me that there has to be something developmentally or maybe psychologically wrong with a child who has only ever eaten chicken nuggets in her entire life. That’s not being a “picky eater” or having a food jag. That’s obviously at the least an eating disorder, and probably a fairly serious mental illness.

    I hope the poor kid is getting some help.

    Comment by barbara — January 28, 2012 @ 8:19 pm

  6. If you go to the original DailyMail article, there are pictures of her posing in all sorts of creepy McD’s themed poses. She isn’t heavy and many of the comments are, “but she looks healthy!” She has anemia, swollen veins, and is on liquid vitamins but she /looks healthy./ If that isn’t proof that you can’t tell a book by it’s cover, then I don’t know what is.

    Comment by teteatete — January 30, 2012 @ 10:45 pm

  7. Could this really be possible? Wouldn’t she have gotten scurvy or rickets or something after 17 years?

    Comment by B Petro — February 1, 2012 @ 8:26 am

  8. @B Petro: Ironically enough, Chicken McNuggets and fries is probably one of the nutritionally better choices you can make if you’re only going to eat one meal for an extended period because it does include protein, and potatoes are nutritional powerhouses that contain a lot of important things like vitamin C (which prevents scurvy) and lots of potassium. So no, she never got scurvy. She wouldn’t have done since she was getting vitamin C.

    But after fifteen years, she’s definitely seeing some major health issues out of eating only one thing for so long. The point is, it doesn’t matter which one food/meal you choose: if you only eat one for too long, eventually there will be health repercussions, and the article most people were most likely to have read about it was blaming her choice of food rather than the pattern of how she was eating.

    Comment by Twistie — February 4, 2012 @ 11:37 am

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