A teenage schoolgirl who lived off of a diet mainly consisting of croissants for more than a decade has finally been able to embrace recovery from her eating disorder.
Ciarra Franco, 13, became terrified of trying new foods after the scary experience of almost choking as a toddler, with her mum Angela spending years struggling to get her to eat a variety of things.
Franco, from Gravesend, Kent, refused to eat school dinners when starting reception, only feeling comfortable with a packed lunch of croissants, and occasionally another French pastry.
She did this every day since she started school.
But thankfully, she has now been able to broaden what she eats after her family reached out to a hypnotherapist specialising in treating children with selective eating disorders. The support she received ended up changing Franco's life.
For the first time, Franco has been able to enjoy a croissant with a variety of fillings such as chocolate, and has tried new foods including a Chinese takeaway, and fruits including pineapple.
"When she was born, Ciarra spent a lot of time in the hospital for bronchitis and other lung-related issues for the first two years of her life," says Angela.
"Then at two, she choked on a sweet.
"So, I do think that there was always a subconscious element to why she struggled with trying new foods so much."
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Her limited eating has always been a worry for her family, something they were desperate to understand and help with.
"Ciarra has always tried so hard to try new foods, but it’s like there’s a mental block from her putting the fork in her mouth," explains Angela.
"We’ve never forced her to try new things, and when she gets stressed out or upset about it, we always let her know that it’s ok, and that she doesn’t have to force it."
There were some other foods Franco was okay with, but croissants were the main one.
"Since she was two, one of the only things she has eaten constantly is croissants for lunch and plain pasta for her dinner," adds Angela.
"She'd occasionally try plain cereal, like cornflakes, and ready salted crisps, but she's had a croissant every day for lunch for as long as I can remember.
"She's occasionally tried a pain au chocolate or a brioche too, but she really preferred croissants."
Angela always sensed her eating issues were quite deep-rooted.
"We always knew that she wasn’t just a fussy eater, but it was always quite upsetting for her when we’d go for meals out or get a takeaway that she wouldn’t eat what we were having," she says.
Franco was labelled as a 'fussy eater' by medical professionals who claimed "she will eat when she wants to."
"They would all say she's just being fussy, or she's having tummy troubles," adds Angela.
"As a parent, all you want is for your child to eat and for them to be comfortable with what they are eating.
"People really don't understand that it is an illness, not just fussiness."
Angela eventually decided to contact hypnotherapist David Kilmurry, after spotting an article in a local paper about a similar case he'd helped with.
After just six weeks with him, where she listened to relaxation MP4s before meals, used an achievement chart, and expressed her food fears, Franco can now enjoy a takeaway with her family.
Kilmurry explains, "ARFID had caused Ciarra social exclusion and her love of gymnastics was on the knife's edge thanks to the tiring effects of the low-grade, sugar-rich food intake which restricted her to just a few beige foods."
Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (AFRID) is a condition where someone avoids certain foods or types of food, restricts their intake in terms of overall amount eaten, or does both, according to the eating disorders charity Beat.
They may do this for different reasons, including being hyper-sensitive to taste, texture, smell or appearance of certain foods, or can only eat things at a specific temperature. They might also have had a distressing experience with food, like choking (similar to Franco), vomiting, or bad abdominal pain.
This can lead to people eating only what they consider 'safe' foods, with them fearful of what might happen after eating.
"After the first hypnotism, Ciarra ate an array of colourful fruits, vegetables and salad foods without hesitation and rated them all very highly," adds Kilmurry.
"This continued and mum Angela jokingly complained that Ciarra was eating her out of house and home, with Chinese food becoming a new favourite."
Franco's achievements means that for the first time in 10 years the whole family can sit down together and enjoy a meal.
"She’s tried so many new foods since her hypnotherapy, and whilst she’s still got a long way to go, her palate has changed massively," says Angela.
"Some of her favourite things to eat now include sweet and sour chicken, roast potatoes with seasoning, and even pineapple.
"She’s still trying new things every day, it’s an amazing achievement!"
While she's still making daily progress with her recovery, for now, she still feels most comfortable with croissants for her packed lunch.
If you're worried you or your family has AFRID, speak to your GP. For more information on the condition you can visit the NHS website, the Beat website (which also offers advice on how to support yourself or someone else).
You can call the charity's helpline or contact their email, with info on what number to call or address to send to (dependent on where you live) found here.
Additional reporting Caters.