Doctor Ranj Singh is a familiar face on our TV screens as a presenter, author and resident doctor on ITV's This Morning and former Strictly Come Dancing contestant.
Now, Ranj, a working paediatrician, is presenting a new ten-part series, Extreme Food Phobics, which features people across the country whose lives are being held back and their health put at risk because of their phobias of certain foods and their very restricted diets.
Some are terrified of mayonnaise or retch at the sight of lasagne, while others find the idea of trying something new nauseating, or haven’t touched a fruit or vegetable in years.
Here we talk to Dr Ranj to hear all about some of the extreme phobias he comes across in the series, which tackles the contributors food fears in the space of a day and helps them overcome their phobias...
Before you did this series, how much did you know about food phobias and how to treat them?
"My experience of food phobias was mainly through what you would term ‘fussy eating’ in kids. It’s a very normal developmental process children go through around the age of two.
"The eating habits we feature in the show are so much more than fussy eating and are having a massive impact on people’s lives.
"Some of them fall into the category of what we call ARFID (avoidant restrictive food intake disorder) which is an eating disorder. I only really learnt the extent of it through doing this show and I was shocked by what I discovered."
Tell us about Jennifer who features in the first episode and what her food phobia is?
"Jennifer has a very restricted diet and will only eat certain things, really just white bread and chicken. Fifty percent of her calorie intake was from white bread alone. She had a particular phobia of mayonnaise. Her motivation to change was mainly for her children. She hasn't touched fruit and vegetables and she was missing out on eating with her kids and sharing that experience with them. She was also worried her habits would impress on her children."
What other phobias do you come across?
"We meet Lee who was surviving on just chips and crisps and has a strong phobia of anything with cheese and in particular lasagne. My heart really went out to him, he’s a very bubbly character and he was making a laugh out of everything but when we broke it down you’ll see that his restrictive eating wasn’t just affecting him physically, it was affecting him mentally.
"He had this anxiety cycle around eating and was using humour to cover it up. There’s a section in the show when he’s faced with his food fear and he has quite a dramatic reaction. But by the end of the programme, it’s amazing to see him sit and eat a meal with his fiancée."
What are some of the methods and techniques used to treat the phobias in the series?
"We see a whole range of different experts work individually with the contributors. They use techniques like aversion therapy which is widely recognised, hypnotherapy, counselling techniques and other psychotherapeutic techniques to change their relationship with food.
"We find out how much it’s affecting them. It’s incredible what the experts are able to do in a relatively short space of time."
What’s the strangest phobia you’ve come across in your career?
"I’d describe it as funny, but to the person involved it really isn’t funny, but a balloon phobia is one I’ve come across. It’s called globophobia. It’s strange that something as innocuous and as fun as balloons can be a phobia.
"One thing we learn in the show is that these phobias often originate in childhood. It usually starts as an anxiety that is never addressed so it's been allowed to sit and fester and become a really significant issue."
Do you have any phobias yourself?
"I don’t think I’ve got anything that I class as a phobia. I’m not particularly fond of heights but I can cope with them and I’m not particularly fond of spiders, but again I can cope with them."
Strictly Come Dancing is returning very soon. As a previous contestant, are you looking forward to watching?
"Absolutely! I’m obviously saddened that Janette won’t be dancing (Dr Ranj was partnered with professional dancer Janettte Manrara in 2018) but I’m over the moon that she is going on to take on one of the best jobs in telly (Janette is taking over from Zoe Ball as a host on Strictly’s spin off show on It Takes Two).
"I’m so proud of her because I know that’s been a dream for her. We’re still very much in touch, in fact I’m seeing her this weekend. I can’t wait to see what happens with Strictly. Every year the show surprises us, we’re going to have new pro dancers I hear which will be very interesting to watch."
Which famous faces or celeb friends of yours would you love to see on Strictly?
"I’ve always said that Rylan (Clark-Neal) should do it. I think he would be fantastic and it would be great to see him on that dance floor. It would be very good entertainment but he's so tall, he’d have to be paired with one of the tallest girls like Nadiya (Bychkova) but I think he’d be incredibly good fun."
What other projects have you got coming up?
"I’ve got a couple more books coming out, some more children’s books. I recently wrote a How To Grow Up (opens in new tab)Guide for boys and I’ve got another children’s wellbeing guide coming out next year and a children’s picture book for little ones. So I’m working on those at the moment as well as being back in the hospital."
Extreme Food Phobics is a ten-part series on W which starts on Wednesday, 25 August at 8pm.
Tess is a senior writer for What’s On TV, TV Times, TV & Satellite and WhattoWatch.com She's been writing about TV for over 25 years and worked on some of the UK’s biggest and best-selling publications including the Daily Mirror where she was assistant editor on the weekend TV magazine, The Look, and Closer magazine where she was TV editor. She has freelanced for a whole range of websites and publications including We Love TV, The Sun’s TV Mag, Woman, Woman’s Own, Fabulous, Good Living, Prima and Woman and Home.
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