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British teen hospitalized after eating nothing but chicken nuggets for 15 years

Chicken nuggets

(CBS) Talk about being a picky eater. A British teenager reportedly has eaten "practically nothing" but chicken nuggets for the past 15 years. And now she's paying for it.

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Seventeen-year-old Stacey Irvine didn't think her nugget habit was a big deal - until she collapsed one day work, The Sun reported. When Stacey arrived at the hospital, doctors were horrified to find she had eaten chicken nuggets every single day and "never" ate fruits or vegetables.

"My main meal is always chicken nuggets every day," Stacey told the paper. "I share 20 with my boyfriend with chips (fries)."

A 20-piece chicken nuggets meal contains 58g of fat and 926 calories, which exceeds daily recommended intakes of 56g fat, and is almost half of the daily recommended 2,000 calories a day, according to The Daily Mail.

There is a tiny bit of variety in Stacey's diet, according to The Sun. Once in a while, she'll eat a slice of toast for breakfast or snack on potato chips.

Doctors diagnosed Stacey with anemia and swollen veins in her tongue, putting her on an emergency vitamin regimen. Stacey's high salt, high fat diet also raises her risk for future chronic health problems, including heart disease, stroke, and cancer.

"She's been told in no uncertain terms that she'll die if she carries on like this," Stacey's mom Evonne said. "But she says she can't eat anything else." Since Stacey's taste for nuggets started at age 2, Evonne has tried everything, including trying to starve her daughter to get her to eat something healthier.

"I am at my wit's end," Evonne said. "I'm praying she can be helped before it's too late."

Is it too late for Stacey?

"She's not a lost cause," Nancy Copperman, director of public health initiatives for North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System in New York, told HealthPop. Stacey may not be getting a balanced diet, Copperman said, but she might be taking in enough calories where she isn't malnourished, so there's still hope she can take on more nutrients to improve her health. Bones, for example, can grow until a woman is in her 20s, so Stacey would still have time to increase her calcium intake. Copperman is not involved in Stacey's care.

She dubs Stacey's monotonous nugget-centric diet as a "beige diet," since Stacey's skipping out on colorful fruits and vegetables loaded in vitamins A, C, E, K, and folate. People deficient in these nutrients can have scurvy, vision problems, or blood clotting issues.

Variety is essential for anyone's diet, Copperman said. So even if Stacey only ate something healthier, like carrots, she'd still miss out on key nutrients.  People need a diet that's rich in nutrients, proteins, and fiber, and is balanced to contain fruits, veggies, whole grains and dairy, she said.

Copperman has 20 years experience counseling families on healthy eating and has seen lots of children go through picky food stages - called "food jags" - when they are 4 to 6 years old. Food jags are when children might eat a particular food meal after meal - like peanut butter - and reject other foods, only to one day start eating a new food like turkey exclusively, repeating the behavior. These jags are natural part of development, she said, except most children grow out of this stage of development, while Stacey appears to be "stuck."

What can parents do to make their kids have a more healthful diet?

Start early. Eating patterns are engrained, so try not to give a toddler sweet or salty foods from the get-go, as was the case for Stacey. Otherwise, their taste buds become used to salt, Copperman said - so when you try to force a vegetable on them, they'll hate it. Some studies have shown it may take kids up to 10 times to accept a new food in their diet, so keep trying.

If a child is still super picky when it comes to fruits and veggies, Copperman suggests getting him or her involved with the meal preparation. Having a vegetable garden is a helpful technique, because children are actively involved in growing and harvesting the food that the plate, making them more likely to eat it.

The Mayo Clinic has more tips for picky eaters.

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