PISMO BEACH, Calif. (CN) - Tyler Jarvis knows he could eat himself to death, yet his uncontrollable hunger overrides his fear of dying - so much so that he faces felony burglary charges for a plot to get food.
His mother keeps two padlocks on their refrigerator and barricades her son inside their home at night. But in his endless quest for food, the 20-year-old man with a 10-year-old's IQ has managed to break free on numerous occasions.
"He would leave my house and go to my neighbor's and eat their food because he knows they don't lock it up," said his mother, Michelle Christian, of Pismo Beach.
In desperation last November, Jarvis broke into a stranger's place farther from home, and the startled resident chased him off with a shovel. Now Jarvis faces three felony burglary charges.
While the prosecution says his actions pose a risk to himself and others, his mother thinks her son would be better off in a secure group home for people like him.
"This is life-long," she said of her son's condition. "You don't fix it."
Jarvis has a rare medical condition called Prader-Willi syndrome. A chromosomal disorder, it causes him to never feel satiated. In what seems like a cruel twist, his slow metabolism requires fewer calories - 1,400 a day compared with 2,400 for most adult men.
Unregulated, people with Prader-Willi can die a slow death from morbid obesity, or die suddenly from binge eating that can rupture their stomachs.
"Their brain is constantly and consistently consumed with how to get food," said Lisa Graziano, executive director of the Prader-Willi California Foundation.
People with Prader-Willi will eat food out of dumpsters, food that is rotten or items that merely look like food, Graziano said. It's not uncommon for them to resort to stealing food, she added, since their caregivers normally lock it up.
Eight thousand Americans are known to have the disorder, Graziano said, though many more are likely undiagnosed.
Jarvis was diagnosed at 6 weeks old.
"In the beginning, it's failure to thrive," said Christian, a single mother and hairdresser. "I had to set an alarm to feed him. He wouldn't cry to eat."
By preschool, his desire had become insatiable, causing Christian to lock up her food for her son's health. And not just food in the fridge.
"Dog food, cat food, trash food," she said.
The kitchen cabinets in Christian's home are empty - dry foods are stored outside in a locked pantry. The doors to the house lock from both sides, and a 2-by-4 blocks a second-floor window near the kitchen.
Jarvis once escaped through that window, said his sister, 22-year-old Chelsea Jarvis, who lives with her brother and mother.
"He tried to Spider-Man out," she said. "Tried to tie ropes, shoestrings, belts."
While people with Prader-Willi syndrome have the mental capacity of elementary schoolchildren, Graziano said, they often are savant-like in their ability to get food.
In September 2014, Jarvis broke into two nearby homes and stole food, including frozen burritos and vanilla ice cream, according to a motion filed in San Luis Obispo Superior Court by his attorney, Raymond Allen. Police were called, but no charges were filed then.