I do not like vegetables. I don’t like to take foods that I would normally enjoy as a separate entity and put them into things. I love pecans and I love banana bread. I don’t want to eat banana bread with pecans in it. Once I develop an idea of what a cheeseburger should be, I don’t like to change it up. Cheeseburgers should have bun, meat, cheese, pickles, lettuce, mayo, ketchup, and mustard. Can I eat a cheeseburger any other way? Yes, but I am not going to enjoy it. I still remember sitting at the kitchen table after dinner and watching the microwave timer. My mom had set it for twenty minutes. I could get up and leave any time I wanted, but I had to eat my peas first. I never ate the peas first. I will add broccoli stems and peppers to my stir fry, but when I look down at the end of the meal the veggies are all sitting in the bottom of the bowl.
I am assuming that when most people don’t want to try a new food or eat healthy, it is because they don’t think it will taste good or because they know it won’t taste good.
Imagine if someone came over to cook you dinner. You are anxiously awaiting your plate at the table. When the food is brought to you, it is spaghetti with bits of sticks instead of meatballs. We are talking picked-up-from-your-yard sticks. The things that fall from trees. You would think, “This isn’t food. I can’t eat this.” Eating it might make you nauseous. It would be unpleasant. Your mind would be reeling from the idea that you are putting non-food into your mouth and swallowing it. Most people wouldn’t be able to do it.
That is exactly the same mind process I go through when trying to eat a meatball. I don’t know why. I don’t know why I can put a bell pepper on my fork and have my own mind fight me so hard because it thinks I am putting non-food into my mouth. So hard that I can’t do it. I love the taste of bell peppers. I like it when things are cooked with bell peppers. I have tried hundreds of times to eat bell peppers. I might get a couple of bites in, but I will then compulsively remove any trace of bell pepper from every remaining bite. It isn’t food to me.
As a result, I have a very limited diet. I have always considered this a huge failing on my part. I have only recently been digging deeper and understanding my food issues and why I have them. One of the reasons is my son.
My son, Tyler, has autism. He also has very definite ideas about food. He loved all baby food, except for peas, until he was about 1 year old. Then he stopped eating fruits, meats, and veggies. He will only eat crunchy starch items, yogurt (occasionally), fruit snacks, and bananas (rarely). He will also eat ice cream, popsicles, and candy…but he will not eat cake. I know for him it is mainly a texture issue. I would present him with an item that wasn’t on his approved list and he would look aghast. Aghast as in, why are you offering non-food for me to eat. I might as well had been asking him to eat stick spaghetti.
So basically, when I am actually able to get him to try a new food – this includes smelling, touching, licking, placing in mouth, or actually chewing and swallowing…I am asking him to rebel against his mind and put complete faith in me. I am asking him to put his trust in me over everything in him that is telling him that is not safe or good to eat.
Eating is one of our most fundamental, driving needs. Being hungry will make you obsessed. Fond memories of food stay with you for years. Food poisoning can keep you from ever eating that food again.
So am I asking Tyler to overcome a little trepidation about whether a food might or might not taste good, or am I asking him to cast aside his most basic instincts? And do my food issues add evidence to the growing questions in my mind about my own status on the autism spectrum?
Autism and GI Issues
Another problem a lot of autistic children have are GI issues. This is going to be another big factor in Tyler’s diet. If he eats something that makes him sick to his stomach, he probably isn’t going to know how to tell me that. But he also probably isn’t going to want to eat that item again if it made him sick enough. So he will be instinctively limiting his own diet when he gets sick. It is also hard to tell if he has any food allergies because he is either constipated or has diarrhea. Did the milk make him sick or is it just because it is a Wednesday? There is a lot of buzz about this right now, so I have included a link below that provides some good information about the most common GI issues within the autistic community and some possible remedies.
Picture: A good eating day!
From my heart,
(c) Rachel Flinchum 7/22/2013