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Diet & Sensory

Updated: Nov 16, 2021

A common issue with being autistic, in my case at least, is having a very limited diet. I hate talking about it. And avoid it at all costs. But a recent chat with my best friend has indirectly encouraged me to write about it here.

Most of my health problems come from being a very picky eater. Not my fault, but interestingly enough, I used to eat anything. My appetite got worse as I got older. I also became a vegetarian halfway through high-school. This was due to an R.E lesson on something along the lines of Shechita. (Totally didn't have to Google that just now) In short, some crazy religion(s) would slit the throat of an animal to make it bleed out as some kind of sacrifice I guess. I passed out during that lesson and was sent home. So none of it stuck with me. But anyway, that's what pushed me to become a vegetarian.

Note that I am not a vegan. This means that I don't refrain from eating anything that comes from an animal, as long as I'm not eating the animal directly.

Though my dietary limits are much tighter than this. I don't eat anything with a wet texture. So that rules out anything like beans, pasta, even some egg recipes. I don't eat anything with a distinct scent to it. So that's things like Doritos and Wotsits. The biggest example is popcorn. Popcorn for me has such a strong scent that even me being in the same room is enough for me to gag and start feeling uneasy. Which practically means all cinemas are off-limits. (Cinemas are sensory overload for me anyway. Big screens, loud noises, films, it's a recipe for disaster. But that's for another blog post)

It's not just about me either. Other people are one of the biggest sensory issues when it comes to eating. I can't be with other people while eating. The sounds and sights of people chewing makes me so uncomfortable that I lose my appetite almost instantly. This is much worse if said people are talking while eating. It'll happen often when I'm at work. I'm always on my own separate table, away from other people. When suddenly a friend will come and try to engage in conversation with me. What am I supposed to do in this situation? I can't tell them to bugger off without seeming rude. But I'm also too insecure to explain the truth. I'll starve if I try to play along. Just looking at someone else's mouth while I'm eating is enough for me to focus on what I'm eating. Then the texture of that creates the urge to gag. Almost as if my brain is saying "Ew, get this mush out of my mouth."

Which leads nicely onto my next point; I have to be distracted when eating. I rely on it to digest anything. I'll always have YouTube playing while I eat. And if there's no YouTube, I'll either starve or become dangerously uneasy. And it's not just any YouTube video either. It has to be something that won't cause another sensory overload. Stampy is a personal favourite of mine. Known for posting commentary videos primarily watched by children, I can rely on it not being graphic, disturbing, gross, or anything of the sort. You know how dogs always look at their owners when they poop because they feel vulnerable when pooping? That's almost me, but at the other end of the digestive system. And replace the owner with YouTube. I am a dog, confirmed.

On a similar vein, I am almost never seen in public without headphones. Unless of course, I'm driving, I always have a pair of noise-cancelling headphones on, or at least around my neck. This is my protection against things like hand-dryers. And it's the same story when it's teatime. I wear headphones as a distraction from other people eating around me. And if I can eat somewhere alone, I will do just that.

For years now, I've always eaten alone in my room. The system we have in my house is a strange one, but hear me out. In short, I just have to ask for meals. Anything made downstairs has to be done by Mum. I can't stay in the kitchen for longer than a couple of minutes without being uncomfortable. My younger brother, Ross, is very messy. He'll make his own food but leave half of it all over the kitchen. It's this sort of chaos that causes me to hide away and rely on other people to enter the 'danger zone'.

(Editor's note - I realise how apparent this is in the YouTube series we do called "In The Kitchen with Ross" I will do the bare minimum in the kitchen itself and can mostly be seen controlling the cameras remotely from outside the room, especially as the kitchen gets messier. Roughly 5 minutes into the second episode, Ross actually tells me to crack an egg after he and his assistant had failed, And I couldn't do it. I was so scared of making a mess or wasting eggs that I was unable to use the correct amount of force. After Ross takes over, I can be seen swiftly exiting the room and lingering in the doorway. Typically when we film those, I'll use a GoPro and the GoPro app to oversee the kitchen while Ross is in there)

I notice that there are a few exceptions to the rule. The best friend I mentioned earlier eats with me whenever we're together and I never have a problem with it. Maybe I've just got a bit of a 'thing' for her, or maybe she's just super understanding and tries to make it as easy as possible. Either way, I'm almost always fine with it. Of course, I still need to watch YouTube videos, but for whatever reason, it's not as overwhelming. I've tried it with other people and I still can't cope at all. Who knows what my brain is doing. it's a strange thing, to be honest with you.

I have been questioned in the past as to why I have salt and vinegar in my room. The simple answer is that I put them on my dinner for added taste. They're in my room because that's where I eat dinner. It's fine, I just have to be careful and vacuum the place regularly to keep bugs out. My current expectation is that this will change when I get my own house. My own kitchen, my own rules. No judgement from other people. Though of course, I won't know this until it happens, I'm fairly confident that I'll be okay in an environment that I control.

I also go to college, however. And the issue I face here is that college kids tend to be a little less respectful and (usually classmates or people I used to go to class with) will try to engage in conversation if they see me eating alone. I respect that they want to make people feel welcome, but if I clearly have friends and am yet eating alone, I probably want to be alone. So I now go entire college days eating a sandwich for breakfast, a packet of Hula Hoops for lunch, and snack on mints or suckable sweets throughout the day. Is that enough to maintain energy throughout the day? Absolutely not. I usually go straight to bed when I get home. But the pressure for me at least is so hard that I feel I don't have time to eat anything else. And there's really no environment that is friendly towards this sort of condition even if I did.

It seems that I follow one simple rule - When in doubt; starve. It's probably a bad rule to follow considering how limited my diet is anyway, but it's the kindest to anxiety. No way can I just try something new on the spot. I need a few weeks warning at least, and it needs to be something similar to something I'm already used to.

By now I can tell a lot of you would say "just eat anyway it's not gonna hurt you." And you'd be right. And wrong. Let me explain.

For one of the longest periods of my life where I would eat a few slices of bread per day at max, I physically couldn't eat anymore. I'd just slow down to the point where I question what I'm even doing. And if I were to force myself to eat, then I start feeling sick. No point eating if it's gonna come back up again. This is a hard one to explain as most people simply wouldn't understand. I'm hoping that someone stumbles across this (or I force it in front of them) and they identify with the same problem. So we can discuss possible solutions or just vent. Though this blog is mostly for me and less for the masses. I really don't have the biggest audience in the world. Sometimes I wonder why I even fork so much money into this site. But hey, it's fine.

Anyway, I don't know if this is just me or if there are other people that suffer from the same sort of thing. Please do share this around if you agree with it. I feel incredibly singled out sometimes when I can't go to family meal because it's overwhelming. Doesn't look like there's any escaping it either, to be honest. I've been going for years and it sometimes gets better and sometimes it gets worse. If I work out some other things to write about, I'll most likely make another post as a follow-up.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a good day. 🙃

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