Using writing, and meditation, and ice cream, and reading, and dreams,

and a whole lot of other tools to rediscover who I am,

after six years living with a man with OCPD.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

It's the Most Fattening Time of the Year (Part 1)

All my life food has been a source of pleasure and shame. Going back to my earliest memories. And it’s especially hard this time of the year, because so much of any holiday gathering - whether it’s family or friends or both - is centered around food.

Food is incredibly hard. You can throw away your cigarettes, you can pour your booze down the kitchen sink, you can even learn to stop biting your nails (which I have done. Mostly.) All those addictions are really, really difficult to overcome - and kudos to any of you readers who’ve overcome them!

But you can’t say, "Okay, now I’m going to work out all my food issues, and then I’m never going to eat again."

I have so many food issues, and I’ve realized, as I come out of the fog, detox from the distorted thinking I picked up while living with OCPD b-f, that I can’t shove it out of the way, as if it’s a side issue. My shameful, distorted relationship with food is part of my distorted thinking about everything.

Food Shame #1 - Picky Eater

While many of the "typical" food shames come from learned behaviors (and I have those too,) my biggest shame and best kept secret is that I am a super picky eater. (I have rarely discussed and never written about  this issue, so please be patient with me!) 

I was going over to a dear friend’s for dinner this week, and when she mentioned she planned to make chili, I could not suppress my gag reflex. She was surprised, not having noticed over the years (because we usually go out to eat) how very limited a range there are of things I will eat. Well, one learns to hide and disguise it, over the years.  And she was kind enough to be open to the idea of going out to eat, instead.

From the time I was an infant in a high chair, spitting back bananas at my grandmother (what baby doesn’t like bananas? me) I have long exasperated my family, and myself, because there are so very, very many foods I don’t like, or cannot bring myself to eat.

Am I a Super Taster? According to one online quiz I am, though I’ve never taken the blue dye or chemical paper test, but I fit many of the criterion. I can’t stand:
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Coffee
  • Tea (hot, green, iced or any kind)
  • Grapefruit Juice
  • Dark Chocolate
  • Dark red wines
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Chili peppers or hot foods - what others experience as mildly spicy, generally leaves my entire mouth feeling burned, and my tongue unable to taste anything for days.
  • tonic water
  • olives
  • beer, sauerkraut (as a native Cheesehead of German descent, I might as well have been an alien from Jupiter among my ‘peops.’)
On the other hand, I can eat:
  • raw spinach
  • broccoli (and love it!)
  • Cabbage
  • Carbonated drinks (though not plain/bitter carbonated water, like Perrier or Evian)
  • Dairy foods, ice cream, butter, eggnog, all of which I love (too much)... though I can't stand fatty meats
If you’re not a supertaster, you might think it sounds cool: SuperMan, Supergirl, Supertaster. It’s not. You might think that being a picky eater is something your parents encouraged by coddling you, by catering to you and fixing you special meals. It’s not.

I have many painful memories of being a small child, sitting at the table and watching my family digging into chili, with obvious pleasure, and I hated it, and the kidney beans made me want to puke. Or my personal TriFecta of Foul, tuna fish casserole, which contains cream of mushroom soup, and hence, mushrooms (disgusting!), tuna fish (smells like cat food, nausea inducing) and peas (we have now reached full Vomit Launch Stage.)

I can't express how much I wanted to like the foods my family liked.  How much I wanted to be like everyone else, how much it hurt - and still hurts - to be so different. All the nights sitting alone at the table after everyone else had left the kitchen and gone into the living room to watch TV, because I was not allowed to leave the table until I had eaten at least two spoonfuls of something I found utterly disgusting, and I just couldn’t get it down.

Eventually, my parents and the rest of my family (my maternal grandmother took a little longer, but she was a stubborn old broad) gave up on trying to force me to like new foods. They were still offered periodically, but no longer forced; on tuna casserole and chili nights I was allowed to have a bowl of cold cereal.

Since childhood, I have learned to try - and even enjoy - many more foods. Chicken. Turkey. Steak and Hamburger. Pizza.

But there are still many, many other foods that others eat with relish (don’t like relish or pickles, either) that I can’t stand. With some items, it’s smell and taste. I have a difficult time in movie theaters, because I find the smell of popcorn sickening.  Peas, my nemesis... I understand, theoretically, how healthy they are, I’ve gotten the lecture from my oldest sister more times than I can count about how fresh peas and frozen peas are not as "mushy" as the canned peas Momma used to make... and the smell of peas, in any form, still makes me gag.

Sushi: its smell, appearance, and just general concept.   Why?  To me, the neglected fish-tank stink wafting through a sushi restaurant is so horrific I don't understand how anyone doesn't lose their appetite. I concede that if I was stranded on a desert island, I might be reduced to eating raw fish, and even grateful to have it... but only if I had already killed and eaten my fellow castaways. 

With other items, it’s mouth-feel. The spongy, rubbery or dry weirdness of mushrooms. The sliminess of big chunks of cooked onion.  I avoid coconut, because I don’t like the feel of the flakes or splinters or whatever the hell those nasty stringy things are, in my mouth, and I wonder if that is part of my aversion to bananas - they either have those weird stringy things, or are mushy and slimy.  I don’t like salsa, both because biting down on big chunks of raw onion (in anything!) is too much flavor, and because I don’t like big, chunky anything as food. Not chunks of tomatoes in pasta sauce, not chunky peanut butter, not trail mix or granola bars. Why not just eat a handful of cat litter?

(Oddly enough, I don't have problems with mouth-feel in... areas in my sex life where others often do experience distaste, shall we say, with mouth-feel or sliminess or anything else.  Weird.)

Back on point - if it has nuts or coconut in it, the candy, cake, or ice cream is ruined for me. The hint of coffee flavoring in tiramisu, toffee, or ice cream... you might as well pour goat piss over it, because I can’t eat it.  Go ahead, try to sneak it in, others have tried... I always taste it, I always gag.  It looks so pretty, and then it hits my tongue.

With yet other foods, it’s visual impact. Lobster, crab, fish with eyes staring at me... How can anyone eat that?!   I lose all interest in eating something that, in smaller scale, I would crush with a shoe if I found it crawling across my kitchen floor.  Grotesque Mexican food, that looks like it’s already been eaten, and didn’t agree with the first person who chowed it down.

Did I mention, that, when given my personal preference, none of my food on my plate touches another? And I will usually eat all of one thing on my plate, before starting on another, because I don’t like the tastes becoming co-mingled in my mouth.  (With a few exceptions, like a hot fudge sundae.)  I like peanut butter, and I love chocolate, but I can't stand them mixed together.  Sounds like Asperger's Syndrome, except I'm not, according to other tests.  And I love non-food smells - scented candles, incense, cologne - none of them bother me, unlike OCPD b-f.

As you can imagine, my food "thing" makes dining with friends a challenge and embarrassing. I’ve learned how to choke down a few mouthfuls if I must, and push the rest of the food around on my plate (which works fine in a restaurant, not so well in a private home.) To swallow somebody’s aunt’s homemade iced tea in gulps that I try not to taste, and refuse a refill. Sipping a glass of merlot that tastes to me like shoe leather, and again, no refills!

But still, I’ve periodically had to "out" myself, if not fully, when choice of a restaurant is up for discussion, and steer away from sushi, Thai, Indian. I can do French if I must, though the sauces and creams can be a bit much (and why must everyone add mushrooms to everything? See above about goat piss.) If I drink enough margaritas and eat enough chips (which are fine the way they are, though occasionally I will dip them into the salsa for the juice - though that’s usually way too hot for me) I can usually pick my way around a Mexican restaurant menu now, getting them to hold the salsa.  And avocado.  (And then I try hard not to look at the slop on anybody's plate.)  I can do beef or chicken with broccoli at a Chinese restaurant, though everything else on the menu is pretty much a no-go for me.  Why must they put nuts or mushrooms into everything?!

Eating with friends is always a minefield, and a source of potential humiliation. Luckily for me, at work my immediate supervisor is definitely a supertaster, too, so he broke the picky-eating ground before me. At company lunches, they are so used to teasing him about his food quirks, that I usually pass under the radar.

I hate the idea of being the obnoxious, fussy eater in any group. You know, the one who wants to know if the food on the menu is organic and locally grown, and if the whatever is fresh, and after keeping the server there going through the entire menu for twenty minutes, will sigh and order a chef's salad?  I don’t even have the excuse of allergies (though I’ve gone along with the idea when other have suggested allergies might be my problem.)

If I only had a dollar for each time somebody has suggested to me, "If you just try this, you'll like it."

Mikey might like it when he tries it, but I almost never do.  I hate where I've read online to someone advising a parent of a child who’s picky about their food, "just stop catering to them and they’ll get over it.  Make them eat it."  Has that ever, ever worked?  For anyone?

I can’t count how many times I have tried something, and gagged, or felt sick to my stomach for hours afterwards (see food poisoning for the time I tried crab cakes.) I continue to try new things from time to time, as well as some of the old things that I figure are worth another try, with great hopes... that usually are  dashed.  I don't usually try new things when out in company, however, because I don't want my friends and co-workers to see me fighting back revulsion or nausea.  Or worse, as in the crab cake incident, me actually spewing all over the street, sick on the restroom floor trying to make it to a sink or toilet...  that was pretty humiliating.

One Good Thing
My pickiness or supertaster qualities or whatever they are, did help me keep my sense of ME semi-intact when everything else was getting distorted around OCPD b-f.  Because he kept cooking things and insisting I would like them, should like them. It infuriated him that I didn’t.  Because in his world view, everyone does like... whatever he likes.  I would drink a lot of wine or margaritas and manage to choke down whatever it was, but I couldn't pretend I had found a new food favorite when I was fighting to keep it from coming back up.  Especially in the beginning, I really, really wanted to please b-f and like the foods he liked. And though in a few cases I was able to eat, even learned to enjoy foods (soft tacos, mild sauce, no salsa) that he wanted me to try, for the most part, I couldn’t.

That says a lot to me. If I was simply "being difficult" and Demand Resistant, I wouldn’t have been able to expand my food repertoire by any new dishes.

I honestly tried, wanted to please him, and I still didn’t like the foods he wanted me to like. So when he told me I was just being difficult, at least there, I knew he was 100% wrong. And that small piece was something that helped me hold onto who I was/am, even while the rest of my vision was getting distorted by OCPD-think.

I’ve thought about hypnotherapy, or counseling specifically about my food issues. Possibly that would get me past the "smash that roach" reflex whenever I see a cooked lobster, or my other visual "ick" factors. Possibly even get me past the mouth-feel issues, but I don’t believe I can be hypnotized or therapized past what my nose and taste buds are telling me in terms of spicy, bitter, etc.  And, with my limited budget, my sparse funds need to be directed in other areas.

I know my limited diet would bug a lot of people, but I am fine with that part of it, except for the shame factor. I still struggle to accept this is who I am, biologically, that I am unlikely to be able to reprogram my taste buds, and that this is okay, even if I’m not like most people.

And it’s not like I am wasting away, alas!

(To read Part 2, click here.)
(To read Part 3, click here.)

Do you have food shame issues tied to being ridiculed for liking or not liking certain foods?
Tell me about it in the Comments.