25 September 2013

Brain Thoughtz: Eating Selectively is not a Disorder

According to the archives (btw, I am on my way to becoming an archivist now), I haven’t blogged about food since March 13, 2013, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been having a lot of food thoughtz in the meantime.  I spend a lot of time thoughtzing about food, whether it be a mere question of what and when to eat, or grappling with more complex issues surrounding why I won’t eat this or why I will eat that.  Lately, I have been focusing my entire mental capacity on trying to figure out what in the heck is “Selective Eating Disorder” and what it might mean for me.

From what I can tease out, “Selective Eating Disorder” (SED) is presumed to be a more mature way of saying “picky eating.”  Apparently there is a growing community of adults who, for any variety of reasons, have an extremely limited diet, which runs the gamut from eating only potato products (living the dream) to a diet more like mine, which does offer variety but is extremely restrictive in several ways.  It is perhaps incorrect to describe this community as “growing”  rather than one that is increasingly asserting itself.  As of now, SED has yet to be recognized as a legitimate mental illness/eating disorder (there is some confusion in the literature regarding how this should be classified, or else there is some confusion in my own brain about how disorders are classified), but attempts are being made to have it officially recognized as such.  Before we go any further, let me just state for the record that I take issue with the “disorder” classification.  Being selective about what food items gain access to the inside of your body is hardly a disorder; if anyone suffers from a disorder it’s those vile people who eat egg salad sandwiches.  And, since we’re on the topic of egg salad sandwiches, let me just say that once I’ve written a post on sandwiches, I plan to start work on a post dealing with egg salad sandwiches, in which all of my fear, hatred, and anxiety will culminate.

I've already posted this picture on Food Thoughtz, but I
think it's a really great illustration of my eating habits.
It's usually not too difficult to find one or two things that
I'll eat at a dinner party, but the amount of that food that
I can take is often a bit of a problem. (This is not a good
example because we had two enormous ham nugs, and
for some reason I just didn't take advantage of them.) Of
course it also illustrates how I like to keep my food
separate, but, I mean... duh.

I have gleaned from the internets that people who consider themselves to be sufferers of SED love to begin their internet posts with an anecdote about some woman named Jennifer.  For some reason it’s often “not her real name.”  I don’t know why, because even if Jennifer’s real name is Katey, it’s not as if Candace in Omaha is going to start worrying about the diet and health of some Katey she might have some fleeting acquaintance with who lives down the street.  Anyway:

“Jennifer (not her real name) is a happily married mother of two. By all accounts her life seemed perfect, but one thing plagues Jennifer’s health, happiness, and even marriage: Jennifer is one of the many adults who suffer from Selective Eating Disorder, which is currently being reviewed for official recognition as an eating disorder.”

Then the article will go on to talk about how Jennifer is not alone, and there are hundreds — if not thousands — more like her:

“Most people think that ‘picky eating’ is just a phase that kids will eventually grow out of, but for x-amount of adults, this is a very real disorder disrupting the lives of many.”

Then the article will go on to list how SED can disrupt lives: health concerns, extreme anxiety, additional stress on careers and relationships, etc.  There is always a disproportionate amount of interest given to how some people don’t even feel comfortable going out for dinner with friends (although it is never made explicit if this is because there isn’t anything on the menu or because the person inflicted with the “disorder” feels uncomfortable in social situations involving food).  But what a terrible point to stress!  I can just imagine Jennifer and her cronies knocking on the door of the American Psychiatric Association saying, “You guys! This is a real thing! I missed four dinners last month!” Please.  Stop thinking of it as a loss, and start considering it as a gain: "Jennifer" just saved herself over $150.

Here's a great example of one of my favourite dinners: mashed potatoes, ham, and a glass of Quebec cider in a wine
glass that I stole from a hotel that my mum was staying at. Although it looks like the mashed potato is touching the
ham, I can assure you it's not. It's just hovering above it.

The article will go on to say that although no one is quite sure what causes SED, many believe it to be an early childhood food-related trauma, like choking or (seriously) seeing a food tube.  Some articles claim that picky eating might be a kind of evolutionary safety precaution, because as modern science has taught us, species that have been evolutionarily successful have been those who limit themselves to a diet of baked potatoes.  Although, the self-preservation article isn’t completely outrageous.  Some argue that picky eating is a developed trait to ward off unknown foods and, therefore, potential threats.  (I would just like to add, for the record, that if this were true, it’s a pretty faulty self-preservation system.  Even rice, the dish you thought you knew so well, can poison you. Et tu, Oriza?)  If, for example, I was presented with baba ghanoush, some primal, instinctual thing would trigger in my brain telling me that I should not eat this because I cannot discern each individual ingredient, and because I cannot be certain what’s in it, I can’t be certain that it’s safe.  Frankly, I think the reason I don’t want to eat that baba ghanoush has to do with the fact that it looks like I already tried it once and it didn’t go over so well (because I threw it up. Because I think baba ghanoush looks like vomit).  But the first argument isn’t too bad either.  Because while there are a lot of foods that I have tried and don’t like — brusselsprouts, turnips & corn, that one cucumber slice I tried, vegetarian lasagna — so what, right? Everyone has foods that they’ve tried and don’t like.  What’s weird is the inability to try new foods, and the resulting anxiety attacks and burst of adrenaline when confronted with the possibility of having to try something.
This is another example of a pretty typical dinner for me, this time plain basmati rice with butter and a separate bowl of vegetables and cheddar cheese. The only thing that could improve it is perhaps some sausages or ham, of course
on a separate plate. (It's especially important to keep meats separate because they're always leaking)

This is something I noticed more and more as I filled out a Duke University Survey about picky eating (the preliminary findings are here and Duke's health page on selective eating is here), because obviously I had to fill out this survey.  Like any survey, it was pretty flawed and I don’t think the answers I gave are reflective of my deepest heart thoughtz, but nevertheless some of my answers indicated a deep desire for consistency — a character trait I’ve always known myself to possess, for for some reason have never connected to my eating habits.  I grew increasingly frustrated with a series of questions (which I’ve screen-captured below, along with my answers) that seemed too general to really speak to my specific food concerns. Luckily they provided a text box below so that you could clarify your answers.

And my clarification:
What foods are safer for you to try? Is there any pattern that you notice?
Unmixed foods are generally easier for me to try (but I just want to say right now that I don’t consider plain cheese pizza a “mixed food.” I consider cheese pizza to be one solid food that only becomes mixed when you start adding peppers or mushrooms).  I have certain requirements for certain kinds of food. It would be really difficult for me to try a food that I would associate as a "hot" food if it was served cold (e.g. a casserole; pasta).

A lot of my answers for the above questions would depend on specific situations. For example, I feel comfortable eating buns or bagels, but only if they are a specific kind, and only if they are served plain (e.g. I would not eat a ham & cheese croissant). I also feel comfortable eating pasta, but again, only under certain conditions  (that it is hot, that it is either plain, or, if it is not plain, that it is served only with an accompaniment that I have pre-approved and have already tried).

It also depends if I am expected to eat these foods in a social setting or not, and if it is a social setting, what kind is it? Is it a casual dinner with a sort of buffet table? Or is it a sit down dinner where dishes are passed around?  If it’s the former, it would be easy to avoid foods that I don’t want to eat, but if it’s the latter, then I would feel a lot of pressure to eat something.  Typically there is something at a dinner party that I don’t mind, so it’s never too much of a concern. But if it was a question of trying something really extreme that I have never had before, I think I would be more likely to try that new food if I am alone. Then again, there’s really no impetus for me to try a food on my own, unless I really wanted to for personal reasons. (e.g. once I tried a salad in this way).

Of the above listed options, I definitely feel most comfortable trying fruit, fruit juice, or beer. I think it is because with these foods or beverages, it is less likely that a third party has interacted with them or has projected their own personal food preferences onto the provided food. Of course all food is processed or handled in some way, but I guess what I am trying to say is that I imagine all foods exist in a kind of “natural state,” although this, for me, very rarely has anything to do with nature at all. Beer, for example, is in its natural state if it is in a bottle, can, or keg. I think what I am getting at is that even something like 100% fruit juice has to be processed in someway before it is bottled, but I don’t have to see that process. But if someone makes a casserole, then it is glaringly obvious that the food has been tampered with by the host. I mean, they MADE the casserole. Back to the fruit for a second: if there is a fruit platter, I will definitely have some of it if I feel like I have to (if I can get away with not eating it, then I won’t). But I don’t like the idea of fruit sitting out on a platter. For some reason, this doesn’t bother me in the same way with a vegetable platter. I would even eat a piece of cauliflower if it had been leaning up against a pepper or a radish (although I would rub it with my thumb where it touched before I put it in my mouth).

I cannot eat anything off of a bone.
Through the course of the survey I began to lose interest in what I imagine I am inflicted with and, as a result, should care about.  But I don't.  Because while the Duke health page claims that some people who suffer from SED will refrain from applying for a promotion in fear of increased company dinners, I am never going to be in a position to apply for a promotion anyway, so... This might sound especially callous even for me, but if you can't just say to people, "Look, I'm a really picky eater so I'm probably not going to eat anything off this menu. Don't worry, I ate before I came," then maybe you're not the best person for this promotion anyway.  And also, not eating 95% of the food out there doesn't really impact my life in a negative way.  Sometimes it has been a bit awkward and when I've travelled I've definitely wished for a broader culinary scope (not so I can really experience "the people," but because sometimes I want to eat something more than just salted peanuts).

Maybe I don't know what it's like because my diet is not as extreme as that British woman who only eats baked potatoes, and there probably are a few more out there who really do struggle with extremely limited diets.  But for the most part I think this is just a case of someone being a picky eater and needing some sort of substantial, medical explanation for why they don't like broccoli.  My eating habits are restrictive and they weigh on me.  But I guess they don't weigh heavily enough for me to become "a person with an eating disorder" (at least partly because eating disorders are real things, not like, just being grossed out by eggplants).  Not to sound like I try to have a positive outlook on life or anything--everyone knows I don't--but I really don't consider my selective eating a disorder.  I do, however, consider it disorderly, which I guess is the main reason that this blog exists.

And so, on that note, welcome to a new year of Food Thoughtz everyone.  Upcoming posts are likely to include chocolatey mushroom-shaped biscuits, plums, and maybe even an in-depth post on sandwiches or ham if school continues to be as boring as it has been thus far.

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