Over a year and a half ago, I fell for my total opposite. I, a self-proclaimed foodie, fell for a picky-eater.
I eat almost everything and will try anything. (I’m working my way up the Food List Challenge, where I currently sit at 66)
I remember one of the questions I asked on our first date was “Do you have any food allergies?” He seemed a little nervous. He looked around, left to right, and I could sense how uncomfortable the question made him. After a bit of hesitation, he asked why.
My response? “I just love food too much to date someone who I couldn’t eat things around. Like peanuts, and seafood. One of my biggest pet peeves is people with allergies.”
He said he didn’t have any allergies, but it didn’t take long to figure out that he did have major food issues that were way beyond my realm of understanding.
From a purely selfish perspective, trying to deal with this has been really hard for me. Last September, I wrote a post called Spice of Life and it explained how much I was missing food and how much I love it.
“Just as I made the active choice to change the path I was on (which wasn’t so much of a “path” as a downward spiral), my soul has cried out what it needs and I have to actively follow my heart’s desires. To become me, I need to start being me. To start this journey and reignite my love-affair with everything delicious, I’m going to get back in the kitchen“
Since picking up myself from a time best left in the past, I still have not gone back to my old foodie ways. I miss going out to eat at my favourite restaurants, trying new things, cooking for myself and sharing my passion with others. I want my food blog, wallFlour crEATions, to start seeing some action, to write new entries, take pictures, and share them with others.
A few times after writing that post, I made some recipes – spinach and red pepper quiche, butter chicken, Moroccan-style Stewed Chicken, Shepherd’s Pie… things that I had made before. Things that I knew were good and that other people have enjoyed with me. But without fail, I was left eating all the left-overs or throwing them out because it would only take a tiny bite for a gag reflex to come, or an excuse that he had already eaten and I would eat alone.
I tried thinking about ways to cook that typically encourage children to start broadening their food repertoire. Add bacon, cook it in a cream sauce, butter and garlic, roasted, fried, cut up small, covered in cheese – Jesus Christ, none of this is working!
So I stopped cooking.
I stopped trying.
I thought he was just picky, and couldn’t understand why he couldn’t just decide to eat like a grown-up. I found it hurtful. I would spend so much time, effort and money to make something that I was excited and proud of and thought he would like, and he would reject it. And that rejection would feel like a personal attack.
Instead of cooking, we made it a habit to eat out all the time. This became a point of contention too, because he would get frustrated that he always had to choose the restaurant. But I didn’t feel like I had a choice; he was the one with specific preferences, and even if I was really, really, really craving something in particular, I knew he wouldn’t enjoy it. What’s the point in suggesting Indian take-out, spending Sunday afternoon at all-you-can-eat sushi, going for a Thai appetizer plate, picking up some Greek feta and hot peppers to eat during a movie night, or going out for wine and Spanish tapas… none of these places have chicken fingers, burgers or fish and chips. All of them would be a waste of money and I would feel guilty that he was left hungry and didn’t enjoy our meal together.
Every few months, we have a big discussion/argument on the topic, but everything came to a head this past week. Since deciding that we’re going to Cuba and booking our trip, two things have been on my mind:
- Oh my god, I need to start eating healthier and lose some weight so I look better in my bikini… and I have less than two months to do it! and,
- Oh my god, what if there is nothing there that he can eat
So then I was determined – I need to eat more vegetables, I need to monitor the kinds of foods that I’m eating, I need to eat out less, and I need to help him increase his tolerance for trying and enjoying new foods. Not only for his health (reduce chances of heart attack, stroke, diabetes), or to increase his enjoyment of travelling (food is a big part of experiencing different cultures), but also because I didn’t want to be sabotaged. I want to be healthier, and having support is a huge part of that. And not just “I support you eating rice cakes while sit here and eat poutine and pizza” kind of support. I wanted us to be in this together.
So I cooked.
I made a meal that I thought would be a step toward healthy eating at home, and that I thought he would be OK with eating. It consisted of scotch pies, beans in tomato sauce, roasted carrots, and a bit of garlic butter spaghetti with slivered onions, red peppers and zucchini.
I thought I had made good choices. The meat pies were just ground beef in pastry. Simple enough. He likes beans, though usually in a molasses sauce, but I thought I’d be safe as long as he didn’t see the can. He likes carrots, and I even put honey on them. And who doesn’t like buttered noodles? I made sure to not get any onion on his plate, I knew he could tolerate red peppers, and I thought zucchini was a pretty mild introductory vegetable.
It didn’t go well. It was a struggle. I was uncomfortable watching how hard it was for him to eat what I had prepared. I was sad that he couldn’t enjoy it. And I was sad for myself that my enjoyment of it was taken away too, despite how satisfyingly delicious the food was for me, the experience was ruined.
Out of frustration for not getting to enjoy my passion for food and being able to share it with my partner, the way I share in what interests him, I went on the hunt for answers. Obviously, me trying to introduce new foods in home-cooked meals was not working. Although he can usually choke things down, aided by huge gulps of water, I finally decided that I just could not handle it emotionally. I didn’t know what to do any more, but I knew I couldn’t do this.
What I found online could be considered a relief. This “picky eating” of epic proportion is actually an eating disorder. It is recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), but is also referred to as Selective Eating Disorder or Adult Food Neophobia. This means that I cannot be the saviour in this situation – I cannot will, coax or force him into changing his eating habits. This is serious business; serious business that requires medical intervention and support, and not solely that of a girlfriend that just wants to eat at an ethnic restaurant or try a new recipe once in a while.
I have spent the past two days reading everything I can about the disorder, and it appears more wide-spread than I thought. I’ve been reading blogs and accompanying comments from people that have struggled with this all their lives and never had a name for it, understood why they have these food aversions, or how to fix it.
One blog in particular that I came across was Mealtime Hostage. A post that really helped me understand what this disorder is all about was Picky Eating vs. Selective Eating Disorder. This opened up my eyes to the severity of the issue, and how it can’t be dealt with the same way that you would childhood picky-eating.
Now that there is a name to put to it – a disorder associated with the food issues that have been causing severe relationship strains, I can finally switch from the “I Can Fix This” mode, to a “I Will Support You On This Journey” mode. Although it is a relief to finally know what this problem is, it is also scary because I don’t know what to do to help. I didn’t find very much information on adult treatment, but I’m hoping that after some local outreach by both of us, we will find him the support he needs.
Do you or someone close to you have an eating disorder? How did you deal with the emotions that come along with it? Have any tips on how to treat ARFID? Would love to hear them!