Food is an interesting thing, isn’t it? We all need it to live, but it sure does give us a lot of trouble. What we choose to eat, what we choose not to eat, what we can eat, what we can’t. It is quite the tangled web. And despite food challenges being widely known, there is a general expectation everyone eats like you. And if they don’t, or can’t, well then – is there a problem?
Texture challenges are omnipresent in the Hanson household. I can, and sometimes do, eat pretty much everything. The only thing I’ve rejected outright is sushi. The texture is just disgusting to me. Nateanite cannot deviate from specific foods that have a very specific texture. While most know this as being picky, what he is actually experiencing is closer to Selective Eating Disorder. In people who struggle with SED, they may restrict food based on its’ appearance, texture, or a past negative experience with food. I say “closer” because a diagnosis has never made an appearance, although all the symptoms match.
As I’m sure you can imagine, this provides something of a challenge when it comes to making and eating meals. I’ll outline a few struggles and then share some strategies we’ve employed that have improved our family eating experience and I hope they help you too!
What is healthy?
Many who struggle with selective eating, and this is the case in our home, eat foods that may be classified as “junk food.” I’m talking about pizza with no toppings, cheese burgers, chicken nuggets, French fries, and hot dogs. Vegetables are almost always completely out of the equation. Some fruits, depending on the person, can be okay.
I grew up hearing many of the women in my life say “I’m not a short order cook” and I really internalized that. I wanted all of us to eat the same thing for dinner, both as a bonding-style activity and because it’s easier for me as the primary cooker of the food. But I don’t want to have hot dogs every day, so a shift in thinking about health has occurred.
Physical health is important, and getting all the nutrition you need is important. But mental health is equally important and having dinner with a side of panic attack is not healthy. Coming to that realization was a huge challenge! Overcoming social conditioning is not easy and moving through the process (and I’m sure not at the end) is one that requires you to be kind to yourself in addition to being kind to others.
Identifying the problem.
Early in our relationship I thought to myself “Nateanite eats cheese burgers and those are beef. I bet he’d like a pot roast!” My rationale to myself was that it would be a gateway into a wider world of foods. I quickly realized that was not the case. Something I thought was delicious was causing him true distress. It was then I realized that Nateanite was not simply being picky, there was something bigger going on here.
You never realize how much everything we do revolves around food until you need to restrict for some reason. Going out proves to be a challenge. We often review menus online weeks in advance. If the menu isn’t online, we don’t go. Gatherings where there is going to be a meal served are also avoided. Events where there is a dessert table is preferable, at least you can usually grab a cookie of some kind.
There are challenges, there is no doubt. But there are also solutions we’ve implemented that have been successful.
Put a positive spin on the different.
When Electric correctly notices that she’s having lentil chili and Daddy is having pizza she is not shy at expressing the injustice of it all. Rather than telling her to get over it and eat what she’s given we say, “Daddy needs different food to be big and strong.” It’s taken a while, but she’s starting to catch on. Food is to help you be strong, and we are all very strong in our family. We also recognize that mental health is just as, and sometimes more, important than physical health.
Emphasize the same.
Sure, you might be having different food and that’s okay. But look! You and Daddy both have milk. Isn’t it so cool that you’re drinking the same thing? Cheers!
Cautiously try something new.
We are taking a family trip at the end of the year. In reviewing menus, there are some things that Nateanite thinks he might like to try. I am (slowly) looking for recipes so we can try some new things at home in a risk, and judgement, free environment. I will sometimes suggest something new, but cauliflower-crust pizza has not caught on.
Ultimately, there are definitely some struggles when it comes to living with SED. From my end, as the “goddess of the kitchen” (I’m totally quoting Nateanite there) it is frustrating at times to cook different meals and I admit to feeling bitter about it from time to time. But ultimately, there is more love in there than bitterness. We all deserve to have a positive eating experience that feeds our bodies as well as our souls.
Do you struggle with any food-related trouble in your family? What are some positive steps you’ve taken?