My picky eating is my all-time least favorite conversation. Over my 27 years I have faced this conversation countless times with a wide variety of people
- significant others (even scarier, their family members), and
- random table mates that couldn’t understand why I didn’t like certain foods.
I have received almost every type of reaction possible when I tell people I’m a picky eater. From understanding and patience to immediate judgment that I’m trying to get attention. Believe me, attention is the last thing I want when it comes to eating. I never know how they will react to hearing about my picky eating. The fear of more judgment—sometimes even frustration—coming at me keeps me from talking about it. I’ve even had people mad at me for it, as if I had no right to be picky about what I eat. Believe me, I don’t want this and getting mad at me for it does not fix it. Even thinking about someone confronting me about my eating makes me anxious.
If you read in my post “What is ARFID?” I include a description of what physically happens to ARFID patients that fear trying food:
The physiological constriction of the mouth tissues, throat, and digestive tract from the fear stops the ability to eat a variety of foods.
I get that feeling by talking about my picky eating with almost anyone. Every time I write about this I get this feeling and it’s so uncomfortable. But if by writing about it here I’m able to lessen this fear or constriction for others, then I’ll keep writing.
This is a conversation that needs to happen in an honest and understanding way. Right after my first post I received feedback from others about how happy they are that I’m writing about this. They are so excited that someone is talking about it and getting the word out. They are hopeful that it will lead to more understanding and less judgment or pressure. I think almost every picky eater doesn’t like talking about their habits. So by writing about it on here I hope I’m saving them from future painful conversations. Or, hopefully, it’s making picky eating less shameful and instead help others understand that it can’t be helped in a lot of cases.
For most picky eaters we don’t like being picky. No, it’s not an act to get attention or get our way. It’s not something we are proud of or want to be known for. Picky eating is a fear-filled burden. Yes, I sound dramatic, but it’s true.
I am guessing most non-picky eaters are excited to go to new restaurants and try new foods. It’s exciting to think you’ll find your new favorite restaurant or meal that you wouldn’t have thought of before. That’s not my reaction at all. My senses go on high alert and I immediately dive into google to find out everything about the restaurant. My stomach starts to turn in knots if something doesn’t pop out to me that I like. If there is something that I might like…with a few alterations…then I start getting a stress headache about having to ask for the changes. I stress because I know that will open up the “you don’t like peppers/mushrooms/gravy/peas/mashed potatoes/etc.?!” from my table mates. Sometimes a normal “Nope” answer suffices and they go on their merry way. But too many times they want to know why you don’t like something. For this I usually reply “I don’t know, I just don’t.” Once I say that I know one of two scenarios play out, 1) they drop it and let it be or 2) they try to analyze why I don’t like the food. “Is it the taste/texture/smell/look?” Once the second scenario aficionados find out I’m a picky eater, I’m suddenly their most intriguing puzzle to solve. They ask what kind of foods I like then try to determine why I like them. They try to connect the dots on what I’ve tried in the past and what I could do different to make myself like the foods I didn’t like before (see my Beef Goulash Food Fail post). They then make it their life goal to “help” me to try new foods. The thing is, this kind of interrogation and attention sends me back a few steps rather than forward. I immediately regret going out to eat. I don’t want to even sit with them anymore. I lose my appetite and the food set before me will always taste bad.
I hate those situations. I don’t like going out to eat with new people at new restaurants. I didn’t like going out to eat for the first few dates of a relationship because I didn’t want that stress during a time that should be fun and exciting.
I don’t want to be a psychological investigation for a group of people. 9 times out of 10 I’d rather not eat at all than talk to a new person about my picky eating. But here I am telling you all about it.
What You Can Take Away From This
If you find out someone you are eating out with is a picky eater, unless they offer up information, don’t ask questions. Don’t let your curiosity run wild…verbally. Later you could look into picky eating and why some people are picky eaters, but don’t use them as your research subject. You may think “but I could help them figure it out!”
Stop thinking that. Most of the time you can’t help them out. Everything you want to ask has probably been asked already many, many times. And guess what, it hasn’t been unsuccessful at “helping” the picky eater. If anything you run the risk of making the dinner harder for them than it already is. So be a good table mate, accept the fact that they don’t like a certain food and leave it at that.
Someone they feel comfortable eating with and, just maybe, opening up to about their picky eating. That’s when you can ask questions. Trust me, by not asking the questions you want to ask immediately you’re setting yourself up to be that picky eaters trust buddy.
Until then, just eat.