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Six things that help me with food taste and texture issues

I had always seen myself as very unfussy with food. Still sort of do. But what I hadn't noticed was how much my anxiety and sensory overwhelm impacts the way I feel when eating.

As soon as I started to pay more attention to how my senses impact me, I realised I was almost force-feeding myself most meals. Making myself eat foods that I was really struggling to get down. Feeling slightly sick and anxious while I did it. Sometimes because of the taste, but more often than not it was the texture.

I am a good cook. For as long as I can remember I have enjoyed inventing recipes and cooking for people. Clearly I had lost some of the joy of that along the way!

So, as with everything else, I experimented with changes. Here are the six things I tried, all of which (with some tweaking...) have made things a bit easier.

Thing 1: Boiled sweets

This one was an accidental discovery. I have found that sucking a boiled sweet or cough sweet when I'm a bit agitated helps keep me calm. Maybe it's just a good distraction, maybe it is a positive sensory thing to balance out negative things. It could also be a kind of self-soothing (I sucked my thumb until I was about 8 or nine). Regardless, I keep some in my bag for while I'm out and about. I'll often have one at the start of a therapy session if I'm feeling on edge about delving into emotional territory after a long day, or starting a piece of work when I'm really not in the mood.

Thing 2: Getting creative with veg

The more I paid attention, the more I realised there was a lot of veg I was struggling with. Mostly this was due to textures and/or things being too bland. I really enjoy cooking, so I've since made an effort recently to experiment with different ways of getting more veg. There's a nice tomato-ey sauce I make now with carrots, courgettes and peppers chopped up teeny tiny. I roast or fry veg more often than boiling or steaming it. And I make sure to have veg on hand that is easy for me to manage, regardless of my mood (usually aubergine or mushy peas... not usually together).

Thing 3: Having an "easy food" meal plan

I get a food delivery every two weeks, so that I don't need to go to the supermarket. I always make a meal plan that I know will last me. Which is fine if I am able to eat the meals I've planned, but less so if I find that lots of them are really difficult to eat depending on my mood.

To figure out what I should add to my diet, I thought back to a week when I was extremely ill with flu... I was unable to stand up long enough to make myself particularly healthy meals, and didn't have much appetite anyway. I stuck with foods that felt "easy" to eat even at that time. From this, I found some comforting favourites to base a new meal plan around. Fishfingers and alphabites, pasta bake, beans on toast, and chilli to name a few.

In terms of what I scrapped, I knew my most difficult meals were where I was trying to be super healthy, at the expense of paying attention to what I am able to eat. I knew this because those meals would sometimes be thrown away half-eaten having made me feel nauseous. So I've dialled down the health factor a little bit. When the trade-off is so good for my mental health, it's worth it. Pending further creative veg solutions, anyway.

Thing 4: Not always sticking to that meal plan

Controversial, for me at least... This was a development on Thing 3. I don't always do this, and it took me a while to realise that I ever needed to. But changing things up from time to time can help improve my mood a lot. If I've had a stressful or overwhelming day, this might mean eating something more comforting or less healthy than planned. Other times it means having more fun in the kitchen, if I have the time and energy to be creative. Food can have a really big impact on how I feel, and is a pretty intense sensory experience all things considered (cooking smells, some loud sounds, different temperatures, touching lots of different ingredients, tastes, textures). So it makes sense that matching this to what I can handle in that moment makes such a difference.

Thing 5: Crunchy snacks

I've found that, no matter what is going on, I can always manage crunchy or crispy textures. Whenever I've had to get rid of a meal I've really struggled with, but know that I must still be hungry, my default is a little bowl of dry cereal. Sometimes this is good for calming me down when stressed too. Maybe it's a bit of an outlet, being able to crunch down on something. Either way, I always have a few different kinds of cereal and roasted nuts on hand, so I can get an easy (but not unhealthy) fix whenever I need.

Thing 6: Strong flavours

I've always been drawn to very strong flavours. I remember liking stilton, pickled onions, and olives from a really young age. When I'm feeling quite out of it or tired I will make myself a strong flavoured drink (usually hot or cold squash) as this feels somehow grounding and wakes me up. When I cook, I make sure to add plenty of spices, garlic, lemon, herbs, etc. as that boosts my mood. I think while I’m a bit over-sensitive to textures, maybe I’m under-sensitive to taste, which is why this stuff is so helpful.

Lauren x


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