Food is a notorious issue for many autistic people, and I am definitely included.
I’ve always been a legendarily ‘picky eater’. From the age I could express a preference, I demanded that foods on my plate not be touching. I never wanted to eat vegetables. I would always prefer to eat my same few favourites over and over again, and eating out or in a new place was a huge source of stress. I was renowned for ending up with a plate of bread and butter at family parties or gatherings.
My food issues have always varied a bit over time. When I’m generally more anxious and stressed, I get more strict about my ‘rules’ because they’re a source of control and reassurance. But the underlying preferences are always there. Certain things are just impossible for me to handle – certain combinations of tastes and textures are processed like a threat and my brain tells me it’s harmful.
I don’t like most strong flavours or spices. I can’t stand ‘savoury’ foods that are at all sweet or sugary. I don’t like anything which has lots of different flavours mixed together.
I generally can’t deal with contrasting textures in the same mouthful. I don’t like foods to be mixed because I don’t eat them together anyway, so having them separate on the plate just makes it easier! If anyone was to closely watch me eat something mixed, like noodles with peas, they would see that each forkful contains only one or the other – never both.
There are also some textures which are unacceptable even by themselves. I like things that are very soft, like mashed potato or well-cooked (over-cooked!) pasta. And I like things that are completely crunchy, like toast or raw carrots. It’s in-between textures that are a problem. Unfortunately, that in-between area is where most cooked vegetables lie.
I’m working on finding ways around it, though. I over-cook vegetables until they’re falling apart, or blend them in sauces and soups so they’re completely uniform. I generally stick to my favourite reliable foods, which are always consistent. I take nutritional supplements to make up for what I might be missing out on. It’s not ideal, because of course it seems more right to get everything you need from ‘real’ food. But lots of things in life aren’t ideal, and I think food is a relatively minor issue in the scheme of things. If I’m getting enough calories to power my body through the day, and enough nutrition to keep all my organs in working order, then I think I’m doing alright.