"I Only Eat Yellow Things"
Battle of the Fussy Eater: The story of how I came to understand my weird relationship with food.
Most kids are fussy with food at some point or another in their childhoods. I always tried to pretend that's what I was; "fussy". Except I took it to the extremes and would barely touch anything that didn't have a concrete certificate of approval, and even then the conditions had to be just right. My mum and dad were always brilliant and exotic eaters so it wasn't like I wasn't exposed to a vast culinary choice. I just could not bring myself to try new things, no matter how hard and tirelessly my parents tried. They took me to doctors and kept me off school to try and crack the problem. They tried being nice, they tried being harsh, shouting, pleading, every single trick in the book and beyond, but nothing anyone said could ever sway me to even hold new foods, let only taste them. I couldn't explain it, it just felt wrong. The very idea of putting anything new in my mouth overwhelmed me, like I might die. I truly would have rather gone hungry than just give something a go.
I think what hurt and confused them the most was that I had been quite the adventurous eater in my earliest years, and would gulp down huge amounts of smoked haddock, mash potato, sweetcorn, bananas, and other lovely things. What these all had in common was that they were all yellow. Mum and dad would relay this to me in my later life and ask what had changed? I couldn't tell them the answer.
Very early on, I was very aware that this diet wasn't normal. From just looking around at everyone else's lunchbox in school, I could clearly see the difference in variety from what my friends had to what I had. Other children having fruit and prawn cocktail crisps, houmous, Wagon Wheels, yoghurts, and sandwiches of all kinds and sizes. All these different foods weren't harming anyone else, yet I just had this feeling that they'd harm me if I tried them. My lunchbox often consisted of a banana, a MilkyWay bar, and a Sayers sausage roll - any other kind and I would have left it. If mum ever tried to put anything new or different in there, I'd bin it or pawn it to others and be very angry; didn't mum know me at all?
Thing is, I could count the things I ate on one hand, two if I really thought about it. That's with the exclusion of crisps and sweets but even then, I'd only eat cheese & onion crisps, milk chocolate (both of one particular brand), and only the red fruit pastles.
From the ages of 5 and 19, I consistently ate: chips, pork sausages, Tesco's own cheese and tomato pizza, scampi, garlic bread, ham, toast. That was it. Literally nothing else. It didn't even just depend on the food either, the location was a factor for me too; mum could buy the same brand of ham she always got me and could give it to my friend's mum to give me for tea - because it was coming from 'the wrong kitchen', I'd refused to eat it. It had to be exactly the same everytime. I couldn't explain it, every detail of eating had to be exactly right or I'd sent myself into a tearful panic that no one else understood.
Mum and dad never took me out to eat, there was no point. I even hated McDonald's or any other kind of fast food. I couldn't go anywhere without factoring in what I might eat or where it might come from, or stuffing myself beyond the point of reason before I went so I wouldn't have to eat. I had a bank of stories and excuses that I'd reel off to my friends and their parents if ever I was caught short, and if ever the parents ignored my tales and tried to give me food, I'd sit at the table and let it go cold - "Told you I wasn't hungry." My best friends knew about it and thought it was weird but learned how to include me in anything where food might be involved. Life went on.
Shockingly, my diet never affected my weight, if it had maybe I would have done something sooner about it. I came to resent the fear in my teens, longing to change but so terrified I'd frequently have panic attacks. The only reason anything changed was went to university. My flatmate was a huge foodie and horrified by the things I stocked my fridge shelf with. In the end, we made a deal that everytime she made a meal, I had no choice but to try it, even if it meant she had to sit on me and force it down me. And she did, several times, and soon being a poor student, I was hungry enough to let hre. And by the end of my first year, I was eating every kind of curry, pasta, even mixing sausage in with pasta! I went home a new person and eager to explore this whole culinary world I had been denying myself my whole life.
Fast forward seven years to now and I'm a million times better to even then. My most recent achievement is realising that cheese is not only a good thing, but maybe the best thing in the world!
So to put all this into context. Currently, I'm studying my masters in speech therapy. Recently we were given a lecture by a local dietician, Linda, and were given an insight into the incredibly personal relationship that we all subconsciously have with food. I approached her after and interested, relayed my story to her, of how my bizarre yellow diet moved to a limited five-man-band and how hunger put a stop to it all. What did she think to it all? Immediately Linda asked;
"Were you ill as a baby?" I said no, not as a baby, though from when I was two, for eighteen months I had bouts of severe tonsilitiis and frequently ended up in hospital. Eventually they removed my tonsils. Linda gave a knowing smile.
"Yep," She said, "Thought so!" She explained how tough babies and young children are. We all go round wrapping them all in cotton wool, but we have no idea of the complex processes that their little bodies have in order to protect them as they develop. If a baby/young child is ill or born prematurely and needs a feeding tube, they make a memory, a subconscious rememberance that putting things in their mouths and swallowing can hurt them and therefore, they grow naturally relunctant to eating and drinking. This can also happen if they have experienced specific, reoccurring illnesses, like tonsilitis, where the throat is red raw and swallowing is painful.
I was blown away, suddenly things made more sense! I thought back to all those times where 'foreign' food had been put in front of me and I had been overcome with an unexplainable fear. I could have cried.
Linda went on to say that there was method in the madness of my yellow diet. I hadn't been eating them because they were yellow, I'd been eating them because they were all soft foods, or small foods, that I could eat without hurting my throat, or thinking that my throat would hurt as a result.
MEGA LIGHTBULB MOMENT!
"You had anorexia ... Not anorexia nervosa, not the body image one, but the clincial term ... You had an eating disorder."
She went on to describe what therapies she would have done with me had I appeared on her case load in the height of my fussiness. I remember it being very interesting but I can't recall details to be honest, I was too busy reeling. Suddenly so many things fell into place. Actually having an informal diagnosis lifted a weight off my shoulders I hadn't even realised was there. None of it had been my fault, I hadn't been making it up or being silly, it was a genuine phobia, and one I'd managed to overcome all by myself.
Don't get me wrong, there's still some foods I won't touch even now; broccoli, all kinds of beans, prawns ... Why, I coudln't tell you, even with all this knowledge. I guess I'm still recovering, but I'm confident now that it's a battle I'm going to win and I never thought I'd say that!
I'm now making up for lost time and trying everywhere as and where I can, from out there and adventurous to simple and overlooked things. Soup is my favourite at the minute! I just wanted to say, especially when I think of how this used to rule my existence; to anyone who had ever felt isolated because of their relationship with food, felt fear towards it, felt it controls them and their lives; I promise you're not alone. Food doesn't have to run your life for all the wrong reasons. It is fixable. Things can be done. Get yourself to the GP and ask for a dietician referral. You're not alone.