Adult Picky Eaters UK

For Picky-Eating Adults in the UK and worldwide

Operation Fruitalicious Part I: Apple November 1, 2008

Filed under: adult picky eating,Personal Stories,Reducing Pickiness — Claire @ 12:26 am

“Apple” is a nice word, isn’t it? It mek you feel happy when you see it. I don’t know if it’s a nice food item though. Until today I never even tried one. Until today.

Yes dear reader, I have achieved Part I of Operation Fruitalicious (II and III to follow, god willing). Here’s how I did it (do try this at home, boys and girls):

Step one is to obtain your chosen fruit item – in my case, an apple, a pear and an orange. I managed this by attending my local market, and requesting said items from the marketeer. It cost less than a pound. I’d say that was pretty good value, as life-changing experiences go.

As you can see, this is to be an illustrated post. I’m very happy to concede that a fruit’n’veg stall in a market is an aesthetically pleasing thing, as the image below will hopefully confirm. If you are like me though, none of the items for sale (barring potatoes) actually count as edible, never mind desirable. As such, however, approaching a fruit and veg stall is perfectly non-traumatic. Since I rarely have cause to do so, in fact, it’s actually a bit of a novelty. All the more so when one is actually to make a purchase. So far, so exciting.

I chose a Royal Gala apple, a Conference pear, and a generic Orange.  Having procured the necessary equipment, the next step is to take your purchases home, to the comfort and safety of your own surroundings, and get a feel for them.

The next step is to place your item(s) on a plate, just as if they were food. This too, I found easy and fun, because of course they’re not food, they’re just artistic objects:

Now then, this is the point at which the fun begins. I decided to take things one step at a time and start with the apple. If it’s good enough for Eve, it’s good enough for me. Now, my instinct is fairly strongly against any actual interaction with a fruit. But I’m perfectly capable of cutting things up, I tell myself. (Obviously, I have no intention to actually bite into the thing). So the next step is to select my favourite knife, and cut a side off this apple. I believe it’s ok to not eat the core, and also, I didn’t want to scare myself by assuming I was going to try and eat the whole thing. Like I said, this is just a getting-to-know-you exercise. So I didn’t cut it down the middle, I just cut off a nice little section from one side. Even that looked daunting to me though, so I cut a smaller piece off it. Ok, so far, so good.

As a first move, I picked up that small piece nearest the front, and I licked it. I don’t mean that I just touched it with my tonge, I actually licked it, like you might lick a delicious ice-lolly. It was strange. On the one hand it was quite pleasant (it tastes just like an apple flavoured Opal Fruit), but on the other hand, the sides of my tongue didn’t like it at all. Which is not to say that it tastes unpleasant (it doesn’t), but that when the sides of my tongue taste it, I start to get the inkling of a gag response – not uncontrollable by any means, but definitely there.

Still, I was emboldened by this little foray, and I decided to take the next step: To place some apple in my actual mouth. To prepare for this, I knew I’d need to cut it up a lot smaller, like this:

Can you see that nice little triangle near the front? I picked him up and put him in my mouth. Now, what happened next was actually quite amazing to me. Most of the things I can’t eat, I’ve never actually tried. I’ve just always known instinctively that I didn’t want to eat them. Somewhere in the back of my mind was a vague feeling that it would make me gag, but since 90% of my inedibles have never been put to the test, I suppose on some level I didn’t really believe it would happen. Which is silly, really. When I’ve had to force things down in a social setting, the gag reflex is the major problem. And the last time I tried a solitary tasting like this (with peas, 20 years ago), I didn’t get beyond the reflex. Very frustrating as I recall. So I shouldn’t have been, but I was, quite amazed at how quickly I had to spit it out, this tiny tiny piece of apple, and how I continued wretching and spluttering even after it was gone.

“Could have been a fluke”, I said to myself, and tried again. Same result. I have to say though, it’s very good doing this alone in the privacy of one’s own home. It is such a great relief to be able to freely and swiftly evacuate the offending food item, and to know that your reflex action won’t offend anyone else.

Still, I wasn’t prepared to give up that easy, so I kept repeating the attempt. What I found is that if I keep it in the very front of my mouth, it’s just about tolerable. It’s when you let it be in your mouth like any other food object would, that the sides of the mouth rebel into gagging territory. The thing that made me actually sick was when I thought I would just pretend it was food and try and chew it. That was a mistake. The result was immediate and uncontrollable. Fortunately I’d had the foresight to prepare the sink for in case of an emergency, and to stand beside it just in case.

“Ah well”, I thought, “At least I tried”.

Twenty minutes later though, I felt inspired to give it another go. I wondered what would happen if you dissociated the biting from the mouth-tolerance. And I found, not very much. I still felt sick, and I still had to fight the gag reflex, but I managed, using just the very front of my mouth, to bite several pieces in half (and take them out again, obviously).

It’s quite a feeling, biting apple, if you’ve never done it before, let me tell you. After a while, I decided I’d put myself through quite enough for one evening. Before giving up the ghost though, I took one last piece, and keeping it in the front of my mouth, I sort of chewed it, just at the very front. After a while it became a swallowable texture. Well, it’d be wrong not to, wouldn’t it? I swallowed it. No problem. A good note to end on, I figured.

It’s surprising how traumatic it is, though, just to manage this tiny victory. I didn’t feel afraid at any point (only the social context causes that), but I really felt like I needed comfort afterwards. I had to go and order a pizza straight away.

On the plus side, after tonight, I can now see how a person would love apples. If it weren’t for the gagging thing, I could definitely get to finding them delicious. If you could eat apples, I don’t see why you’d ever need to bother with a Mars Bar. I wouldn’t. You know all those people who say we’re missing out? They’re so right, and now I’ve had a taste of what I’m missing.

But I also think I’ve learned a few tips and tricks that I can apply on my next attempt. One: don’t rush it; Two: front of mouth only, to start with.

I don’t know what any of this tells us, but there it is: a full and frank account.

ps If anyone else tries this, I’d love to hear any similarities or differences in experience.


Procrastination October 31, 2008

Filed under: Personal Stories,Reducing Pickiness — Claire @ 7:57 pm

Do you remember when I thought about buying an apple?  I did buy one in the end, but I never got round to doing anything with it, so eventually it went in the bin.  The same fate befell my second fruit attempt (also an apple), and my third (ditto).  And then last week, I rather daringly purchased an apple, a pear and an orange.  What I’m planning is a Freaky Eaters style fruit-eating session, or at least an attempt at one. 

That is to say, it is not to be a part of any meal, just a getting-to-know you exercise.  That fruit went in the bin last week as well though.  However, I still thought it would be a really good thing to do.  And the idea of blogging it dilutes the fruit-eating-ness of the whole thing, so that’s what I’m going to do.  I bought another load of fruit today, and since (I imagine) it’ll be at its best the sooner I try it, it would appear that tonight is my fruit-eating night.  I’ve been putting it off though for the last hour.  It’s not logical, I know, but I really really don’t fancy it.

Still, what’s the worst that could happen?


Thanksgiving October 13, 2008

Filed under: adult picky eating — Claire @ 11:11 pm

Being English, or shall I say, British, Thanksgiving is not a festival generally celebrated within my realm.  But I know that plenty of you reading this are from places that celebrate Thanksgiving, and that Thanksgiving in the context of being a picky eater can be a source of stress.

The closest analogy I can think of is with our own traditional family British Christmas dinner.  Turkey, stuffing, sausagemeat, bread sauce and oodles of various veg.  Myself, I eat my own personalised subset of this (aka turkey, potatoes and gravy), and I have to say it is probably my most favourite meal of the whole year.  I know that not everyone is this lucky.

But once that main course is over, that’s the end of the meal as far as I’m concerned.  Christmas pudding?  Christmas cake? They don’t count as food to me.  No way, no how.  To my mind, a Christmas dinner is a one-course meal, end of story.  My mother always asks me what she should get or make for me to have for pudding on Christmas day.  Now, while I do appreciate that, the thing is, there isn’t anything traditionally “Christmas” that I would be able to eat.  You could substitute with an everyday pudding that I love, but then it wouldn’t be Christmas dinner, would it? 

Which makes me sort of understand how people might feel at Thanksgiving (or Christmas) if there was nothing in the traditional cornucopia that they could eat.  These festivals are about ritual, and it just so happens that for “normal” people, the ritual foods happen to all be highly edible.  For many people with SED though, I think these occasions translate into a choice between satisfying one’s hunger, and participating in the ritual. These options are mutually exclusive.

So is it preferable to join in with these ritual foods but just not eat them, or to bring your own picnic so you can join in with the eating?  For me, it’s definitely the former.  It’s not so much about eating together, as about sitting round the table together, and the table must only have on it the traditional ritual foods.

But what of those of you who can’t eat turkey?  Is it better to substitute, or to not eat at all?


My New Favourite Chocolate October 10, 2008

Filed under: adult picky eating — Claire @ 9:15 pm

As regular readers might know, chocolate is a substance close to my heart.  I do not think I have lived a day since toddlerhood without eating chocolate in its solid form.  Certainly not in the last 20 years or so, anyway.  At 18 I was a ten-tubes-of-Smarties-a-day girl, having graduated from a ten-Creme-Eggs-a-day habit.

So I’d like to take this opportunity to give a great big shout-out to my new favourite chocolate.  Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Nestles Dairy Crunch:

I’m not sure why this has superseded my previous tip-of-the-top, cream-of-the-crop, chocolate of choice, the Milka Alpenmilch as my current chocolate du jour. 

It could be that Shakespeare was right when he wrote Sonnet 102.  It could be because I’ve overdone the Milka thing over the last few months.  When it’s got so you always have at least 3 giant bars of the stuff in your fridge, you start to get blase about it, you start to fancy something a little different.  Different chocolate, different texture. 

Now, I’m not altogether a fan of Nestle chocolate (apart from the Milky Bar of course, which doesn’t really count).  If Smarties weren’t glazed in sugar, I wouldn’t bother with ’em.  But the Dairy Crunch is the perfect texture for someone with a low texture-repetition threshhold like me, who’s had it up to the back teeth with manufactured high veg-fat, low cocoa-butter smooth and silkiness (don’t get me started on the Galaxy refurb). 

I’m also not a large fan of chocolate With Things In It.  Cadbury’s Fruit & Nut used to make want to cry as a child, being strictly a Dairy Milk lover.  But the Dairy Crunch just has rice-crispies in it, which are very benign, and which go with the chocolate very well, to my mind.

So that’s nailed my colours to the mast good and proper.  How about you?


A Strange And Interesting Prospect October 7, 2008

Filed under: General — Claire @ 2:18 am

In the course of trying to set up a real-life gathering of picky eaters – which incidentally, I think is going ahead next month sometime – I ran a mental simulation of what it might be like.  And I realised it would be really weird – in a good way, I mean. 

Because I have never in all my life met another person who is like me in this regard.  I’ve never met someone who knows what it’s like to not count certain things as food.  I’ve never met another person who’s lived their whole life with all that that entails.  I’ve never met a person who I wouldn’t have to explain this to.  I’ve never met a person who knows what it’s like, who actually understands.  Ever.  I’ve been so alone with this my whole life, I kind of can’t imagine what it would be like to suddenly not be the only one in the room like this. Do you know what I mean?


Nature & Nurture October 3, 2008

Filed under: causes,food neophobia,research — Claire @ 2:19 am

The New York Times recently reported on a twin study into child food neophobia.  This research, from my old Alma Mater, reports that 78% of the variance in food neophobia is inherited. Genetic. No-one’s fault, no-one’s choice.

“Interesting”, I thought to myself.  So then I went and found the actual article, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  You can read it here if you want to (you may find the Discussion at the end quite interesting reading).

The study was based on a cohort of about five and a half thousand pairs of identical and non-identical twins, each member of whom completed a four-item measure of food neophobia (the Child Food Neophobia Scale).  The correlations between CFNS scores for identical twin pairs and non-indentical pairs were then examined, with the result that these correlations were higher for the identical twin pairs, indicating a genetic influence on the neophobia trait.

Using structural equation modelling, it was then found that the model best fitting the data distinguishes between two sources of variation: Genetic, and Non-shared environmental factors/measurement error.  Even if the estimate of the genetic influence at 78% is an over-estimate, it is clear that the genetic component accounts for a majority of the variation. 

The remaining 22% of variance is attributed to a combination of non-shared environmental factors and measurement error, though in what proportions it isn’t clear.  What is clear is that excluding shared environmental factors from the model does not result in a significant reduction of fit.  From which it may be inferred that shared environmental factors have minimal influence in determining a child’s food neophobia, as they have elsewhere been shown to be less influential than non-shared environment in determining other traits.

Which leads me, as a non-expert, to idly wonder, what is the difference between shared and non-shared environmental factors (and which is why I pointed you towards the Discussion in the article, which explains exactly this).  In a nutshell, it is the idea that shared environments can have non-shared effects.  The same home, parents, and culture can be experienced differently by different children, and thus have different effects upon them.  Whether this is because of the environment (eg parents) responding differently to their different offspring, or because of the child interpreting the environment differently is another question.  I’d be amazed if it wasn’t a bit of both.

You may also be wondering how they separated out the effects of these undefined shared and non-shared environmental factors.  Well, the latter component was estimated by subtracting the heritability estimate from the correlation for identical twins.  If you subtract this and the heritability estimate from the total, you are left with the estimate for the non-shared component (plus error).  Neat, huh?

So anyway, what we can take from this study is that while environment (including parenting) accounts for about a fifth of the variation in children’s food neophobia, it is genetic influence that explains the lion’s share.  For children with food neophobia (which I think we all were), it is caused largely by our genes. 


ps  Of the many things that I am not an expert in, behaviour genetics is one of them.  So the mechanism by which one’s genetic inheritance might give rise to food neophobia (as I have experienced it) is a mystery to me.  But this study suggests to me that it might be at least partly psychosocial.  To put that theory into better words, that would be to say that one’s genetic endowment leads one to have a psychosocial interaction with one’s environment, that in turn leads to the whole food neophobia thing.  As it might also lead to obssessive-compulsive tendencies, for eg.  Is this a post-hoc rationalisation of my experience?  Or is there no such thing as free will?  I don’t know.  Any thoughts?


Self-Help For Picky Eaters September 30, 2008

Filed under: adult picky eating,Reducing Pickiness — Claire @ 10:29 pm

I have had an idea about how we might be able to help ourselves. 

To this end, I would like to propose, in the first instance, a real-life gathering here in London for picky eaters (apologies to those too far afield for this to be feasible).  No-one will have to eat anything if they don’t want to.  The idea is just to meet up and talk.

UPDATE (16.11.08):  This event took place yesterday.  I’d call it a success. Many thanks to those who made it.

One of the ideas that came out of it was that it might be a good thing to have a regular time to meet up online.  Obviously, this would negate the problem of people being scattered all over the world (notwithstanding time-zone differences), or people having to travel, or being anxious about meeting in real life.  And it would mean we could chat in real time.  What do you reckon, should we organise it?