January 17, 2021

Autistic people and eating

By rosieweldon

Eating is one of those things that most people just do. Most
people enjoy. But it’s not quite that simple for a lot of autistic people.

Same food
One aspect of autistic people and eating is what I call
‘same fooding’. It is common for me to latch onto a food item or meal and only
want to eat that. Now I get that that isn’t great for giving your body what it
needs but when your mind will only eat that one thing, isn’t it better than
nothing? When I started work at the bank and I was living alone I relied on
‘same foods’ to get me through. Without the comfort of a ‘same food’ I wouldn’t
have eaten. It always frustrates me when I see parents trying to force autistic
children to eat different foods.

I was a 26-year-old adult that new it wasn’t great for me,
but it was better than nothing. My same food was toast. I know, not great. But
I used my understanding of autism along with my own desperation for that food,
to come to a balance. I ended up eating a microwave risotto with toast each
night. At the weekend I would have beans on toast or peanut butter on toast. I
worked with my need for the same food and tried to build nutritional content
around it. I also took vitamins and other supplements each day. I knew I
wouldn’t eat without toast, so I worked with it. That’s the benefit of being an
autistic adult. No one can force me not to eat toast.

I wish I could give parents the same understanding. If the
child’s same food is pasta and they only want that then maybe they can have plain
pasta and something else. Or plain pasta and some vitamins. Pasta and then a
yoghurt. Work with what they crave and try to find a balance.

Aside from ‘same fooding’ we often get called fussy as we
have specific ways with eating. When I got my own flat my mum kindly gave me a
few crockery and cutlery items from the family home. The cup I was used to for
my morning cup of tea, the spoons I was used to eating with. I don’t use them
now – 2 years on – as I have my own new routine. But they significantly helped
me transition.

I can’t eat in most situations. I would do full days at
university, out the door at 7am and home at 6pm without eating. I don’t eat
throughout a day at the office. I don’t eat when I visit most people. A big
reason for this is that if I try to eat around people my anxiety gets so bad, I
physically can’t swallow. I would choke on the food because my body shuts down.
I would also struggle to co-ordinate my hands because of anxiety and panic.

My stepdad recently fixed my door and commented on how upon
looking in my cupboard for a snack all he found was ‘rows of the same thing’.
Well yeah. I’m autistic and the great thing about living alone is I do things
my way. My cupboards are stocked with packets of rice and baked beans. I don’t
eat fresh food because I can’t go to the shops alone. I sometimes push myself
to order something different and either it sits there for ages because I can’t
bring myself to try it, or I do try it, don’t like it and throw it out.

On top of everything else a lot of autistic people have food
sensitivities and allergies. It is widely known that our digestive system is
often sensitive to things like gluten. I have a gluten intolerance as well as
general sensitivity to things like fried food etc.

I can’t cook. It’s as simple as that. If mum needs help in
the kitchen then I’m great. Just set me a task and I’m well away. But I cannot
cope with juggling multiple tasks in the kitchen where I have to track
everything. Beans on toast is my limit. Two things, both of which can be left
to finish.

My new favourite meal is waffles and chicken nuggets because
they go in at the same temperature and take the same amount of time!

It is no wonder when you consider all the above that we
build ourselves a little safe food routine and stick to it. Foods that don’t
cause us mental energy to try. Foods that don’t make us ill. Eating habits that
don’t cause us anxiety.

It is important that (especially) children get the nutrients
they need. But it is also important that their eating needs are also supported.
It is possible to find that balance. I feel that I find that balance. If I have
had a hard day at work, there is zero chance of eating anything but my same
food. And I am so grateful that as autistic people we have in built ways to
cope. Same foods let me eat on hard days. However, at the weekend I might try
and have something that takes a bit more preparation or even go crazy and try
something new.

I have often said to mum that if she wants little man to try
something then a school day isn’t the day. The world can kick the crap out of
us, don’t push us to eat weird food on days we need stable. Work with us on the
tough days and encourage us to try something new or even build out from a same
food, on days we are able to. I also eat around my mums at least once a week to
know I’m getting a varied diet.

You can’t change our eating ways. It is because of every
part of our nature that we see eating the way we do. Please work with us, find
ways that give us nutrients and don’t push us too far.

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