October 13, 2021

Autism and eating the same foods

By rosieweldon

One of the things I find fascinating about the autistic mind is that some of our behaviours cause us struggles and others help us with those struggles. We stim to regulate our physical responses; we have special interests to calm a chaotic mind. In the same way I don’t think that our need for routine and structure is a challenge in itself, I think it is a coping mechanism.

For autistic people the world is loud, scary and intense. A lot of us get overwhelmed by sensory input, find emotional situations hard and can’t communicate well for ourselves. So, is it really any wonder that we would rather follow a pre set path, one that we know what we are going to come up against?

New things are hard for us. A new food for example will be a completely different sensory experience and one we will have to process. For this reason, I tend to eat the same things, but I also take it one step further and have ‘same foods’. By this I mean that I have something that I eat almost every day. It is a firm part of my routine and one that my mind expects every day.

I eat peanut butter on toast every day. It is a process I can tick through to eat it. I know the smell, I know the feel (both in my mouth and holding it, I know how long it takes to eat, I know what process I need to go through to eat it. Nothing is unexpected with eating peanut butter on toast because it is so routed in my mind. Not only does this then make eating easier, but it also lets my mind settle while I eat it. I can ease into a set routine and see it through.

A couple of days ago my partner made apple crumble. She made one for herself and a gluten free one for me. I love it and very much enjoy having it, but it isn’t something we have overly often. I had eaten cereal for breakfast with the intent of eating peanut butter on toast for lunch. My partner then offered me apple crumble for lunch. I like it, knew it needed to be eaten, and wanted to have it. I knew I would enjoy eating it. But, at the same time my mind was saying, ‘but what about peanut butter on toast?’ and, ‘if you don’t eat it now then you won’t eat it today?’

It’s very hard to get across how that feels. I wanted the crumble; I didn’t want toast. But it is such a fixed part of my day, it felt like pushing back against the current in my mind. It felt off. It felt wrong. I had the crumble, and I did enjoy it. But for the rest of the day a little bit of my mind felt off, because I hadn’t had that same food that I normally do. The next day when I did have it, it was like setting everything right again. Like it all made sense again because I had had it.

The autistic mind is incredible, and it does things to try and make our life easier. The phrase ‘different, not broken’, is very true in this situation. If my mind, one that is terrified of new things because it can’t process it, seeks to eat the same food every day to put it at ease, is that really such a bad thing?

I did try to eat jam on toast for a couple of days but all that happens is my mind then goes, ‘oh ok, lets eat this every day then’. If I force myself to stop one same food, it is only a matter of time (days) before I latch onto another that I need to eat every day. When I first started spending time at my partner’s home, I was eating a supermarkets brand of peanut butter, the same I had at home. But one week we couldn’t get hold of it. I couldn’t cope with any other supermarket brand. Without that brand I couldn’t eat toast and without toast it is hard for me to consume enough calories a day. There is only so much food I can process, peanut butter on toast doesn’t have to be processed mentally.

We ended up switching to Sunpat (more expensive!) as this was the closest to taste and now, I am stuck on Sunpat. Which is easier as it is more widely available in various shops. I don’t choose to need peanut butter on toast every day, I don’t choose to need the same brand, it is a part of my mind I can not control.

I drink the same squash, eat the same peanut butter on toast, use the same toothpaste, wear the same clothes, use the same shampoo, use the same cups and bowls, the list goes on and on. These things create a little safe sensory bubble where I can.

I’ve considered putting a stop to it before. Am I too reliant on needing the same thing every day? Should I force myself to eat different things on toast every day, so it isn’t so regimented? But you know what? The world is so scary and overwhelming for an autistic mind. And if eating peanut butter on toast every day gives me a sense of calm and safety, then I’m going to eat it every day (or most!).

If you have found this blog helpful in understanding autism please consider ‘buying me a coffee’ to help with the costs of running the blog 🙂