steaming miso soup in a dark red bowl

Autism and Food Aversions4 min read

“Are you going to eat that?” My friend asked, looking at the untouched bowl of miso soup in front of me. I under­stand why he was doing it. He per­son­ally enjoyed the soup, and it wasn’t his inten­tion to embar­rass me in front of the group we were with.

However, like so many things that allistic people do that don’t come from a consciously-malicious inten­tion, that is what hap­pened. I gave him the soup to avoid con­flict and to avoid wasting it, but I still felt bad that my food pref­er­ences had been pointed out.

Food is a chal­lenging part of life for me as an autistic person. My sen­sory sen­si­tiv­i­ties make it hard for me to process cer­tain tex­tures of food, par­tic­u­larly if I have to process more than one tex­ture simul­ta­ne­ously. Sometimes, the tex­ture of a solid food and a liquid food that I enjoy sep­a­rately becomes unbear­able simul­ta­ne­ously, which is one of the rea­sons I can never finish a bowl of soup and why I enjoy ice cream and root beer when served sep­a­rately, but I am not par­tic­u­larly fond of root beer floats.

Fine motor skills, another one of the seven pri­mary dimen­sions of autism iden­ti­fied by the Aspergian’s article on what the autism spec­trum really means, are another thing that affects what foods I choose to eat.

If I try to go through the motions of eating soup with a soup spoon in the way that most people do, my hands don’t under­stand what my brain is trying to tell them. Another effect of this is that messy foods like wings, ribs, bur­ritos, and burgers or pizzas with too many top­pings scare me.

I was home­schooled growing up and had little social inter­ac­tion, which got a lot worse when I was a teenager because the home­schooling group my family was in had few oppor­tu­ni­ties for teenagers to socialize. When I was sev­en­teen, my par­ents took me to a statewide home­schooling con­fer­ence, and during that con­fer­ence I went to get food with two other teenage boys.

They took me to a Baja Fresh where they got bur­ritos and con­vinced me to get one myself when I was thinking of ordering a que­sadilla instead. I ordered a bur­rito and ended up making a mess when I tried to eat it.

They made fun of me and made me promise to finish the bur­rito fill­ings that had fallen out into a to-go box, a promise that I later broke. Since then, I have blocked them on Facebook, and have never eaten another bur­rito, instead ordering other things like bowls or que­sadillas when­ever I go to a Mexican restau­rant.

Here are some ways to be better towards autistic adults and teenagers in your lives who have food aver­sions (or anyone that age who does, because you never know who’s autistic; and when I was sev­en­teen, I didn’t know it myself).

  • Don’t say “picky eater” or “fussy eater” unless they describe them­selves that way first. While not everyone with a food aver­sion is uncom­fort­able with those terms, I find them to be infan­tilizing because they are typ­i­cally asso­ci­ated with chil­dren, and they also imply that it is a choice, while in my case, there are some foods for which it is not.
  • Don’t point it out. If you’re eating with someone and notice them picking toma­toes off a burger, not eating one of their side dishes, or eating pizza with a knife and fork, keep your opin­ions and obser­va­tions to your­self and don’t men­tion it unless you know the person well enough to know they’re okay with it.
  • It’s not funny. For me, jokes about my food aver­sions are humil­i­ating. Some of us are willing to laugh at our­selves, but wait until we joke about it our­selves to make your own jokes about this kind of thing.
  • Don’t try to inter­vene unless we seek advice. I am scared of hearing things like “don’t knock it til you try it.” The only time that inter­ven­tion for adult food aver­sions is nec­es­sary is when they pre­vent someone from eating a healthy, bal­anced diet, and even then, the inter­ven­tion should come from a mental health pro­fes­sional, not from a friend or acquain­tance sit­ting across a restau­rant table. If you believe that the issue is serious enough that we need pro­fes­sional help (in my case it isn’t), make sure you know us well before pro­viding that advice.
  • Don’t force us to jus­tify it or assume we’re allergic. If I order a burger or sand­wich with no tomato, it’s because I am uncom­fort­able with the squishy tex­ture of fresh toma­toes, though I’m fine with toma­toes in things like sauces and pizza. Asking me if I’m allergic forces me to explain highly per­sonal things about myself to someone who has already implied they might be judg­mental.
  • Understand that it doesn’t define us. I know this is con­fusing because this is the oppo­site of what we say about our autism, but it really is true that our pref­er­ences about food don’t shape who we are. My pas­sion for debate theory, the deep affec­tion I feel to the few friends I trust, and the elab­o­rate and sys­tem­atic ways I ana­lyze philo­soph­ical issues have nothing to do with what foods I choose not to eat.
  • Don’t assume our moti­va­tions. If I have trouble eating cer­tain foods from a par­tic­ular culture’s cui­sine, it has nothing to do with what I think of that cul­ture– my avoid­ance of French onion soup is equal to my avoid­ance of Chinese hot and sour soup.

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6 Comments

  1. I agree with most of this, but I will say that to any restau­rant workers that might be reading this: if you’re required to ask about aller­gies, don’t feel bad about doing so regard­less of whether you think they’re autistic or not. It’s lit­er­ally your job to make sure the store doesn’t acci­den­tally hos­pi­talize anyone by cross-contaminating aller­gens; feel free to do so without wor­rying about us.

    That being said, for anyone else, this is all very valid and I’m glad this post exists.

  2. I will eat just about any­thing except onions. There was a time when you could hide an onion in an enor­mous amount of food and I would still taste the onion. It drove some people crazy but that was just me.

    1. Same I cannot stand the tex­ture of them. The taste is meh, but the tex­ture is espe­cially repul­sive.

  3. Inside a moun­tain of Mac’n’cheese, I can always find every SPECK of onion.
    Keeping thier fat-ass mouth shut is near impos­sible for a lot of people to do

  4. I love this! I’m a diag­nosed autistic with a sus­pected autistic boyfriend — I have some fine motor skills issues, and he has a lot of food aver­sions. Even before I knew about autism, I always hated how people com­mented and crit­i­cised his aver­sions, even though he obvi­ously didn’t choose them.

  5. Unfortunately this won’t change my par­ents’ out­look. They’ll say this is just what I want to hear and that I shouldn’t be cod­dled.

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