On Healthy Eating from a “Picky” Eater

Some practical and theoretical comments

800px-Basil_and_Organic_Tomato_Soup wikimedia commons copyright to attribution
Tomato Soup. Source: Wikimedia Commons

As a child I was taught I was morally depraved because of the way my body reacts to food.

And while I am sure there is plenty of excellent scientific advice in something like the NHS’s dietary advice, the overarching approach drives me crazy because, ultimately, the human body is not a machine, but a complex, living, dynamic, organic aspect of the human person. I don’t need to know that it is generally more ideal to eat vegetables whole than pureed. I need to know what to do given that I mostly can’t.

“Don’t listen to your body”* is surely the worst food rule of all. The human body, which is an integral part of the person, deserves respect. Brother or sister ass should not be force-fed and cursed for not acting exactly as wanted, but gently and respectfully trained, with empathy and kindness and acceptance of real limitations of whatever kind.

It isn’t clear exactly what my physical difficulties are – probably sensory defensiveness (it is likely I have sensory processing disorder of some type; certainly I have dyspraxia), and possibly also some sort of mild swallowing difficulty and/or general digestive sensitivity**.

The worst problem I have with eating an adequate diet is that I am pretty much literally incapable of eating most cooked vegetables, at least in any quantity, and I don’t find it comfortable to eat raw fruit either. I also have a lot of difficulty with new foods. Texture seems to be the most significant issue, in that I can eat soft mashed potato quite happily, but cannot eat more than a few mouthfuls of the firmer sort without my body reacting as if I was trying to eat soil or cloth. I also over-react to strong or strange flavours and odd flavour/texture combinations.

I’d emphasise that I’m not a nutritionist and what follows is not intended to be scientific dietary advice: it is a set of things I’ve found work for me personally on the vexed question of fruit and veg, which I hope may be a useful starting point for others with similar issues with this food group.

 

Small portions of new foods; avoiding creating an acquired dislike by pushing it to a bad physical reaction.

Eating slowly; and keeping a glass of water or other drink by while eating.

Coleslaw – particularly bland coleslaws with a lot of dressing and finely shredded carrot and cabbage. I can’t cope with carrots and raisins together, though. Try cheese coleslaw if lack of protein is a problem too.

Salad leaves with dressing – I find most dressings fine, so long as they change the texture. Salad cream is my personal favourite. Squeezy mayonnaises tend to have a better texture than those that come in jars.

Red onions with salad cream.

Cream of tomato soup. I’ve had varying success with other cream-of soups. I am more tolerant of tomatoes and onions than I am of most vegetables.

I’ve had a certain amount of success taking tinned soups with whole vegetables, that I couldn’t eat as they were, and putting them through a blender until completely pureed.

Eating soup with bread greatly increases my tolerance of the texture of the vegetables in the soup. Dryish, crusty bread works best for this.

Strained vegetable broth. Cook vegetables to death so all the nutrients end up in the water, and then strain them out of the water and either use the water in further cooking, e.g. gravy, or eat as soup. (Search for vegetarian alternatives to bone broth for recipes. Bone broth may be worth trying too, given it is supposed to be nutritious, though strictly speaking it isn’t part of the vegetable hegemony! Be cautious with it, though – it made me quite sick when I took in too much too soon, and that’s apparently not unusual, even among those who find it helpful long term).

Fruit/fruit and vegetable smoothies. Typically, I use banana and other fruit blended in milk and yoghurt, with ground flax and chia seeds, and added cereal or wheat bran for fibre. And a spoonful of cocoa and/or spices. This is one of my favourite approaches, as the texture and nutrition can be varied a lot. It’s also possible add raw eggs (check they are safe in your area), and/or nut butters, if extra protein would be useful.

Smoothie bread pudding. Instead of using raisins etc. among the bread, blend bananas and strawberries, cocoa and spices, with the milk and eggs, pour over the bread, and bake as normal. This gives a very smooth texture. It makes a good frozen dessert too, though it needs to be allowed to soften for a few minutes out of the freezer before eating.

Brown bread, wholegrains, wheat bran, and other cereal sources of fibre.

Baked beans.

Most tinned beans, chickpeas, and lentils, in moderation and mixed with other foods. Pureeing beans and using them in a sauce or coating on meat works quite well. I can’t take green beans or peas at all, except for pureed peas in soup. Rice and meat/fish salads tend to be quite good with beans or lentils.

Small portions of fresh fruit – however much can be eaten without discomfort. I tend to assume that eating one segment of orange, one slice of apple, half an apricot, two grapes, is better than not eating any. I don’t do this much at present because I live on my own and it would run to a lot of waste, but it may work within a family setting.

I find fresh pulpy fruits, such as mango or banana, easier to take in than fresh juicy fruits like apples.

Real fruit yoghurt. Puree fresh or frozen fruit with plain yoghurt – and spices/cocoa/vanilla essence/instant coffee/honey etc. if desired. Using fruit that’s currently frozen and eating straight away gives a different texture. In theory using pureed fruit should work with frozen yoghurt and ice cream as well.

Relishes and pickles. Again, probably not ideal. But sandwich pickle and sandwich spread and burger relish do generally contain real vegetables, and the way they are prepared and eaten tends to be relatively friendly to texture problems. I usually eat chips with relish rather than ketchup.

Vegetables combined with bread and meat or bread and cheese. I can eat a lot of fresh salad in a burger that I would have no hope of eating on its own. Similarly, I can eat peppers and tomatoes and onion in unusual quantity on pizza, or in a sandwich with bread and cheese. I also get on quite well with things like chopped onion in tuna mayonnaise sandwiches, though I find it tends to be necessary to chop vegetables quite small (use a food processor). I’ve found that the trick with this is to add the size of portion I can eat comfortably and no more, even if all the textbooks are screaming at me that I must, must, MUST eat a larger portion.

Stewed fruit, and stewed fruit desserts such as crumbles.

Tinned peaches and apricots. These generally have a softer texture than fresh.

Dried fruit, such as raisins and apricots. I like eating dried fruit in tart, plain, Greek-style yoghurt. Raisins and dark chocolate drops in yoghurt are one of my favourite desserts.

 

Cherry Foster

 

*Clarification: I mean listen to the body as a whole, not gratify immediate sensual preference without thought. There is a difference between the mind behaving like a slave-driver towards the body, and its behaving like a group leader towards a valued colleague. Interestingly, I am using the same underlying structural reasoning in my approach to food and healthy eating (i.e.: respect the body as part of the person) as I do in relation to chastity (sexual ethics), and I think that is probably correct.

**It is possible to have a physical difficulty without the explanation being clear! The explanation explains the causes of the pre-existing physical difficulty, rather than the difficulty being brought into being by the explanation. Our social culture has a strong tendency to treat disability as if it was the explanation and not the thing explained, and to treat anything unexplained as if it was unreal.

The Dangers of Health and Safety

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Which is the greater trip hazard, the warning sign, or the hose of which it warns?

I got a bit bruised that day.

I was walking around a dimly lit church; I made a mistake with my cane – and fell with an awful crash over the wet floor sign which someone had put in the way.

The safety sign was certainly more of a hazard to me than a wet floor. Most wet floors are not significantly slippery if you wear shoes with a good tread.

It is thankfully unusual for me to actually fall over wet floor signs, but they are a massive obstacle, placed as they generally are in the way of doors and corridors. The classic A-board signs are Schrödinger objects – objects I cannot readily observe without altering their location – when contacted with the cane, they tend to fall over.

Though it might be logical to conclude that the signs are only a hazard because of my unusual way of functioning, this does not seem to be the case. Others without worse difficulty than need-for-glasses say they keep tripping over the things. Moreover, the floor beneath them is not usually wet, so perhaps about half the time or rather more they are the only hazard present.

The natural solution in our society would be to require people to put up an infinite regress of warning signs: “Warning: Wet Floor”.  “Warning: Trip Hazard: Wet Floor Sign”.  “Warning: Trip Hazard: Trip Hazard Warning Sign”, ad infinitum!

The self-closing fire door is a similar issue. I lived in a flat with internal fire doors for a year. They were heavy and hard, an endless cause of bruises wherever they hit me, and of minor injury to my hands. They constituted a continuous risk of being trapped in the kitchen and unable to get back out.

The only way I could cope was by propping them open the vast majority of the time – mercifully not forbidden in the tenancy contract – which I would guess from the point of view of fire is actually worse than the presence of normal doors which do remain closed most of the time. Indeed, fire doors which didn’t come back at you like an avenging fury, but stayed where they were put, would probably have been perfectly manageable.

Again, I thought this was unusual, until I heard someone talking about the danger involved in the self-closing fire doors in their corridor at work, particularly when it came to moving large items about.

Part of the problem, I suspect, is that the sort of injury that is frequently acquired from fire doors is less likely to be recorded in accident statistics than the sort of injury that is occasionally acquired from their absence. If I have to live with being continuously covered in bruises and with minor cuts to my hands from my inability to handle my fire doors safely, A and E don’t find out, though its impact on my life is hardly insignificant.  If you are involved in an accident with a trolley as a result of an over-enthusiastic and badly placed self-closing fire door, it is likely to be the trolley, not the door, which gets the blame. I never actually broke fingers or anything worse, though I was quite afraid of doing so – it didn’t exactly make for a homelike existence. And people are mostly very heavy handed about trying to force even those of us with extra physical needs not to prop such doors open, regardless of the resulting risks, or the practical consequences of that refusal, such as not being able to live independently.

There was a tiny risk of someone dying in a fire that might have been prevented by those doors. There was an absolute certainty of my injuring myself as a result of the fact they were heavy and self-shutting. That isn’t an aspect of things people should be ignoring.

I’m all in favour of reasonable and sensible health and safety, having met someone from another part of the world who (if I have this correct) fell through a poorly maintained balcony while pregnant. It is worth putting effort into making things safe, particularly in the type of shared environment where people do not have much personal capacity to alter the extent of the environmental risks they are enduring.

However, these things do need to be thought about holistically, and with an awareness and consideration of the real practical consequences of the precautions required, both to safety and to life in general.

Requiring people, by force of law, to put hazardous signs and doors all over the place is not what health and safety should be about!

Cherry Foster