Atypical preferences

Unusual eating habits can have many reasons:

Gustatory hypo- & hypersensitivity

Sensitivity to certain tastes may come with being a Highly Sensitive Person in general, and a ‘supertaster’ in particular. Which taste type one belongs to is determined by genes.

Supertasters have lots of papillae that are closely packed together and small.

  • Perceive all tastes as more intense than other taster types, particularly bitter tastes.
  • Tend to be fussy about their food and have strong food likes and dislikes.
  • Usually don’t like coffee, grapefruit, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and spinach.
  • Around 25% of people are said to be super-tasters.

Normal tasters have an average number of medium-sized papillae.

  • Like a large variety of foods but care about how their food is prepared.
  • Around 50% of people are said to be normal tasters.

Nontasters have few papillae (the tiny bumps on the tongue that contain taste buds).

  • Perceive all tastes as less intense than other taster types.
  • Are particularly insensitive to bitter tastes.
  • Are happy with most foods, irrespective of the type of food or its preparation.
  • Around 25% of people are said to be non-tasters.”

Are you a supertaster?

I was a very picky eater when I was younger. I have a very sensitive sense of taste. Lemon juice on fish would literally burn my tongue like caustic acid. I can taste rotting meat and milk going bad. At the table, sometimes I will guzzle milk like crazy, and sometimes I refuse to even taste it and won’t have any until the next gallon is opened. My mom can’t figure out why. When I tell her that the milk smells, and sometimes tastes different, she (and my dad, and my sister, if she is visiting) cannot tell the difference.”

Tom, Aspie from USA

“Food has always been another huge problem. There are very few things I can eat, without getting sick. I can’t handle anything spicy, even regular black pepper is too much for me.”

Tracy, adult HSP from USA

A Study of Gustatational Sensitivity in young ASD and Non-ASD individuals found the ASD group to be hypo-sensitive to salt & sweet tastes but hypersensitive to acrid, bitter and ‘neutral’/water.

My comment: This to me only indicates that subjects may be used to using plenty of salt & sugar in their food; such habituation happens when one gets addicted to something or eats a lot of it. It is the bitter taste-sensitivity that is the real indicator of whether one is a supertaster or not. Many of us crave salt and are naturally sugar-sensitive and easily become sugarholics.

Sensory hypersensitivity

It can also be the smell, texture, colour, temperature, the way it is served or made, or other sensory characteristic that makes the food repulsive to a sensitive person. Food mixing, for example, is something that many spectrumites and highly sensitive persons are appalled by.

When I was a kid, I found most foods so repulsive that I’d gag just at the thought of having to put them in my mouth – and when forced to, it often came right back up. Only very slowly have I learned to like more foods than I initially thought I would. But that had to be at my own pace. Being forced to eat things that one is appalled by only creates trauma and stronger resistance.

Ing, site-author

“About food choices, well I’m better than I was when I was younger, but that still isn’t great. I’m extremely picky. So are my kids. My son only eats one thing for lunch and dinner and sometimes breakfast. Sometimes for breakfast he has crackers or cinnamon toast crunch. He does eat a few fruits. That is it.

“When I was [younger] I only ate a few things. Dinner was mostly chicken cutlets or pizza or spaghetti and that was it. My mom used to cook many pounds of chicken cutlets at a time and freeze them into individual portions so the rest of the family could eat different meals and I would actually eat something. Some people say about my son to stop feeding him what he wants and he’ll eventually be hungry enough to eat what the others are eating. I know that isn’t so. My mom tried that with me and I went hungry – period. There was no way I was eating what they were eating, it was too disgusting to me – whether it be smell or look or texture… it made me want to vomit. My kids all gag on smells or texture, or sometimes just the look of things too. Some people will only eat things that are of one color.”

Wendi, Aspie from USA

I’ve always loved ‘clean,’ basic food, where each food item is separated from the rest and easily identifiable. If I had a burger, I would not want anything on it (since it already tasted so much in itself) and would eat the meat first and the bread after. Mixing bread and meat at the same time was unthinkable to me since I could only process one taste and type of texture at a time. Now I’ve relaxed a bit on that point and may mix certain things. Though not just anything, of course!

– Ing, site-author

“I only wanted to eat what I liked, everything else felt ’wrong’. I only ate one thing at a time and could’t get down mixed tastes.”

– ‘missbutterfly’, Aspie from Sweden

When I was born I was underweight and initially I refused to eat, which scared my parents half to death. Eventually I started eating real food but I was very particular about what to eat and often it was just a few special things I could stand. The food had to have exactly the right temperature, I needed to have the right glass, plate, cutlery etc. Then I could suddenly decide I didn’t like some things, only to later start liking them again.

‘DarknessDescends’, female Aspie from Sweden

Allergies or sensitive digestion

See Food allergies.

Need of repetition

Many Aspies prefer to eat pretty much the same thing every day. Although unusual in our modern Western culture, historically many people have lived on a few staple foods with little variation and still flourished. Though perhaps the food was more nutritious back then…

“I’ve been eating Ramen noodles for lunch almost every day for at least 10 years. For dinner I like different things.”

Kitty, adult Aspie

Blood sugar problems

Some have diabetes, hypoglycemia or are extra sensitive to blood sugar fluctuations and need to eat more often than others to function properly. May also be the reason why many children in general and ASD children in particular crave sugar and refuse to eat anything else – though that only gives a quick fix and makes it worse in the long run. Better to stabilise blood-sugar with a balanced mix of protein, low-GI carbohydrates and healthy fat and allow small, frequent meals.

Addictions

In some cases the tendency to eat the same thing every day may be an addiction (a so-called ‘masked allergy’) to something one is really hypersensitive to and would be best off avoiding. Sugar sensitivity for example, often turns into sugar addiction.

Lack of hunger

Some people seem to lack or miss hunger signals and don’t realise when they are hungry. Some just forget to eat because they are too uninterested, or too absorbed by other things. They may need reminding, e.g. an alarm that goes off when it’s time to eat.

“I didn’t want to eat and never felt hunger until I reached puberty.”

“It is hard for me to decide WHEN to eat and also WHAT. Decisions are tough, especially when there are so many different alternatives. I’m constantly worried that something will go wrong.

“Once I’ve decided WHAT to eat, there is still the dilemma HOW MUCH is “enough”. It is hard not only to feel hunger but also when I’m full. So, often when I eat, I eat until I’m sick…”

‘missbutterfly’, Aspie from Sweden

“This may sound strange, but I have like no hunger-sensations whatsoever. I eat just because I need the nourishment. Otherwise I can go basically forever without eating. But sometimes I eat sweets just because it tastes good.”

‘temporary21’, Aspie from Sweden

Disinterest in food

Some find eating, cooking and everything to do with food a hopelessly boring or arduous necessity.

“Food is something I totally forget all the time. I dislike completely that it is necessary for a human to remember everything about food: buying it, preparing it, eating it. Because of my daughters I have ‘programmed’ myself to do all that, but as soon as I am without them I drop all the eating. I have one meal a day and when my daughters are not around, I can forget to eat for several days.”

Lida, Aspie from the Netherlands

“I often consider eating a waste of time and it’s also hard to change focus all the time…….”

Lotta A, ADHD/Aspie from Sweden

“Eating is indeed boring. Other people talk about enjoying the taste and texture and all that but I don’t see it. Some things do taste good, of course, but that is a help mainly in getting the food down in the first place. Just one of the annoying things one has to do to keep the body up. There are times I wouldn’t mind going the Robocop route and having cyborg body or something since the upkeep would be so much less.”

William, Aspie from USA

“When I was 20 and had just moved from home I started thinking ‘if only there was something akin to dogfood but for people’ i.e. that you could mix with water and leave for a while, naturally more tasty than real dogfood…. I couldn’t decide what to eat, and wasn’t up for cooking.”

Ensamflickan, female Aspie from Sweden

Recommendations

With all the above in mind, I would strongly recommend that no child, teenager or adult ever be forced to eat something against their will. As long as one makes sure to take supplements so as not to develop nutritional deficiencies from the unvaried diet, I cannot see what’s wrong with simplifying one’s life with a limited diet. Though I still think parents should make sure to restrict things that are known to be harmful and addictive (e.g. sugar, sodas, potato chips, french fries, alcohol, additives etc). Reasonable limits, gentle reminders and friendly suggestions, but never force, is my advice.

5 Comments »

  1. Em said,

    Are there any specialists in the United States who can help my son who is a super-taster?

  2. DEB said,

    I AM VERY SENSITIVE TO LETTUCE. I TASTE THE CHEMICALS IN THE LETTUCE EVEN AFTER WASHING.

    • Ing said,

      Then you’re probably sensitive to chemicals, not to lettuce. 😉

      But I know exactly what you mean. I have the same problem.

      Try organic. 🙂

  3. hottomale@hotmail.com said,

    I’m definitely a super-taster while my husband is a non-taster. I’m sensitive to the smells too, so we have to open the windows when he cooks his spicy foods or I start to cough really bad. He always has gastro-problems too. Rather than trying a gluten-free, healthy diet, he wanted to get an endoscopy. I’m pretty sure he is an undiagnosed Aspie, but he won’t get checked.

    • Joni said,

      One important issue is that when you find yourself searching for a student loan you may find that you will want a cosigner. There are many situations where this is correct because you may find that you do not use a past credit score so the loan company will require that yo;v182#7u&e got someone cosign the money for you. Good post.


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