My Eating Disorder That Ruins Thanksgiving: 4 Realities
If you're like most people, you look forward to Thanksgiving dinner all year. When it finally comes around, you stuff yourself to bursting with food, take a nap, take a dump, and eat some more. You might even remember to give thanks for all that amazing grub in there somewhere -- or, if you're especially progressive, grieve for the scores of Native Americans who died so you could have it.
But if you're like me, Thanksgiving is your least-favorite day of the year. I hate 95 percent of traditional Thanksgiving food. In fact, I hate 95 percent of all food. And according to the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM V), I (and people like me) have an actual eating disorder. It's called Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, and it means that I'm incapable of not finding most food absolutely disgusting. So here's why you shouldn't punch me in the face the next time we're at a restaurant together and I order spaghetti with butter.
It's Not The Same As Being A Picky Eater
I know what you're thinking; I'm just one of those picky eaters. Everyone knows at least a couple of people like me. And regular picky eaters do exist. I'm not saying that everyone who doesn't like Brussels sprouts has a mental problem. But when you are a selective, or sensitive, eater, it's quicker to list the foods you will eat than those you won't.
1) Cheese 2) Fuck you, no one needs anything else besides cheese
Selective eaters will often avoid entire food groups. The most commonly avoided category is vegetables, and the second is meat. Sometimes, we will try something once and never eat it again if we didn't like it, but a lot of the time, we can't even try things because just the look or smell makes us feel ill.
Picky eaters have some foods they don't like, but it doesn't affect their life in any real way. For selective eaters, there are so few things that we can stomach that going to restaurants or other social events where food is served can actually be stressful. Usually, there are fewer than 20 things in the whole world we can eat. If those things aren't available, we will stay hungry, rather than eat something new. If necessary, we'll pretend to have an upset stomach or a food allergy to get out of it. Anything to avoid having to put something we don't want to into our mouths.
Unlike your mom. BAM.
The societal pressure put on us to eat like normal people, and our inability to do so, can lead to big problems. Some people even reported marriages ending because their spouse couldn't watch them eat French fries for dinner AGAIN.
Nobody's sure how many of us are out there right now, since the diagnosis is so new. However, one online survey by Duke University expected just a few hundred people to participate. The researchers were shocked when over 18,000 did in the course of just a few months, and most of them fell under the selective eating diagnosis. While we're a minority, there may be a lot more people with severely picky eating habits than you would think.
You Can Blame Biology AND Your Parents
If being a selective eater sounds a lot like you as a kid, before you discovered the joys of sushi and jalapeno peppers and whatnot, don't be surprised. Adult selective eaters often order off kid's menus. That is because children's food is usually bland. Kids evolved to be picky eaters because even after they are mobile, they still don't know what is safe to eat. Having new things taste yucky keeps them from poisoning themselves with wild berries or cleaning fluid. And if biology takes its normal course, most people outgrow this stage. For those of us who don't, those bland (usually white or yellow) foods are often the only things that taste good.
I am so much smarter than these dumbasses.
While selective eating starts out as a biological urge, it looks like how your parents deal with it can make it worse. According to research, if mealtimes as a child are tense, it can lead to selective eating as a form of control. My mealtimes were lovely, except for the fact that I refused to eat meat, end of story. This meant I would get yelled at, the kitchen timer would be set, and if I didn't finish eating my meat in those five or ten minutes, I would be grounded. I chose being grounded every time, meaning that I knew what was coming every night. This went on for YEARS. Finally, at age nine I learned the term "vegetarian," declared myself to be one, and my parents got the okay from my pediatrician. Twenty-three years later, I still don't eat meat.
The president has nothing on the number of turkeys I've saved.
No, I Won't "Like It If I Try It"
Part of being a sensitive eater is wishing that you could change. It's no fun being unable to eat most things. Based on what little knowledge of this disorder they have so far, psychiatrists don't think that therapy helps very much. Nor does slowly introducing yourself to a food little by little. So it is super annoying when people say (as they always do) that you would love something if you would just try it. It forces you to be rude, especially if it is something they made. One of the symptoms of being a selective eater is feeling actual disgust when presented with new food. It's pretty hard to hide that feeling all the time.
Here's what I think of your pumpkin spice everything.
I had a friend insist on making me a full Indian dinner once, even though I literally begged her not to. I told her that no matter how little spice she put in, it was going to be too hot for me, since I don't even use pepper. Not to mention all the other ingredients that were a total no-go for me. I ended up eating a single bite. I didn't want to be rude, but when put in that position, I had no choice.
And I don't have a choice. There is a theory that selective eaters may overlap significantly with a group of people called "supertasters." Supertasters are not the worst comic book heroes since Arm-Fall-Off-Boy and Matter-Eater Lad -- they are people with many more taste buds than your average human. This means that flavors are much more powerful to them, and might explain why selective eaters prefer bland food. To us, it has plenty of flavor.
Vanilla will do just fine for this superhero.
It Makes Thanksgiving The Worst
It's hard enough to not annoy people when you go out to restaurants with them, but any event featuring home-cooked food is a nightmare. And Thanksgiving is the king of them all. The meal is usually huge, and your mother or grandmother or other close relatives you don't want to piss off spent hours slaving away in the kitchen to make it for the whole family to enjoy. And then you go and ruin everything just because green bean casserole looks like the Jolly Green Giant jizzed into a pan.
Try to unsee it.
It's one thing when it's your family. They raised you, and know your bizarre eating habits. But once you grow up, get married, and the in-laws are involved, you suddenly have to explain why you, a fully-grown adult, have barely touched anything.
My sister has the same eating issues I do (see "blaming your parents," above), except she eats some meat but no vegetables. So when she got married and started going to her husband's family's house for Thanksgiving, she had to tell them why she was only eating dry turkey, mashed potatoes, and a bread roll. (I eat the same, only replace turkey with corn.) That's it. Period. No stuffing, no gravy, no pumpkin pie, no cranberry sauce, nothing. And if you attempt to force it down our throats, you will be cleaning vomit out of your cornucopia centerpiece. Try explaining that to your mother-in-law without her locking herself in the bathroom and crying for the rest of the day.
It doesn't help to tell her that you gave in and had a bite of the sweet potatoes, and now you really need to get in there.
Of course, regular eaters with selective eaters in their lives can also look at it from a glass-half-full perspective. My husband loves the fact that he gets all the leftovers. We're never going to have a falling-out over who gets to eat the last turkey sandwich, Moist Maker or not.
Then again, some Thanksgiving food can be pretty gross. See why turkey is overrated in The Best And Worst Thanksgiving Food. And read about the nasty foods your parents ate at Thanksgiving (like Blue Cheese Mousse. Blech!) in 6 Gross Foods From A '50s Cookbook (That We Taste Tested).
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