In my small town of Ashtabula, Ohio, I didn’t know anyone who had suffered from an eating disorder. The closest thing to my knowledge was that a girl accidentally starved herself to death while trying to cover up the fact that she was pregnant; it was incredibly tragic, and even though I didn’t know her well enough for it to affect me at the time, it still bothers me years later to think back on it. Living in such a small town, though, I was blinded by apathy and ignorance; I didn’t know so I didn’t care. I hate that I could have ever been so callous, but recognizing the condition will hopefully help me prevent it from happening again.
Now that I am well into my 30s, you can’t imagine my utter disbelief when a lady that I was dating told me that she thought I have something called Selective Eating Disorder. I know that I am a picky eater, but I have always attributed that to only enjoying about five to ten different foods. I’ve been vegan since 2004, and vegetarian since I was 10, and found that this has always helped me explain away most of the foods I wouldn’t want to eat anyway. As a child, I couldn’t rationalize the idea that you would want to eat one animal but not another – why would I eat a hot dog, but not a dog? Not that I ever wanted to eat our pet dog, but I just didn’t see the logic behind it. Sure, a hot dog is a pig under a different name, but didn’t pigs have the same feelings that all other animals experience? Tangents like these made it extremely easy for me to completely write off my extremely picky eating as just something silly about myself. When talking to friends, they never really understood how I could hate eating, but I often made it really easy to go anywhere by just asking if whatever place they wanted to go to had French fries (if the restaurant has fries, I am ridiculously easy to take out to eat).
The woman I was dating outright refused to jettison the issue, though, and sent me a link to an article by Kayleigh Roberts in the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bustle/picky-eating-an-eating-disorder-living-with-selective-eating-disorder-and-no-vegetables_b_4986010.html). I started off by reading the article straight through, looking for any signs of satire. Once I realized that it isn’t a satirical article, I started reading the piece a second time through, trying to find any holes in the logic. By my third time through, I was almost in tears. Why do I have to so readily fit into this group of people? If you are reading this, you’re coming to know that I have had enough ridiculousness in my life, so I really don’t need anything else to be added.
While eating has always been a stressful situation for me, I have always just thought it was something I would outgrow or get over one day. I have had numerous girlfriends try to coax me into trying new foods, but I have to explain to them it has to have a certain texture, consistency, smell, taste before I will even consider eating it. If it doesn’t fit into very specific parameters, the food in question will absolutely not go anywhere near my mouth-hole. I have never been very skinny or extremely overweight, and since we as society are only viewed to notice eating disorders when they become an unhealthy extreme, I never thought I had anything to worry about. I have always been just your average, full-figured dude. So what if I can name every food that my soft palate will accept? I prefer to turn it into something awkward, a game of sorts, by telling people I only like polysyllabic foods that end in vowels (pizza, burritos, pierogi, etc.). Vowel movements aside, I have always felt healthy, and just never really thought there was a problem with me.
I know that most people struggling with such a condition will probably be in a lot worse shape about it than I am. Thankfully, I have the uncanny disposition of taking most things in stride, while simultaneously turning them into something self-deprecating. Call it my super hero ability, but nothing ever really seems to faze me anymore. I do hope that by sharing these things, maybe someone else with a similar affliction will be able to at least see that they aren’t alone. For most, eating is one of the highlights of their day. For us selective few, it is the bane of our existence, but I have found a way to make it more pleasant. I always have a book with me, and whether it is a burrito at lunch or just French fries in my car, I tend to enjoy food much more with literature in hand. Normally, I am reading something extremely nerdy, like a science fiction or fantasy novel, which in turn makes my exposure to food seem more like an adventure than a chore, but that could possibly be just how I have conditioned myself so I don’t freak out regularly.