Autism and Food Issues: Routine of Mealtimes, Eating with Others and Disliking Certain Foods

Being autistic/Aspie brings along many issues related to eating and food.  These include:

  • Routine and structure of mealtimes
  • Eating with others
  • Disliking certain foods
  • Vegetarianism/veganism and animal welfare

Routine and Structure of Mealtimes

Routine and structure are essential for autistics/Aspies.  A key part of our daily routine is meal times.  Our meals provide us with essential energy when we feel tired or down, often due to sensory overload.  So getting meal times right is critical.

Of our usual three meals a day, lunchtime is the most important for our routine.  Having lunch at a certain time is ingrained into us, our whole lives.  Right from early years primary/kindergarten school, to our later teenage years.  As being autistic/Aspie requires structure and predictability, the timing of this meal becomes an essential part of our lives.

We know that having a meal too early will mean we will struggle with our energy levels later in the day.  Having a meal too late causes us worry and be distressed.  Because our routine has changed making us worried that we’ll have to miss a meal, or have the meal changed in some way.  This can all cause extreme results that non-autistics bearly understand.  Such as deep sadness and withdrawal (including crying) or even anger.

One way of reducing our dependence on our later meals, is to eat food that keeps us full for longer.  This is usually high protein food (or high protein and high fibre).  In the morning this means eating food which includes: eggs, fish (like mackerel), beans, cheese, or meat (like bacon).  Lunchtime can include similar types of food as breakfast, but we can also add nuts and yoghurt.  It is also worth adding foods such as fruit as well.  Which gives us a quick energy boost from the sugar, plus contains all the essential vitamins and minerals we need.

There will be times when we go out in the morning, without sorting lunch, and then end up being out for longer than we expected.  Instead of having to buy something expensive from a café or drive through, there are cheap high energy foods available in most shops.   Such as a cold sausage roll, scotch egg, cheese sandwich, flapjack or steak bake.  Which will be enough to fill us, in those emergency situations.

Eating with Others

For most people eating with others is a joy.  But for autistics/Aspies, this can easily become a time of dread.  This amplifies all of our difficulties around eating; with an audience.  Alongside having to deal with communication difficulties.  Such as two or three conversations happening at once, trying our best not to say something unintentionally offensive and making a reasonable level of eye contact.

Although eating with others has it’s difficulties.  The future benefits outweigh them.  When we finally get to a stage where we can sit and eat with work-colleagues and friends, we become much more bonded.  This is turn makes us much more accepted into the group.

Disliking Certain Foods

Food can be off putting for many reasons due to our autism/Aspergers.  Such as:

  • The feel of it in our mouths.
  • It being difficult to chew or swallow.
  • The noise we make whilst eating it in front of others.
  • The touch of it, such as sticky fruit.
  • The smell of the food, which is intensified through our heightened senses.
  • The taste. Especially food which is too spicy, sweet, bitter or sour to our taste buds.

People not on the spectrum, can rarely understand our difficulties.  So we may often be force fed or over encouraged to eat food, we cannot tolerate, when we’re children.

Many of us are also hypersensitive to drugs such as stimulants and depressants, so may choose to avoid them.  Examples include caffeine and alcohol.

Although it may be unpleasant, it’s worth trying new foods occasionally.  But on our own terms, and only when we feel ready.  Especially when we haven’t tried them for a few years.  As our taste buds change as we get older.  Plus our food requirements change as we move into adulthood.  If our diet is too limited, we aren’t getting all of the essential things we need to live a healthy life.  Such as carbs, protein, diary, fats (in small amounts), vitamins and minerals.

Vegetarianism/Veganism and Animal Welfare

Many of us on the spectrum have a high sense of morals and very strong beliefs.  If we feel something is unjust or unfair, we’ll fight with an immense amount of effort to put it right.  When this comes to food, most of us believe that animal cruelty is wrong.  So a large proportion of us are either vegetarian or vegan.  Or will eat fish and meat, but only if it’s reared in a kinder way.  Such as free range chicken.

Final Thoughts

Autism/Aspergers affects many aspects of our lives, even in areas where everyone else doesn’t have the slightest problem.  The joy of eating a simple meal can cause us so much discomfort, and our families a great deal of frustration.  It takes a vast amount of effort just to fit into society, where meals are concerned.  But with a lot of determination, with plenty of trial and error, we can gradually try new foods and enjoy eating a meal with our families, work colleagues and friends.

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