Eating (dis)Order

Eating (dis)Order

I came across this post by bunnyhopscotch and it made me think about my own eating habits and preferences. While I don’t consider myself extreme in these regards I am aware, because of frequent comments from my wife in particular but also from my mother when I was growing up, that some of my behavior is unusual.

Order and predictability are very important to me – I like to know what to expect in advance and I hold a mental image of these expectations. If the reality is significantly different then that causes me to react – this can range from a mild disappointment to a full-blown meltdown. This is very difficult for non-autistic people to understand: many of them enjoy surprises and find repetitive experiences to be exceedingly dull. I’m not that way; I enjoy the comfort of regularity, of familiarity. If I get exactly what I was expecting then I could not be happier.

One of my favorite meals is spaghetti bolognese; whenever my wife asks me what I would like to eat that is the answer (I don’t know why she bothers to ask unless it is in the hope that one day I will say something different). She gets bored preparing the same meal so often, with no variation in the method or ingredients. I would happily eat this every day – the longest I have managed was to have it for every meal for two weeks before she refused to serve it again on the grounds that she was sick of the sight of it! (I had chilli instead the week after.)

The paradoxical thing is that I am not a fussy eater: there are very few things I will not eat and I do not have any food allergies or other digestive trouble that would restrict my diet. What I do have is a fairly rigid set of routines around eating. I’ll start with the arrangement of the food on the plate – all the individual elements must be separate and any sauce or gravy can only be poured over certain items. Gravy on sliced meat, roast or mashed potatoes is good; on sausages, chops and steaks, greens or most other vegetables is bad. I don’t like different elements to be mixed on the plate – it’s not good if, say, the peas get mixed up with the carrots.

I will also generally eat the parts of the meal in some order. Non-potato vegetables are always first, starting with the small, numerous items such as peas or corn. Then would come larger items: cauliflower cheese or mushrooms, before getting on to the potatoes and finally the meat. With meals such as chilli and rice (uniformly mixed together) I have a different approach: I will start at the edges, squaring the shape, and work inwards towards the middle maintaining that shape with its straight sides; mashed potato is the same.

There are other things: bread and butter must be in whole slices and if stacked the buttered sides must be together. Any cutlery accompanying the meal must not be in contact with the food prior to me starting to eat. Except for bread/salad and condiments there must be no combination of both hot and cold items on a plate.

I’m also a little unconventional in my use of cutlery. As much as possible I will use only a fork or spoon, held in my right hand. I transfer the fork to my left hand if I need to use a knife – I can’t use a knife with my left hand – but will put down the knife and pass the fork back to the right when I’m done. I need to keep the cutlery clean as I’m eating which means I have to put the fork or knife into my mouth or lick it to remove any visible food – very delicately in the case of a sharp steak knife!

This last habit – putting the knife in my mouth – raises my wife’s hackles every time she sees me do it. It turns out she was taught that this is ill-mannered. Trouble is, not doing it puts me on edge because then the knife is dirty, so I can’t win. In general my wife is pretty good about accommodating my “peculiarities” where food is concerned, but she will keep on about the knife in mouth thing.

There are other little things but I’ve covered the main points here. From the outside I have been informed that my eating habits appear restrictive, repetitive or downright strange but from my side it is simply the way I am – I’ve always been like this so I don’t know any different.