Neurospicy Folks- Working With Your Food Rhythms
Everything in this article is generalized observations and advice for neurodiverse people who struggle to consistently meet their food needs. If you have an eating disorder, the advice of the doctor who diagnosed you, your dietician, and your personal mental health therapist is more important than anything I say here.
Food rhythms? What food rhythms? Welp, neurospicy folk tend to have eating habits that differ from what we see in media and “life lessons” in several different ways, and working with rather than against those rhythms can be very helpful.
Stop me if you’ve experienced these before:
- Wanting to eat the same small selection of foods every day for long periods of time.
- Having a lot of foods that you avoid because of texture, that are common foods in your culture.
- Finding that decision-making over what to eat can be very stressful.
- Eating to manage needs other than hunger, such as managing strong emotions, trouble concentrating, or sensory needs.
- Forgetting to eat (and not experiencing hunger) when involved in engaging activities.
- Finding ourselves doing the exact opposite of what others advise because of a need to claim autonomy, even when we agree with the person trying to help us.
- Sometimes you think you’re hungry, but it turns out that you were thirsty, bored, or your body wanted to move.
For neurospicy folks, foods fill a lot of needs other than hunger, and it can be difficult to meet those needs because neurospicy people also have a lot of barriers when it comes to ensuring that they consistently eat foods that fuel their bodies well. Some days we will eat anything and everything. Other days, the entire hunger mechanism might be turned off.
“Proprioception” is the sense that informs us of where we are in space and time, and what our body is telling us. It’s proprioception that tells us it’s time to eat, poop, pee, or sleep or move our body in certain ways to stretch muscles or alleviate pain. And autistic folk, especially, have issues with proprioception. The same is true of people with PTSD, for significantly different reasons.
One of the reasons that both autistic people and people with significant childhood trauma are late to potty train is because of this proprioception issue. It’s also the reason many of us are clumsy and struggle with balance.
There are two ways to overcome proprioception issues. One of them, deep bodywork to learn the sensations our bodies make and what they mean, is beyond the scope of this article. The other, compensating with systems of reminders and schedules, is what I’m going to concentrate on here.
Planning for Success:
We’ve talked already in this series about how neurospicy people tend to have rhythms that vary more than people who are neurotypical. This means you often have to think more deeply about how you are going to meet your needs and the expectations placed on you than other people.
With regard to food, you might have to think about the following things, among others (add yours to the list):
- How to ensure you have the food in the house you need for days when adulting is hard.
- Figuring out foods for days when you need them for non-hunger purposes that are either healthy for you or at least aren’t derailing your health goals too much.
- Reminders to eat for days when you’re hyperfocused and your body isn’t telling you to eat.
- Substitutes for eating (gum, hard candy) for when you are craving flavor but aren’t hungry.
The Ingredients vs. Food Dilemma:
For some neurospicy people, the act of preparing food can be a huge barrier to eating consistently. You might have a house full of yummy ingredients for meals, but if you don’t have the energy or the executive function to prepare them, they do you no good. When planning your food budget, here are some things to consider (and keep your personal dietary and monetary restrictions in mind as best you can):
- Make sure you have several “quick meals” available. Meals in a can, frozen meals, a budget for a take-out order or occasional fast food, etc. Fed is best. Some days that’s the best you can do.
- If you have favorite foods that require preparation, “batch” them fairly regularly and freeze them, or store the ingredients in the refrigerator in air-tight containers, already prepped.
- Trade chores with someone. If you are unable to prepare the food, have someone else in your household do it, and you commit to (and follow through with) doing a chore that they find unpleasant or difficult for them.
Schedule, Schedule, Schedule:
I cannot emphasize enough how much regular routines can help neurodiverse people live happier, more functional lives. Have a regular shopping day. Keep a pantry list of foods in the house that you can cobble together a meal with at any time. Eat meals at the same time every day whenever possible. Have healthy, enjoyable “fall-back” foods available for days when decision-making (and cooking!) are hard.
Some Examples to Get You Started:
- Cut up veggies and deli meats/cheeses for an in-the-frig salad bar that takes you moments to put together.
- Buy your favorite gums or hard candies by the case so you have them when you need them to help for concentration
- Set alarms on your phone for snacks and meal times and stop what you’re doing to eat even if you’re not feeling hungry.
- Aim for a calorie range per day or a daily weight that is well within health guidelines for your height (I am aware that this is not recommended for people with eating disorders. If your doctor tells you not to do this, don’t).
- Stay away from severely restrictive diets. If you want to lose or gain weight, do so very gradually, keeping a routine that feels comfortable and achievable day after day.
- Indulge in your favorite foods in moderation. You’re worth it.
- When you feel an urge to eat something but it’s not coming from your stomach, try to figure out what else your body might be telling you.
That should be enough to get you started:
Play with your food. Try different systems until one “clicks”. There is no one right way to do things, there is only the right way(s) for you. Figure out what works for you, do it, and when it stops working (another ongoing issue for neurospicy folk) adjust it and try again.
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