When I’m asked that question I often want to respond with, “There’s a difference between eating a food because I have to versus eating a food because I like it.” But I’m too passive aggressive for that. Instead, I use one of my well-worn responses that I’ve honed over the years to get away with not actually answering this question: “I ate a big lunch.” “I don’t want to fill up before dessert!” “I’m thinking about becoming a vegetarian.”
Ok. I’ve never actually used that last one but I’ve definitely thought about it!
So, when we get to the qualifiers of “What do I eat” and “What do I actually like to eat,” you need to be ready to hear more details than you bargained for.
You see, there are plenty of things I’ll eat if I need to. Whether it’s to avoid offending a host or just avoiding talking about my picky eating, there are plenty of times I choke down a few bites of food before claiming I’m full. But enjoying that food is another story entirely. When you know you’re eating with a picky eater, recognize that just because they ate a certain food one way at one point in life doesn’t mean they’ll eat it in any form again. Even better, don’t ask why they aren’t eating it if you thought they liked it! That puts a heavy feeling of being judged and shamed for not eating something prepared for them, even if that’s not what you intended at all. Chances are they’ve had people judge or shame them for not eating in the past and it’s all too easy for those feelings to come back when someone asks an innocent question.
These kinds of questions can bring back feelings of shame and embarrassment for your picky eater.
After more than 27 years as a picky eater, I’ve learned to fake it ‘til I make it. Someone thoughtfully prepares a chicken dish for me not realizing I don’t like bone-in wings? I’ll eat the skin around it and maybe get a little meat in there. As long as I don’t see bones or tendons I’m good! They prep cheesy potatoes I know I won’t like? In the past, when I was actually allergic to dairy, I’d plea lactose intolerance and get away without eating something I knew wouldn’t get down my throat easily. I even rejected homemade brownies once because they were made with sour cream and I had no idea what they’d taste like. Easy out: I was lactose intolerant so I didn’t touch a single brownie. Unfortunately for me, my body now produces lactase – the enzyme needed to breakdown lactose – so I’ve lost that convenient excuse. Darn you properly functioning digestive system!
The Long Answers
But back to the question of “What Do I Like to Eat?” When I think about my answer to that question all I can think of are qualifiers. If you ask that question you can expect answers such as:
- I like chicken wings…but only if they’re boneless, fried, and dripping in sauce
- I like tomatoes…but only if they’re finely chopped and mixed in with another food, preferably something cheesy
- I like ham…but only if it’s a small serving, hot is a bonus, honey baked is a double bonus
- I like turkey…but only if it’s smoked turkey and has other salty foods with it – sure I’ll have it in a sandwich, but it should be only one or two small slices. PLEASE do not give me a big wad of meat in mayo-soaked bread!
Do you see a pattern? “I like_____…but” is a constant phrase for me, and probably is for other picky eaters too. You see, just because I like a food a certain way doesn’t mean I like it every possible way. It’s not likely that just because you saw me eating the only food provided at a company dinner means that I actually like the food. I’ve been getting better about eating less-than-desirable food that I have no option but to eat. It’s gotten me through various work functions where only a few apps were provided, many missions trips where a few bites of salad got me through a long volunteering day, and countless dinners at friend’s houses where their parents pulled together what I can only imagine was a great meal! But I couldn’t enjoy it like I wish I could.
What You Can Take from This
So. Before you ask a picky eater what they eat, consider rephrasing to “What’s your favorite quick dinner?” Or “What’s your favorite afternoon snack?” or even “if you could eat anything you could for lunch, what would it be?” Then you will get real, accurate answers that will actually give you the information you’ve been looking for! Even better, your picky eater will see you as someone they can trust with opening up about their eating habits. Building this trust is essential for making mealtimes more comfortable.