"Enjoying Your Food Without a Sensory Fight" - Meet Annetta

I'm happy to introduce you to the enthusiastic Annetta Nesler! From our very first chat, Annetta has always been hungry for information to help explain and illuminate her experiences with SPD. Her blog often takes a reference-style approach, clearly illustrating tips and techniques that she finds useful in her daily sensory life. Her down-to-earth suggestions are both personal and practical. In this post, she shares her tips for those of us with some basic gustatory sensitivities.

Happy reading (and happier eating!)

Side Note: Thanks to Annetta for bringing up the issue of SPD and eating. Since 2010, I've met many SPD adults who carry an eating disorder diagnosis. When an individual has gustatory and interoceptive issues, it's extremely easy to confuse SPD for an eating disorder. For someone with gustatory and related interoceptive sensitivities (especially someone without an SPD diagnosis who is supremely dysregulated), the texture, flavor, and overall feeling of food in their mouth and stomach can be so uncomfortable and distressing that eating is feared and avoided at all costs. Others may force themselves to eat but quickly spit out the food or subsequently throw it up. In contrast, someone who seeks gustatory and interoceptive input may actively crave the feeling of food in their mouth and stomach, and might binge or frequently overeat as an effort to help placate and regulate these senses. Many of these sensitivities could read as eating disorders. If you have been diagnosed with an eating disorder and suspect that sensory issues are ultimately at play, see an occupational therapist. By working with the avoiding or seeking behaviors and employing a number of techniques, many of the non-psychological issues related to food can be addressed. As Annetta mentions below, be sure to see a psychotherapist to help with the psychological component as well. 


Five Tips to Enjoying Your Food Without a Sensory Fight

When you have Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD for short), eating can be a big pain. We get annoyed at how our food feels or tastes and push it aside or have severe reactions to food such as stomach distress, vomiting, or panic attacks.

So how do we help our bodies accept what we're eating and enjoy our food?

First, I suggest you seek an occupational therapist (or OT) who specializes in SPD and tell him or her about your food difficulties. The OT can help your body learn to enjoy food again through some simple therapies and the Wilbarger Oral Tactile TechniqueHowever, if your food difficulties are related to a psychological problem, then a psychotherapist is the one to see!

But my difficulties aren't bad and I can't afford an OT right now? What then?

All is not lost if you can't afford an OT yet. Below I have listed a few tips that you can do on your own to help move towards better eating experiences.

1. Learn to love your straws!

Many people with SPD find that drinking liquid, such as smoothies or shakes, from a straw really helps them. The straw gives them a great mouth sensation that can either be stimulating or soothing to the senses.

I really love my daily smoothie (which I drink with a straw). It helps me enjoy my breakfast and wakes my senses up in the morning.

2. Find the right texture mixture!

When I first discovered that I had SPD, Rachel suggested adding a variety of textures to my diet and I am forever grateful for her suggestion. At the time, I was struggling with what felt like sensory boredom; everything I ate had the same texture. So I tried adding a variety of textures, making sure each meal had at least one crunchy item, one smooth item, and one tangy or spicy item, and it really helped. This variety helped keep my senses engaged and made eating less of a chore.

When it comes to what textures fit you, you may need to do some experimenting. Add one texture at a time and make sure you take equal bites of each texture to add that variety that you need. Above all, stay away from textures that bother you. Some people don't like the feeling of crunch or mush between their teeth and have a negative reaction to the texture, so learn what you like and don't like, and don't be ashamed when you don't like something. If your body says no, it means no!

3. Activate or remove the power of touch!

Activate Touch:
 I find that I eat better when I can touch my food, so my favorite foods are usually foods I can hold in my hands, but sadly I can't just eat finger foods. Silverware is important, but I used to feel disconnected when I used them. I eventually realized that my mind was craving the sensations that touching my food gave me. Using children's forks, knives, and spoons that have little bumps or wiggles on the handles gives me that touch stimulation while allowing me to use silverware.

Also check how big your bites are. I feel really freaked out if I take big bites. It's like my brain says, "too many textures!" Using children's silverware forces me to take smaller bites, which removes that nasty sensation.

Remove TouchBut some of you are the opposite. If you don't like touching your food, then silverware may give you that space you need.

Whether you avoid touch or crave it, learn to wield the power of touch and it will help you enjoy your meals more.

4. A comfortable body is a happy body!

Bottom line, if you're not comfortable physically, your sensory brain won't be either. Same goes for eating. If you don't like your chair, the lights, the sounds, etc, you won't enjoy your food either.

I used to struggle with dinning room chairs. They were too hard and made me feel nervous, and then I discovered a fantastic sensory tool called The CoreDisk. Sitting on it is like sitting on a therapy ball. It gives me a comfortable cushion, allows me to rock gently (which soothes my senses), and it gives me a feeling of safety and security.

While you're sitting at your table, examine what you're feeling. "I'm squinting my eyes and I feel dazed"= maybe the lights are too bright. Or "I feel like I am not safe or about to tip over"= try putting your feet flat on the floor in front of you. If your body is comfortable, your senses will be calmer and it will help you enjoy your food.

5. Give your mind something else to do!

Sometimes I battle with food because my brain is obsessing over eating, which causes stress, making me feel upset. Augh!

So if your brain gets bored or stressed over the idea of eating, find a soothing distraction like a good TV show or a movie. Put on calming music in the background. Light some comforting candles. Play an audio book or play with a sensory toy such as a puffer ball or a stress ball. Anything that keeps your brain from freaking out over your food.

It may take a while and there may be days when you'll still have to fight through a meal, but hopefully, with some tips under your belt and a good knowledge of how your body works, in time your body will learn to enjoy food once again.

Well, that's all of them! These tips have helped me a lot in my struggle to enjoy my food and I hope they will help you too.

Annetta Nesler writes about her life as a young adult with sensory processing disorder at www.annettanesler.wordpress.com. She is passionate about helping those with SPD and she encourages everyone to reach beyond their limitations and pursue their dreams. Annetta is also a professional musician and has recently released her first CD.


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