blue-gloved hand picking out a tub of oatmeal in the grocery store

COVID and My Relationship with Food

TW Eating Disorder

As someone who struggles with disordered eating, I am constantly working on my relationship with food. When there are large changes to my routine, like working from home and starting a new job, they can change the way that I interact with food and therefore make me reevaluate my relationship with food.

Ever since I started working with my dietitian Kelsey, I’ve been trying to adopt an intuitive approach to food. If I’m craving something, I try to eat it without judgment. Working from home can be really great for this because there are so many more options. While I tried to keep my desk stocked with all different kinds of foods, there are obviously so many more options of foods to eat at home. Plus, at home, I can cook if I need to! It’s been far easier to give my body exactly what it’s craving when there is a refrigerator full of options.

Then, mid-January, 10 months after I began working from home, I started my new job and reevaluated my relationship with food again. As any regular here knows, I am not the biggest fan of change. So of course my brain likes to make as many lifestyle changes as it can at one time. Like when we moved to a new office with my last job, change begets change. I already made one big change today, let’s make another! This job change was a big one, too. I changed roles, went from a corporate to a startup atmosphere, changed to a flexible remote working schedule, and even moved my “at-home office” from down in my living room to up in my bedroom.

So let’s keep the changes going! I started to see a new therapist. I started looking for available houses more diligently. I started to reconsider my relationships with food and movement and wondered how I could incorporate a bit of movement into my daily routine. I had been contemplating joining my dietitian Kelsey’s book club, and I just decided to go for it. The first meeting of the book club was actually the same day as my first day at my new job. Can you say new beginnings?! We were reading the book Anti-Diet, and I was so excited to use that book and our book club discussions to work on my intuitive eating practice.

Then I got COVID, and my relationship with food took a surprising turn…

I contracted COVID at the end of January along with my mom and my fiancé Dan. Luckily, none of us suffered any life-threatening symptoms (primarily congestion, mild aches, post-nasal drip, and loss of taste and smell), however, even now at the beginning of March, I still can’t really taste and can hardly smell. About a week after I began feeling symptoms, I realized that my sense of smell was gone, and that I could only taste on the back side of my tongue. How weird is that?! I remember telling Dan that I couldn’t tell if I could taste my morning coffee because I felt like I could taste on the back of my tongue, and he confirmed that he had also lost taste primarily on the front of his tongue.

For a week or so after that, I was able to taste sweet foods. I could not only taste them, but distinguish what they were. If I ate chocolate, I knew it was chocolate. If I ate icing, I knew it was icing. If I ate gummy candy, I knew it was gummy candy. I could tell if foods were particularly salty as well, but I couldn’t really identify what I was eating. Not long after that, however, I stopped being able to identify even sweet foods. I can taste if something is sweet, but I no longer know what it is that I’m eating. And that’s where I’ve been for the past month — and it is weird.

First of all, it has been really challenging to work on intuitive eating while I can’t taste. Intuitive eating is all about eating what your body is craving in order to feel fully sated and satisfied when you eat. It’s practically impossible to feel satisfied when you can’t taste your food! Especially while reading a book and participating in a book club centered around intuitive eating, it was very frustrating for me to feel as though much of my work had to be put on hold.

One thing that I did realize about my eating habits is how mindlessly I eat. I spend much of my mental energy trying not to feel guilty about what I eat, which often also means that I eat quickly while trying to evade guilt. During one of my appointments with Kelsey, she actually suggested that I try to eat more mindfully, and I cringed at the thought. I spend so much of my time thinking about food as it is…now you want me to think about the food that I’m eating while I’m eating it? I already feel guilty about my food when not eating, the actual eating itself is a reprieve where I don’t think about it! Of course, this reaction is all the more reason to work on being more mindful while eating, but that is obviously difficult when you can’t taste your food!

As it stands, I eat so mindlessly that I don’t even always realize that I can’t taste my food. My mom made pizza a few weeks into my COVID experience, and it didn’t register until slice 3 that I hadn’t really tasted slices 1 or 2. It’s almost frightening how much I avoid experiencing my food. Although I will say that not being able to taste my food has helped me to be more present in my body while eating. I now listen to my body’s fullness cues. I haven’t overeaten in a while because there is no reward in making myself sick off my food anymore. As it turns out, you don’t want to binge a whole tub of ice cream if you can’t even taste it! I’m not restricting my food intake by any means, but I’m still finding my binging episodes to be less frequent than before. 

One thing that losing taste has shown me is how large a part of taste is related to texture and which foods I like or dislike because of their textures. We had stir fry during the week when I lost my taste, and while I could taste the sweet sauce that was in the stir fry, I couldn’t taste any of the vegetables. To my surprise, losing taste made cooked peppers palatable. I struggle with the taste and acid reflux from cooked bell peppers, but without my taste, they didn’t quite bother me. In fact, since I can’t taste, I don’t know if I’m burping up any foods, so that unpleasant experience is gone, which is awesome! Cauliflower, on the other hand, a vegetable that I’ve never been a fan of, was still unpleasant to eat. Apparently, the texture of cauliflower is one of the primary things that I don’t like about it! Interesting, right?

I have found myself craving “cheesy potatoes” (which are small pieces of potatoes that Dan cooks until crispy with spices and melted cheese on top) more than usual, making me think that I really prefer the texture of cheesy potatoes. I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that I like stringy melted cheese and crispy potatoes, but I have been craving them a noticeable amount. But honestly, you can’t go wrong with potatoes and cheese, that’s just a fact.

To complicate things even more, I recently had some dental surgery (because my teeth hate me) that caused chewing to be excruciating. Not only could I not taste my food, but I couldn’t even chew it. For some time, I had to switch to solely soft or liquid foods because I just really couldn’t chew. Luckily, I have since gotten this issue fixed, but I still can’t wait until I can start appreciating my food again. 

Hell, maybe now after not having tasted my food for so long, I will have a new appreciation for everything I eat. Maybe, once I can taste my food again, I will be able to cherish what I eat more easily. While not being able to taste has been a bit of a triggering nuisance (as an emetophobe, I like knowing if my food tastes rotten!), maybe something good can come out of it after all!

Photo by Laura James from Pexels

11 thoughts on “COVID and My Relationship with Food

  1. I can’t imagine not being able to taste or smell.

    Unrelated point: Since I’m paranoid, I do a ‘at home covid test’ i.e. smell and taste all kinds of different things – because I’m weird like that.

    I’m also with you on the texture thing. There are certain textures, like pumpkin that I don’t like.

    Anyway, hope you get your sense of smell and taste back soon 🙂

    All the best, Michelle (michellesclutterbox.com)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s strange, but what’s even stranger to me is how little I notice it. And overall, I don’t care unless eating something that I really like, then I feel sad 😔

      I understand, though! We’re living in scary times. We do what we can to keep ourselves (at least somewhat) comfortable.

      Thank you! I hope so, too 🥴

      Liked by 1 person

  2. While I never want to get COVID, I am intrigued by the way losing taste changes the way people eat. I know I would stop oversnacking and overeating if there was no taste, it makes me think long and hard about why I’m eating – is it to make my body feel good or is it to just fill some hole of boredom?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s so interesting! I hope you don’t get COVID as well, but there’s nothing like experiencing it. I’ve slowed down a lot when I eat. Hopefully, that will carry over even when my taste comes back! It does suck when I go to eat something I really really like, though. Sometimes the memory of the taste is enough, but not always 😬

      Liked by 2 people

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