Loss of Taste? Tips to eat well

The webinar on 25 January brought together four experts in eating with altered taste and smell. Experts, because they all live with this in some way. Although everyone has a unique experiences, some common themes came out of the discussion. 

Here are their top tips, the highs and the lows with our members saying it exactly as it is.

To set the scene, smell disorders affect what we experience as flavour. In the case of anosmia, this means foods are bland and flavourless, affecting appetite. With parosmia, food smells can trigger a disgust response that makes some foods intolerable. We call these ‘trigger’ foods because they trigger the disgust response. We also talk about ‘safe’ foods because we know these can be eaten without making us sick.

Eating the right stuff

When smell and taste loss is the result of a virus or an accident, recovery is a healing process. We know that good nutrition from a balanced diet with fresh vegetables and fruit, whole grains, healthy fats and fewer processed foods will help us heal more quickly. However, when what you can eat is limited, that becomes difficult. Many people with altered taste feel anxious that they are not eating well enough for their health.

All the experts shared their anxiety around food; natural and really common feelings. As well as eating the right things for health, people shared their anxiety around something triggering a vomit response; anxiety about eating spoiled food; anxiety about shopping; anxiety about weight loss or gain; anxiety that you’re never going to recover and eat ‘normally’ again.

There is no easy way to deal with these feelings, but being prepared to do things differently goes a long way to coming to terms with the challenges you face. That’s easier said than done – all our guests confessed to ignoring their problem or fighting against it in the beginning. It takes a while to get beyond the desperate cry of “I just want to eat normally” and being in tears at the thought of food. But all admitted they’ve learned to live with altered eating, even if not everyone has accepted it.

What to expect

Be prepared that what you can eat and how you experience it will change. You may have good days where you feel you’ve completely recovered, but be prepared to go right back to square one the next day. Keeping a diary to see small but positive progress over time is helpful.

Everyone agreed that cooking something inedible and having to throw it away untouched was demoralising. Using the freezer and keeping those meals for another time was suggested. Especially as returning to the meal a few months later it was manageable – another small victory! 

Another key piece of advice was to stop thinking about meals and start thinking about snacks. It’s easier to keep hunger at bay and experiment with reintroducing foods when you’re facing a little at a time rather than investing in a complete meal. As one of our experts said: “Don’t start off trying to tackle the whole Lego set, just play with a few blocks first.” 

Here are a few tips shared by our panel:

Tips for eating out
  • Change your mindset: you are going out to enjoy the company, not the food.
  • Order small plates so you are not overwhelmed by a big meal, or worried that something on your plate will make everything inedible.
  • Drink a meal-replacement shake before you go out so you’re not hungry and frustrated if the menu is limited for you.
  • If you’re feeling comfortable and supported by friends, try a food you’ve been avoiding. There’s no science for it, but our members say a ‘happy eating experience’ makes food more tolerable.
Tips for eating with anosmia

Anosmia – the complete loss of smell – will make everything bland and dull. It sucks all the enjoyment out of eating. On the plus side, it is easier to eat a healthy variety of foods, but people often report overeating as they search for the feeling of being satisfied.

  • Seek out ‘true taste’: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, umami. For example, lemon on fish may be more interesting than fish alone.
  • Take the temperature: mixing hot and cold will create interesting mouth sensations.
  • Include a variety of textures in your dishes 
Tips for eating with parosmia

Parosmia – a distorted, disgusting smell triggered by something familiar – is much more limiting. Onions and garlic are common triggers and are the base of thousands of dishes but anything could be a trigger, including familiar things like bread, water, mint.

  • Create a safe list of things you can usuallly eat. Rice, coconut, vanilla and bananas all seemed okay with our team.
  • Know your triggers: garlic and garlic salt are common ingredients so learn to check the labels.
  • Roll with change: accept that what was safe last week may be a trigger this week. Try to be curious rather than frustrated – easier said than done, we know.
  • Use a meal-replacement shake: when bad days are very bad, you can be confident you’ve taken in the right nutrients.
  • Push through when you can. The early days are the worst, and you will find you can tolerate parosmia better as time goes on. Introduce trigger foods in small ways and get past the first couple of mouthfuls to learn that you can improve your tolerance levels. 

Our thanks to AbScent Network members Jeanette, Mimi and Richard for sharing their experiences.

Watch the webinar on AbScent’s YouTube channel.

AbScent’s Masterclasses in Food and in Parosmia could help you find a better way of managing your condition. The online courses are available for you to complete in your own time. Look in the Courses section of the AbScent Network