You’re not a picky eater

Your own worst nightmare?

“I’m so embarrassed,” a member posted, “I can eat so little I’ve turned into something I’ve never been: a Picky Eater”

Parosmia, the experience of distorted and unpleasant smells, can profoundly change what you can eat. When the smell of food makes you retch – or worse – you shouldn’t make yourself eat things that cause a severe reaction. And for many the response is so strong, trying to force anything down is simply not an option.

When the foods available to you dwindle to a handful of choices it becomes miserable. To people around you who don’t understand, you look like a fussy eater, picking over what you can and can’t manage. Asking for dishes without ingredients like onion or garlic seems petty, avoiding food smells when you’re out is tricky, and a family meal can make you the unwelcome centre of attention.

But let’s be quite clear: you are not a fussy eater.  This is a chemical reaction triggered by molecules. 

And this is temporary. This condition is unpleasant, it’s out of your control, but it will improve. It won’t be like this forever but you need to make some adjustments while you recover.

If you need a recap on the chemistry, take a look at our item ‘Parosmia research findings’.

In the meantime, you have to make sure you are getting enough calories to maintain your health. This means you do have to think more carefully about your meals, particularly where your options are very limited. A meal replacement shake (like Huel or Setoro) could help in some instances. Foods that are cool in temperature also seem to be more acceptable with parosmia. For example, hot roast chicken is a no-no, but slices of cold chicken breast may be manageable.

It’s particularly hard eating with young children. Many parents lead by example, encouraging children to try everything on their plate and experiment with new tastes and textures. Then suddenly, children notice you toying with your dinner, avoiding dishes, certain vegetables, sauces; in some cases eating a completely different meal. Children naturally mimic what they see and learn from your response.

“It’s important to explain that an injury inside your nose means that you smell things differently to other people, but that it’s only temporary.” says Chrissi, who speaks from her own experience.  “While your nose gets better, it can make good things smell bad to you. You know it’s actually delicious, but the smell is muddled.” 

Another tip is to get your children to eat for you and describe what they smell, taste and feel; is it hot or cold? Tingly or smooth? By involving your family in your experience they learn to understand your situation, and you all become ‘sensory detectives’ together.

Check out the four-part online course ‘Food’ on the AbScent Network, combining science and practical tips to get you through this difficult time.