Asperger’s syndrome and diet
Aspies don’t like change and they especially don’t like change in their foods. Favourite foods are bland and come at the same time of the same day, week in, week out, come what may. Any of this sounding familiar so far? Studies have shown that amongst the favourite foods of Aspies are wheat-based things like bread and pasta, cereals, and, above all, milk. That about describes my own diet down to a tee. Or the basis of it, anyway. I couldn’t stomach fruit growing up and I was very wary of anything new, no matter how much Mum and Dad said I might like it. Macaroni, lasagna, even spaghetti all featured heavily in my childhood diet; as they do for most Aspies. Well-cooked but bland flavours. I was bored. I was told that other things like fruit, salads and so forth were better for me. I could not, then, however, stomach many of the contrasting and sometimes either all-too-sweet or all-too-bitter tastes or flavours that these things brought with them.
Texture is a real issue for myself, as well as many other Aspies, from the research I have done. And first of all, the bad news – there is no “one size fits all” easy cure answer. My own best way around it is to take things slowly. It will be frightening and daunting at first but the pay-off at the end is fantastic. My own way around it was to mix the tastes. See what it was (and is) that other people like so much about the food you see them eating. This is also a very good way to start and develop social skills – eating as a social thing. I found that as I was trying a new thing it helped greatly to be with someone, to have someone to talk to, both around and about the food, because it took my mind, slowly, off the fact that I was doing something I really did not, at least initially, want to do. It will be a slow process, and the key here for parents, carers, friends, whatever, is not to force the change upon you, as the Aspie. Create a warm atmosphere, a relaxed place in which you can both eat and just talk about whatever. Comments such as “How are you finding that?”, “Isn’t this nice?”, “What is it you’re liking about your meal?” and so on and so forth will help draw the Aspie out of themselves and increase their confidence in both the areas of adapting to new things and also being active socially.
What we will look at here are some short steps towards changing the diet of an Aspie, the reasons why we, as Aspies, should do so and the benefits (both long- and short-term) which will be had from doing so.
I know I very soon started to feel better after introducing fruit into my diet. I felt much more active both mentally and physically. Yes, I liked my bread. Yes, I liked my milk. Yes, I liked (and still very much do like) lots of wheat-based foods. But they are bland foods, which never change and that is the real reason, I believe, why we Aspies like them. Harsh though it may seem, all recommendations for change made here are for the benefit of both the Aspie and those who care about them.
How does diet tie in with repetitive behaviours? The Aspie is the ultimate creature of habit. We are used to eating at a particular time (or times) each day. We are used to eating particular things every day or at certain times of the week. When we get something new or unexpected, for us it is scary, unless handled in a certain way. The overarching advice to get over this fear of the new would seem to be, introduce it gradually. Two familiar things for (or with) every one new thing would be my advice, drawn from experience. That way, we are getting the repetition as well as the new thing.
I had, as a child (and still do have), great difficulties with new textures. Where most people can simply put some food in their mouths, chew quickly and be done with it, I could spend what seemed like hours chewing on the same piece of food. I had to know there were no nasty surprises waiting therein for me. I had to feel every inch of the food and know what I was getting into. Everyone else loved the surprise and the exploration of the new. I, it seemed, did not. What this led to was boring familiarity.
Familiarity breeds a kind of comfort and what does comfort bring for the Aspie and non-Aspie alike? That’s right: comfort food. Aspies, many studies have shown, love their comfort food. This is because, unlike the outside world, there are no horrific surprises to be had when you know what you are going to get to eat.
Websites such as www.autism.org.uk are a great help to parent and Aspie alike in understanding this. Their suggestion of the creation of a food diary, for practical monitoring and change introduction purposes was a huge help to myself amongst others, as it makes change manageable.
And manageability’s the key word here. My own parents and others, good though their intentions were, tried to introduce new foods to me in the same way that one would with a so-called ‘normal’ child. The results were often nothing short of disastrous. And no-one, least of all myself, knew why!
The reasons now, looking back, are obvious. It was new. I was scared. No-one had told me what to expect because no-one thought that they would have to do so. This was thirty years ago and more. People knew little about autism, as we know it now. They knew absolutely nothing about Asperger’s Syndrome. They just thought that I, and millions like me, were awkward, badly behaved children.
My parents had, when I was between the ages of about 4 and 15, to really persevere to get me to eat things like fruit. This again comes down to texture and sudden explosions of taste. I hated it, for example, when I put my teeth into an apple for the first time, piercing the skin (which didn’t taste of much so that was fine, so far so good) and then the juice of the main fruit suddenly exploding into my mouth. Apart from anything else, I have very sensitive teeth and it really hurt, which made me scream. More frustration and lack of understanding from my parents. I went back to liking food with bland flavours. I was very jealous of people who could handle more.
My parents must, eventually, have decided that it was pointless getting me to try new things like fruit. It is interesting to note that one of the sources I consulted for this article (www.bbc.co.uk) mentions that Aspies like milk and milk-based food a lot.
Even now, I drink enough milk to give farmers a very healthy profit margin each year! But I just ate and drank the same things because that was what I did, that was all I felt able to do. But change frightened me, so what to do about it? The answer eventually came to me one day, whilst preparing my lunch for college. I was making the same kind of sandwich filling that I did every day. OK, the sandwich was made, what about stuff to go with it?
A bowl fruit lay on the kitchen table. An apple and an orange. Bitterness and sweetness. The extremes of which no normal food eater could ever taste. What should I choose? But then, I had a thought – why choose? Why not have both? Only one of each, but hey, small steps, surely taken.
Come lunchtime, I found out. Sandwiches with egg mayonnaise, one of my favourite fillings. Then the apple. My heart was going like a kick drum. What happened next?
This time there was no explosion inside my mouth. My teeth didn’t feel as though they had been hit by blasts of ice jets travelling at 90 miles per hour. Just instead, a sweet, slow trickle of flavour. It was really quite pleasant.
It occurred to me then that some things can work in reverse also. Some foods which I (apparently) liked as a baby, I cannot stand in adult life. I used to have a banana every morning as a baby. Now, even the smell of them makes me feel sick. Apples and oranges; where once I hated, now I love them!
I made a note, from then, and for quite a while afterwards, of every time something like this happened to me. Or, more precisely, every time that I made something like this happen. Not a food diary, exactly, but I think it is very important to keep some record of one’s progress.
The only way to conquer your fears is to confront them. Do it one step at a time and you will soon notice a change in yourself.
Since introducing new foods into my diet, I have felt a lot better both physically and mentally. Aspies always want to feel better mentally, whether they classify it like this or not. The key to helping yourself start on this path is to give your body the correct fuel. People will go on at you about this, but in this case they have a definite point.
So, to sum up then, what did I learn from making changes to my diet? Well, you will get much more enjoyment out of your food. It will also give you many more ways in which to relate to those around you, both family and friends. You will also feel so much better, both physically AND mentally. You may think you are content now but just you wait until the changes in your diet kick in!
How to go about making that change? Start off by making a note of the foods you eat most regularly and what you want to get out of them, in terms of nourishment and enjoyment. Then, go to your doctor for a checkup (What weight are you now? What is your ideal weight? What are you eating now which is good for you? What do you need to cut down on? What other foods could you try instead?)
Create a food diary detailing what you have eaten every day and how this has made you feel. An example of how to do this can be found on the www.autism.org.uk website. This will both enable you to track your progress and also really tell you what is working for you. This will also be very helpful for parents/carers/social workers etc. because it forms a record of progress in real time. It also keeps you on track as you will keep asking yourself two very important questions, namely: “Where am I?” and “Where do I want to be?”. And it’ll give you the motivation to get there!
Don’t worry too much at the start about overeating. Remember, this is a journey not a race. If you try cutting out your comfort foods completely, you will only want them more. If you factor them into your food diary and your diet plan, you will enjoy them all the more. Think about what other activities you associate with food (watching TV, playing computer games and so forth). Try and do a little less eating when you are doing these every day. You will, as I do now, enjoy each of these activities so much more and, even better, you will soon stop associating them with food!
Certain foods made me feel good once upon a time. Now the fact that I am in control of a far more varied and interesting diet makes me feel even better. This is your life. This is your journey. Start now and enjoy!
ROBERT LAING BIOGRAPHY
Robert discovered he had Asperger’s at the age of 20, quite by chance. His mother had been given Tony Attwood’s first book and recognized within it characteristics and situations similar to these encountered by both Robert and herself as a parent.
Robert has felt moved to write about Asperger’s – both his own experience with it and also the help that is available out there to others – now, because there are more people both being born with it and also being diagnosed with it retrospectively, in later life. He wishes to offer help and advice to others, just as others have done for him.
Aside from Asperger’s Syndrome, Robert also writes for a variety of website and print publications on subjects such as music, books and the local area in which he lives.
Robert has done a considerable amount of research into the average Aspie diet. He is sure that both parent and Aspie alike will find something to relate to in both this and future articles and welcomes feedback from both. He can be contacted for this and other writing matters at email@example.com.
I am a female Aspie (l just found out this year, my 60th), many of whom experience foods differently than males. I had special skills from toddler age, however one thing became apparent as l grew older, I also had few social skills and was aways cut out of the herd. My therapist said l had developed tremendous coping mechanisms which allowed me to perform for employers and customers, as for other employees I was admired and respected for my knowledge, but again cut out of the herd.
I worked for several vitamin and supplement stores, 12 years at one store. I had many return customers who were very pleased with the results of my suggestions. I did a lot of research to be sure of my knowledge, which brought me to information on autistic children’s diets (didn’t even mention Aspergers yet). I found that artificial colors, artificial flavors and random chemicals are not recommended for Autistic Diets. I spoke with parents of Autistic children and after they eliminated those chemicals from their child’s diet, they came back to me and told me of the positive changes. One Mother said, “He is looking at us in our eyes and faces for the first time!” This was so rewarding! Since I became aware of the toxicity of those and other chemicals, I have kept my diet free of them for decades.
Robert, I believe female Aspies have a lot of different symptoms than male Aspies. I have read about this and experienced different experiences myself with food. Like not being as concerned about food’s texture, except when it affects my teeth (mine are sensitive too). I love my comfort foods, pasta, potatoes and the homemade bread my Mom made. I was introduced to all kinds of vegetables (we had a huge garden), fruits and many ethnic and special new dishes, as my Mom was a gourmand in a very rural area of Wisconsin. I guess l was lucky to be exposed to so many different foods at an early age.
I have recently been researching gluten and dairy’s effect on those who are on the autism spectrum. These two appear to aggravate the symptoms (especially in our brains) of those on the Autistic Spectrum (l adore my cheeses!) Going gluten free is not as difficult as finding an acceptable dairy free cheese. A health food, quinoa (a grain substitute-gluten free) is an excellent addition to one’s diet and has a taste similar to pasta. Unless it says ‘pre-washed you will need to rinse and drain it with a fine strainer until the water is clear or it will not taste good. l put it in my strainer and submerge it up to the edge in a pot of water, then swoosh it around and pour off the water several times to remove the bitter taste it uses to protect itself. One part quinoa to two parts water, bring to a boil, lower the heat to it’s lowest, cover and let cook 20-30 minutes, checking & stirring occasionally. Add more water if needed to continue cooking without burning. When it turns to small spirals and is soft it is done. Use like pasta. It is sold in many ‘regular’ stores.
Try to get the quinoa and all other foods eaten as organic or at least GMO free. (Organic food must not have any GMOs by definition.) GMOs and many pesticides/herbicides are not healthy for our bodies, especially our brains, according to some researchers.
I wish you much luck with your ‘food journey’ Robert. I am still working on the best diet for me. I agree, let’s enjoy!
I heard that craving wheat and milk can be linked to food sensitivities. I’m not sure if all the science is in on that, but I know that I personallt gave fewer rashes, and asthmatic and reflux symptoms if I cut milk products out of my diet.
I am a female Aspie. First off i wanted to say: I applaud your efforts to share your experiences openly and honestly. Its nice to see people offering personal stories to help other aspies not feel so alienated. Secondly, I’m surprised your not lactose intolerant and/or shifted to a gluten free diet (these are common complications for autistics). I personally am a stickler for “on time” meals. I am totally structured and into maintaining routines. But I love extreme tastes. I’m hyposensitive to taste. (*smiles*) I am also hyposensitive to touch. But I am hypersensitive to smell, sound and visual stimulation…. so I can empathize with your plight. Aspie are a funny breed, no two exactly alike. But there is certainly an element of peace knowing we are not alone.
Sounds just like me. I’ve always wondered why I’m so fussy and there are some foods – Mac and cheese, other pastas, rice cakes – that I’ve loved my whole life and that I never get sick of.
I’m glad I’m not the only one. 😀
On the other hand, I love fruits, vegs, meats of all kinds, fish, but DON”T like milk, wheat in any form. I like spicy foods as well. We Aspies may share many behavioral traits but diet doesn’t seem to be one of them.
Hi, female here. I’m 37, a physician, and three days ago my mentor at my education university talked to me and said something about like you’re having symptoms of autism (I finally got into a specialist course, but was bounced because having dystonia, communication troubles at school in group and in freestyle modus so to speak socially not very good). Huh? Me? I’m totally confused. I’m going to check that with my GP.
I’ve noticed similarities.
I like a lot of food, but I can’t choose what to eat. I like milk, pastas, rice and chips for instance but I really hate that slurpy feeling of shrimps and other food like that see creatures. Extreme bitter and sourly food/drinks also noises/ light and particular smells can get me upset and since several years can trigger my dystonia. If I have Asperger my father has it too. I’m scared about what my psychiatrist is going to tell me. Still struggling with PTSS. I want to get further in my life. I don’t need another thing to deal with. It’s difficult enough now. Great now the chaos in my head is bigger than ever.
Good day everyone.
I found many of the descriptions in this article all too familiar. Unfortunately, I also have several food sensitivities, so have even more trouble trying to find palatable foods outside of my comfort zone. Fruit causes migraines and dairy severe muscle pain. (The creation of lactofree milk made my year.) Occasionally I will find something new that I can enjoy that doesn’t cause any physical issues, but those cases are few and far between. I have also noticed with disturbing regularity that when I do find something I can enjoy and stomach, that the company that make it will usually then either withdraw it or release a new and supposedly improved recipe that makes it inedible. One of my common statements has become that I like something but it doesn’t like me, and I often am forced to choose foods based on which will cause the least negative physical reactions.
Interesting article. I’ve never been extreme like that, re. diet., but I’ve certainly had a lot of foods that disliked purely bcause of texture, not taste. However, since developing numerous food intolerances (which also seem to be an aspie thing, especially in later life) I’ve been wondering if that nervousness re. new foods might actually be adaptive? I mean, if somebody is predisposed to food intolerancs (and indeed probably has food intolrances already, just the symptoms are not so noticeable yet….or else masked by the fact that they get them all the time, due to sameness of diet, or the food is ubquitous eg gluten) then that somebody is more likely to live to pass on their genes if they don’t go round experimenting, but stick to the tried and tested.
I didn’t know that Aspies often have a preference for wheat and dairy. I did know,however that Aspies are often intolerant of wheat and dairy, to the point that a gluten-free dairy free diet is often recommended as beneficial to Aspies (and many do find it so) I also knew that people often have a craving for the very food that their body rejects. So it figures.
As for dislike of change in general. Hmm. I’ve know Aspie thill-seekers, and others who seemingly break that mould. I’ve had my thinking-cap on about that one for years, because I do and I don’t, for my own part. *chuckle* .Finally, Irrealised that the things where I really hate change are the routine , boring things that I can’t avoid; and I’m sure that’s just a way of coping wth some underlying processing problems. Life flows more smoothly, when it’s predictable. If you’re a littl bit challenged, that’s really important; or else those routine, boring things could come to demand the whole of your attention, 24/7. Then life becomes boring indeed.
In short, I don’t think that any of this stuff is really what it seems on the surface .Not for me, hat’s for sure. But then, for some people it might be, of course.
PS. Not sure I explained that last point very well. As every neurotypical, even, will surely understand: if you keep your pots, pans. pen paper, etc in the same place, you’re not wasting time hunting for them , and can just get on with cooking, writing or whatever it is you really want to do. For me, it’s a lot more crucial, as I’m scatterbrained and have a poor visual memory. But it’s more than that. If I walk down the road , I usully walk down the road very slowly, and anything that catches my attention will slow me down all the more. In the interest of getting to the other end of the road, it’s probably best if I don’t encounter anything too novel *chuckle* (though , as an Aspie, I can sometimes find novelty and wonder in the tiniest,and least significant of things. Whilst failing to notice the great big truck in my path) . I don’t personally have much sense of fear. but if i did, i think i could easily come to fear novelty (and trivial novelty most of all) as representing a great big weight round my neck (i do, after all, fear some other such stultifying things, eg miscommunication, which can trap you in some kind of senseless feedback loop, and stop you moving on to the next point, as it seems to me.) Indeed it all seems to come down to fear of being stuck, in my case. and thus can seem very paradoxical! Because that fear often reflects an intense desire to move forward and experience something radically different.
I don’t know if I have it or not, my boy friend thinks I do. Some of my traits with food. It must be beautiful and creative with lots and lots of color and I make a big deal out of the presentation, I top everything off with parsley flakes and organic strawberries. When I go to a restaurant it must be awesome to me but I will always order the same thing again and again. I don’t like bland food except vegan Boca burgers, I love them because they are so tasteless. .I have taken the Asperger’s Test 4 times now with a 32, 38, can’t remember the rest of the scores. I went to a psychiatrist to find out (I am female) he said I did absolutely not have it. My mother many times said she couldn’t believe I did what I did (whatever it was) I am artist, can never tell if my clothes look good together so I have to ask people, People like me. I don’t know, I just wonder, do I have it?