I am Rachel Schurman, a 32 year old, self-professed picky eater, documenting my journey through more adventurous eating and a more healthy lifestyle. While I have spent the better part of my life content to be a french fry connoisseur, being a picky eater has affected my life in many ways.
Growing up, people would tell me, "You don't know what you're missing out on." Perhaps they were right; perhaps this scrumptious food was leaving a huge void in my life, but I never felt I was missing out on much in the way of food. Like I said, I was utterly content with eating french fries and chicken nuggets. Over time, however, I was made to feel ashamed of what I chose to eat, which made me feel abnormal in some way. Suddenly, being the 12 year old who brought a bag of McDonald's into a Chinese restaurant was embarrassing to me, so I learned how to adapt.
What I felt I was missing out on were normal social interactions; the chance to hang out with friends, participate in dinner at youth group on Sunday nights, meet up with family at a nice restaurant, or even go to someone's house for dinner. On so many occasions, I turned down invitations to eat with friends, or I'd show up "late," claiming I wanted to come and hang out, but that I'd already eaten. More often than not, though, I turned down invitations altogether because I didn't want to show up for dinner, just to search and search the menu, only to discover the only thing I'd eat was off the children's menu, or worse, that there was nothing I'd eat. This always elicited quesitons like, "Why aren't you eating anything?" or "That's all you're having?" So many times, I'd go to dinner with friends or family, only to arrive and hear someone say, "Oh, we have to go somewhere else because Rachel doesn't eat anything here," automatically making me feel like the pariah in the group. So a lot of the time, I'd learn to sit there, quietly starving, until we could finish and go to a drive-thru somewhere on the way home. I never wanted to call attention to myself and have people ask me questions, especially as I became an adult. It always embarrassed me to to go to nice restaurants, and although good intentioned, someone would say to the waiter, "Just bring this one some french fries."
I believe that over time, the people closest to me accepted that this was just part of who I was, and they didn't really put any thought into it. My Memaw always has frozen french fries, or chips, or homemade cornbread for me when I come over. She knows what I like, and she accommodates me, even at nice family dinners in which she has prepared refined meals for the rest of the family. Close friends came to know my preferences, and their parents are more than generous when I come over, making something different for me. In the presence of new company, however, I begin to feel most self-conscious, and perhaps embarrassed, of what I now believe is an eating disorder. I never want to be difficult, or rude, but I feel that being sick at the table would be more difficult. And the looks I get from them as they wonder why a 32 year old woman eats like as child are dreadful.
As a young child, my parents understandably grew frustrated with their child that would not eat anything. If you have a child that eats like I do, perhaps you know the struggle. There were many times when I remember being force-fed, and a time or two when I ended up eating in the bathroom after warning that I'd be sick if I ate some particular new food. I remember trying to eat steak, chewing and chewing, not being able to swallow it, until it became a mouthful of mush that I had to spit out. I have a diary I kept as a child, and I write about the abominable "roast beast" that my mom tried to make me eat for dinner one night. Maybe it did taste horrible, I honestly can't remember, just that it was kind of stringy in texture, but perhaps thinking it was a "beast" didn't help either.
I've always had a very acute sense of smell. In third grade, my teacher awarded me with the "Most Sensitive Nose" award because I was able identify what we were having in the cafeteria from 100 yards away. The most horrible day from elementary school that I can remember was when we had chicken spaghetti, and the smell of it was so powerfully overwhelming to me, it made me sick. I didn't want to tell anyone, so I opened my lunchbox and threw up in it. It's such a comical story to tell now, but it was downright traumatizing for a kid in 4th grade.
As an adult, I've learned to conceal it a little better, even as I have branched out and learned to eat a few new things. When I got my first job as a teacher, I wanted to make friends and mingle with co-workers, but they quickly noticed I brought the same lunch each day, and that it looked very similar to what a child might take in its lunchbox. I can recall being asked, "That's all you're eating?" many times, as the perplexed looks on their faces stared at my package of peanut butter crackers, chips, and granola bar. In different jobs, I chose to eat in my classroom, sometimes by myself, and sometimes with students, all the while being conscious that there were a few who noticed the quality of the crap I was eating each day.
Over the years, people have obviously tied my diet to my weight. I'm overweight and have been since high school. While many would assume that my weight is something I'd be self-conscious and insecure about, it's actually not. I've struggled with my weight a lot over the years, but in general, I'm content with myself. I have a lot of cute clothes from plus size stores, and I love experimenting with makeup. I'm a good person with a kind and loving heart, and I know that I'm beautiful, inside and out, at any size. I have the same insecurities that probably any woman has (even my size 2 sister thinks she's fat sometimes). I'm aware that I need to lose weight and maintain good health, but don't get me confused with a girl who self loathes her body. More than anything, I've been insecure when it comes to my eating habits. I have felt completely isolated by it at times, and I know I have allowed it to create limitations for me.
As I mentioned before, I believe that picky eating, also known as selective eating, is an eating disorder, and it has now been officially recognized as one. It's not just habits that I have to break, but also a disorder I have to cope with. So I am beginning this blog as an effort to be accountable to myself in changing some of the habits that I've formed over the years, and maybe as a way to help me understand my own relationship with food. I'm hoping to shed some light for others on this condition, and perhaps be a help to others who feel they are in the same boat as I am.