Know someone who is a fussy eater? Meet the girl who spat out her own mother’s breast milk and lived on McDonald’s ice cream for a year. Christina Paugger shares her bizarre eating habits and has everyday tips for other fussy eaters.
I consider myself the world’s fussiest eater. Why? Because everyone I meet comments on my odd eating habits. I love sweets but will never eat an orange coloured sweet, a boiled potato counts as a meal in my book and I will always pick raw fish over cooked.
It all started when I spat out my own mother’s breast milk and I am pretty sure that was a defining moment for my parents. My peculiar food choices continued once I could eat solid food at the age of one – salads with lots of vinegar and pickles were amongst my absolute favourites. My mum said that I ate so much sauerkraut my tongue turned white. Whenever my grandma made a traditional Austrian meat dish called Kümmelbraten – pork belly roasted in the oven for several hours until the skin becomes crunchy – I wouldn’t touch the actual meat I only ate the crunchy skin. My parents had no problem getting me to eat sushi but I gave the teachers in kindergarten a pretty hard time when they tried to serve me fish fingers. My mum said she was so surprised that my favourite flavours were sour and spicy, but she thought that it must be genetics – my grandma is Korean and my granddad Japanese.
Normally when children ask for snacks they want chocolate or cookies. But when I was around five years old, my go-to snack was a bowl of tomatoes with salt and pepper. My grandma spent her best years chopping tomatoes for me when she was looking after me in the afternoons.
Although I had the weirdest eating habits, my parents never took me to see any specialists. ‘You ate very little at random times and only the things you liked,’ my mum said. I was never forced to eat at set meal times by my parents either. They always used to say ‘She will eat when she gets hungry’. On reflection, I think maybe my parents giving me so much freedom during my childhood enabled me to develop eating patterns that go beyond general fussiness and into the realms of probably rather weird.
on reflection, my parents giving me so much freedom to eat fussily during my childhood probably enabled me to develop eating patterns that are rather weird
Once I started going to school my breakfast was always the same: ten jelly sweets that I picked up on my way to school. I have grown up not having proper breakfast (this has completely changed over time, breakfast is now my favourite meal of the day).
At school I was definitely a bit of an outsider, on long school days I spent my lunchtime alone in the classroom whilst my classmates went to the canteen. Yes, that’s right, I didn’t even bother having a look at what they had to offer in the canteen. I felt odd being all by myself while everyone else was sharing a meal together, but at the same time I did think that I was better off being by myself eating food that I enjoy rather than being with my friends and unable to eat. My friends just put me in the ‘she’s-weird’ box and left me to do my own thing during lunchtime.
At the age of 15 I decided to take part in a student exchange program and lived in Hong Kong with a Chinese host family. If you are familiar with Chinese food you will know that it involves quite a lot of sauces and – surprise surprise – I don’t eat sauces. If I wanted food that is ‘liquid’ I would have soup. For me a sauce makes no sense. During my exchange year, I mainly ate McDonalds ice cream and Pringles, this resulted in me losing 10 kgs and left me with a shockingly small frame of 37kgs (5’8” stone). This was the absolute lowest point of my fussy eating journey. I would rather starve than eat something I don’t enjoy and it was the first time friends were openly worried about my weight and started addressing my eating habits.
During my exchange year, I mainly ate McDonalds ice cream and Pringles, this resulted in me losing 10 kgs and left me with a shockingly small frame of 37kgs
My periods stopped. I lost quite a lot of hair and I was suffering from acne. My host family and friends all pointed out to me that I had lost a lot of weight – something that I didn’t have to be told, I knew that myself because none of my clothes fit me anymore. I didn’t lose weight because I wanted to be skinny, but because there was so little I enjoyed eating. I guess you could call me a pure hedonist when it comes to food. Since I was a child I only ever ate what I found tasty.
When I came back my parents reaction was severe. They bought me special high calorie drinks from the pharmacy that were meant to make me gain weight. Literally everyone who knew me thought I was anorexic. When I went to a festival that summer a stranger called me anorexic and that made me feel incredibly vulnerable – not only did all my friends and family think I was sick but even strangers thought so.
I knew that my fussy eating has gotten out of control and it was at this point that I also realised that the things I was eating were not good for my body. Let’s face it, a diet full of sugary treats and Pringles is going to make anyone ill.
So, I started to develop an interest in healthy food. I could accept myself being a fussy eater but I could not live with the fact that I was making myself ill by eating only processed foods when there are plenty of healthy things I love eating. It took me almost two years to put the weight back on because I naturally don’t put on weight easily.
I’ve been living in London for five years now and have to admit that my fussy eating has not improved. If anything, it’s gotten more complex. I think that my fussiness is actually a form of OCD – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – and I am now scared whenever I try a new food because I think to myself ‘Oh no, what if I don’t like this? The list of things I don’t eat is going to get longer and longer’.
I have collected some rather strange eating habits which affect how I do things on a day to day basis. Everything I eat needs to be on separate plates, I don’t like different types of food touching one another. For me it’s not only about the taste but also about the colour and texture of food. For example, I don’t eat orange coloured sweets, jams and yoghurts. Peaches or apricots are a no-go because of the furry skin but if someone peeled them for me I would eat them. Going to restaurants might be something a lot of people enjoy, but for me it can turn into a really stressful situation. I don’t like sauces or seasoning on any of my food and I don’t eat things that have been fried, hence going to restaurants is one of my least favourite activities.
Did you have therapy for this?, said my editor Anna
Being fussy is fine if you are a social pariah but if you have friends and especially if you are in a relationship with someone it can become an issue. When I first met my boyfriend I was dreading the day when we would first eat together. For our first ‘dinner date’ we actually ordered a takeaway and just completing the order took us 45 minutes. I ended up ordering boiled rice which he found very odd – he had no idea what he was getting himself into. We’ve been together three years and he still complains about how he can’t take me anywhere. He is the exact opposite of me and eats anything you put in front of him. When I first met his parents I only ate some cherry tomatoes. They thought I was strange and they still make sure they have plenty of tomatoes in the house when they know I am coming to visit. When my boyfriend and I go to restaurants I usually order plain rice, a jacket potato without any toppings or miso soup. You can probably imagine that I get a lot of weird looks from waiters. I find the idea that someone else is preparing my food absolutely terrifying, because I want to know exactly what goes into my meals.
My interest in health and nutrition has added a new layer to my fussy eating. I feel uncomfortable eating processed foods now because I don’t recognise half the ingredients. My diet now is comprised of a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and grains. Even though I have cut out processed foods ultimately, I still love the same things I liked as a child so my dislike list has probably doubled.
A typical day in the life of the world’s fussiest eater (i.e., me) starts with two kiwis and a green tea. I will then either have a green smoothie or some german rye bread with smoked salmon. Lunch is either a salad, dinner leftovers or a bread topped with avocado. This will usually just about fill me up until dinner. I like to cook anything that’s quick and easy, my favourite dinner meals include stuffed peppers, vegan burgers and steamed salmon with rice.
Experimenting in the kitchen has helped me with distancing myself from eating processed foods and explore what I can do with the things I like. I also post recipes on my blog regularly because it motivates me to conitiue cooking and experimenting.
3 TIPS FOR FUSSY EATERS
There are probably many people out there who are just as fussy so I have a few tips to share with you which make my day to day life a lot easier.
Preparation is key when it comes to visiting restaurants or dinner parties. I recommend looking at the menu beforehand to see whether they have something you like. If there is nothing on the menu that takes your fancy, eat something beforehand, order a starter and pull the ‘I’m not hungry card’.
Make your own snacks, whether it’s raw energy balls, a piece of fruit or maybe some nuts, I always have my snacks with me because you never know if the next shop you pass by will have something that you want to eat. One of my absolute favourite snack recipes are these raw energy balls by Deliciously Ella.
Don’t beat yourself up about it, people make fun of me all the time, I have just come to accept that I am not like most other people when it comes to food. Make peace with it and move on.
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