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Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Psychology of Eating

The psychology of eating is a new interest of mine, sparked by the loss last summer of my ability to taste or smell anything.

Since I came home from England with a terrible upper respiratory infection last July, I have been unable to smell or taste anything. The ear, nose and throat doctor I saw believes the infection either killed or seriously damaged my olfactory nerve, and that my condition is not likely to get any better.

So since then, I have not been able to enjoy the taste or smell of food. I can still smell dangerous or toxic things such as bleach, nail polish remover or sulfur in the air at Yellowstone National Park. The nerves that alert me to those dangers still work. But no longer can I enjoy the smell of a flower or perfume.

I have never been a 'foodie' or enjoyed expensive or fancy meals. But I did enjoy grilled salmon, fresh-baked bread and cookies, and the aroma of home-cooked (not microwaved) meals that would fill the house.

Some people with anosmia -- the lack of the ability to smell -- overeat in an attempt to compensate for the loss. Others eat less because they can no longer enjoy the food they eat. I am in the middle. My eating habits haven't really changed, and my weight has remained the same. 

I have handled the loss pretty well, although there are times when I feel saddened. It took a while for me to realize that there is no point in ordering a slice of yummy dark chocolate cake, because it is devoid of flavor. Although I no longer am able to enjoy the sweet taste of ripe strawberries, something I love, I still make a point to eat berries and other fruit because I know these things are good for me. I still savor my morning cup of hot spiced tea every 
morning, although I may as well be drinking a cup of hot water. 

This is where the psychology of eating comes to play. I continue to eat the things I have always enjoyed despite not being able to taste them. In my mind, I am enjoying the taste of chocolate or salmon or fresh berries. Once in a great while I get a hint of the flavor of something, as I did while in Costa Rica last year. I was able to slightly taste the seasoned rice and beans that are part of every meal. Sometimes I detect a hint of cinnamon in my breakfast cereal, but most of the time I might as well be eating the cardboard box.

Food is such an integral part of modern life. We like to get together with friends and family to share a meal, and many of us enjoy making a special meal to share. I have a local friend with whom I get together for lunch fairly regularly, to catch up with each other's lives. We still do this despite my inability to enjoy my meal.

If I have to lose one or two of my senses, I guess that not being able to smell or taste anything is the easiest to lose. I can't imagine not being able to see or hear, although I have lived with a major loss of hearing in one ear for more than 50 years.

I will keep hoping that by some miracle, I will regain at least some of my lost senses. Until then, my mind will have to remind me of the foods that I once enjoyed.