Group meals stress me out. Actually, that’s an understatement. Eating meals with other humans—especially any that I don’t know very, very well—gives me massive anxiety. It’s not the people I’m eating with who are to blame. Being around people doesn’t generally make me anxious. It’s the food. I struggle with an eating disorder that you’ve probably never heard of that makes food a bit of an obsession for me: avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (sometimes known as selective eating disorder), which is a very fancy way of saying that I eat like your average picky five-year-old, even though I really wish I didn’t.
The short version is that I have a mental block against trying new foods or eating certain things based on seemingly arbitrary factors like smell or texture. The limitations on my diet are a daily source of stress (I worry about my health and I get some food FOMO when people go on and on about how great hamburgers are), but worse by far are the reactions from other people, which range from confusion (“But, like, why don’t you just try it? I promise it’s good!”) to harsh, inaccurate judgment (“That’s not a real thing. You just don’t want to try new foods”).
For the record, I want to try it. I want to try all of it. I would give just about anything to eat like a normal person. But that’s not my experience. My experience is a lot of dry heaving and shame when it comes to foods I can’t eat. It might all be in my head (there are theories that AFRID/SED is closely related to mental health issues like anxiety disorder and OCD) or it might not be (there are other theories that it has to do with overly sensitive tastebuds, which might explain why most foods favored across the board by adult picky eaters are rather bland). I eat a lot of cereal, oatmeal, and fruit when I’m feeling “healthy” and a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches and pizza when I’m not. I don’t really know what causes it, but it’s a constant presence in my life. Any time someone invites me to lunch or dinner, I have to ask in advance what restaurant they want to go to and then check the menu online to see if there’s anything there I can eat.
But when someone invites me to breakfast or brunch, I don’t have to do that. I feel indebted to breakfast food for the normalcy it affords me. The only meals that don’t make me feel stressed and anxious and, frankly, a little freakish are breakfast and brunch.
I’m usually very high-maintenance when it comes to food, in a When Harry Met Sally ordering-everything-on-the-side, “I just want it the way I want it” kind of way. Ordering food that way is hilarious in a movie and exhausting in real life. At breakfast and brunch, I don’t have to make special requests or spend the entire time between ordering and the food arriving terrified that my special request won’t be honored and then having to choose between not being able to eat my meal or being That Person who sends it back.
At breakfast and brunch, I can order simply—sometimes just with a number. I’m not sure anyone who isn’t very picky about food realizes how wonderful it is to say, “I’ll have the number four,” and nothing else.
I love breakfast food. I always have. I love all the breakfast carbs (muffins and toast, yes, and also their delicious, fried cousins, waffles and pancakes and French toast). I love eggs (only scrambled—another quirk of my ARFID, but scrambled is enough. Scrambled is normal). I love bacon (not sausage or ham or any of the other breakfast meats, but who even cares about those when you’re ordering something as standard and gloriously normal as bacon?). I can walk into any breakfast joint with the confidence of a woman who know there’s something on the menu she will eat and that her bizarre eating habits, at least for this meal, won’t be discussed.
Breakfast food is always there for me when I need it most. When I have to make plans with a professional contact (networking events involving food are an entire circle of hell for me), I can casually suggest a place I know serves breakfast all day. When I want to take an acquaintance-ship to the next level and go for friendship, I can invite my friend-to-be out for brunch. And when I’m all alone in my apartment on a Tuesday night and not sure what to make for dinner, I can pour a bowl of cereal or scramble a couple of eggs. Breakfast is there for me when no one else is around, too.