OCD & Food
I love food, I do, my waistline would testify to that fact. I love eating and it's just as well because you kind of need to eat to live.
To understand this you need to know that my OCD is predominantly contamination OCD. So around two years ago when I hit rock bottom. I really went off the rails, i was convinced every food and drink item hadn’t been sealed properly or someone had put something in them. Even now, I check things are not tampered with before i open them. But back then I was a mess. I would open things like butter, use them, put them away and next time i came to use them I wouldn’t be able to remember if I hadn’t opened it or had they come straight from the shop with crumbs in?
Yeah I know it sounds a bit odd maybe, but when you have bad OCD you don’t trust your own judgment and living alone at the time didn’t help. I would freak out if a cookie had a piece already broken off, convincing myself someone had had a bite out of it. Raw meat was (and still is to an extent) a real no no. God it took ages to summon up the courage to open it, wash my hands, then start cooking it, then washing the spatula or whatever i was using, so raw meat didn’t touch the now nearly cooked meat.
It then took ages to wash the “contaminated” utensil in the sink without touching it with the sponge or the “infected” water running onto other dishes. Turning over meat, such as sausages and bacon, became that troublesome I would go buy a load of plastic cutlery to turn them with, then throw them away straight after. I would go through so many of them that i looked like a professional picnic planner to the lady on the till at Sainsbury's.
After a while I just gave up cooking with raw meat. God I love bacon so much, I really miss it. Sausages too. Even now, when it's raw meat time, I step out of the kitchen and my ever-patient girlfriend steps in onto raw meat duty. I find it best not to watch otherwise it freaks me out. Again, as with checking, you will notice I have adopted an 'avoidance strategy', rather than a 'dealing with it strategy'. I know I know, it's on my to do list, one OCD monster at a time please.
Back to then, I didn’t trust food bought in. I would live off toast and crisps. My weight dropped dramatically and when a mate saw me for the first time in weeks, he said I looked like a ghost. Red, the colour red, became the bane of my life, I gave up ketchup with food. I would eat in or out, as my brain would only see blood. It made me switch to mayo. To this day i still get odd looks when i have a cooked breakfast out or a bacon butty and ask for mayo on it. The truth is I’ve grown to like it more than ketchup now anyway.
Speaking of red, I got so bad I wouldn’t buy anything in red packaging. I remember one Sunday evening stopping at the corner shop on the way home to buy chocolate. I reached for Maltesers, then withdrew my hand sharpish, convinced there could be blood on it.
There was an occasion where I had spent a fair bit on the weekly food shop, got home, noticed an unidentifiable mark on the bag, convinced myself it was something horrific, so i binned all 4 full bags of shopping. I walked all the way back to the supermarket, and bought the exact same shop all over again about an hour after the first time. Imagine the looks I got at the checkout for that little stunt!
So with my varied and nutritious diet of toast (bye bye jam) and crisps, I felt worse and worse which led to further drop in mood, which guess what....made my OCD worse. Eating out became basically impossible. On another occasion I was sat in a burger place with my mate and halfway through, I noticed a red stain on the inside of the bun. I asked my mate what it could be to, which he replied, “probably relish or something” and he carried on munching.
There it was, “probably”! The elusive word / attitude / way of life I longed for, but could not have. 'Probably' was enough for him and for a lot of people, but not for me. I left the rest and started going into silent terror panic mode.
We went to a shop nearby and while he was in the changing room trying on clothes I, get ready for this, ran (yep like Usain Bolt) back to the burger place, to the counter, then panting heavily I leaned against it and attempted to look super casual whilst asking the poor confused lady “so….in your burgers, what is the red stuff?” secretly praying she wouldn’t say “we don’t put anything red in them sir”.
IT WAS RELISH……of course it flipping was, but as anyone with OCD will tell you, when you are in the grip of it, the rational side of your brain decides to pack a small suitcase and take a well earned trip away for a while whilst OCD gives a PowerPoint presentation on all of the horrible, terrifying possible “what-if” consequences of what you’ve just experienced.
Communal food; bowls of nuts on the bar, buffets at weddings, a Jacob's joint at work because Doris from Payroll turns 50 this week, or someone just splitting a bag of crisps in the pub. All times when you are thinking, "oh shit, I’m actually really hungry but no way am I going in there after all those hands have been in there first, God only knows what they are leaving in there"
It got to the point where my well-meaning friends and co-workers would bring the unopened food item to me like some ceremonial offering to the king. They presented to me in a grand and obvious manner “go on, have the first one before anyone else does”.
I know, they were trying to help, but one of the things that annoys the heck out of me is when people have to draw attention to it. It's hard enough trying to make sense of all the chaos that goes on in your head without being put on the spot in front of everyone. As a side bar, my old boss would come up to me and say “oh, hi, I would shake your hand, but I know you wouldn’t like that”.
What the hell man?!! You wouldn’t go up to someone in a wheelchair and say “Oh, hi, I would ask you to come and have a jog with me but i know you wouldn’t like that……”. There's no need to say it in the first place, is there?
In case i offended anyone with that analogy, I’m not suggesting the two conditions are the same, I’m using artistic licence to make a point, so go easy on me ok!
What really helped me, was, and I’m sure there is a fancy scientific name for it, but I’m just going to refer to it as the 'well if they are…' effect. This has helped me in a few different ways with my OCD, not always, but sometimes it's about watching others eat.
By that I don’t mean sitting at a table in KFC staring at a family of 4 take down their hot wings and zinger burger. I mean I started paying more attention to the people I was eating with. They seemed so unconcerned about any small blemish on the food; if it was cooked enough, if the chef may have come straight back from the loo without washing his hands then knocked up a lasagne for them.
I admired their fearlessness and, in my stronger moments, started pushing through and eating like them. Well not quite, there's still the gremlin in my head shouting “what the hell is that mark on it???!!” but I tried my best to plough on regardless.
I used mindfulness to try to concentrate on opening new food items in the house, so I wouldnt go nuts when I came to use them again. Lastly, I try to tell myself the odds of something sinister being in my food and drink are tiny, which kinda helps.
I am in no way cured of my food worries. As I’ve mentioned, I still avoid raw meat like the plague and have to stand in the kitchen for a few minutes staring at the bottle of wine concentrating on opening it, (I can drink red again, so a win there).
However, much to the delight of my taste buds and the dismay of my fitted suit, I am eating reasonably normally again. Next step is to attempt to tackle the raw meat situation. It is like everything. It is hard, bloody hard work, but the fact that I’ve seen it can be better gives me hope in other areas of my OCD.
Thanks for taking the time to have a read, please feel free to give me feedback, even if its just to discuss how awesome bacon is.
Martin has a point. Bacon is awesome, but how do you cope with your own OCD when it comes to eating? Have you got any tips for the rest of us? Let us know in the comments below.
You can read more from Martin on his own blog right here.