In this first person account, adult AFRID warrior and community member Karen shares her story about how, with the help of a loved one, she has worked to overcome her restricted diet.
Anyone who meets me today would never guess that I used to have a very restricted
diet. Not only that but it lasted from when I was about 12 months old until I was 27. I
overcame the issue myself with the help of my husband.
My mother has told me that when she tried to encourage me to move from smooth
baby food in jars to lumpier ones and solids, she found that I wouldn’t or couldn’t do
it. I can confirm that the problem was a combination of texture, taste and smell. She
approached our GP, but this was the late 1960s/ early 1970s and she was told that it
was ‘just a phase’. The only advice she was given was to try mashed potato which I
Some progress was made, but I wouldn’t eat ‘cooked meals’. My staple diet was
sandwiches, particularly banana ones. Some of the progress was due to a brief spell
staying with my aunt when my mother was unwell. My cousins were delighted to
have me stay and the eldest wanted to look after me. I enjoyed being with them and
when I came home again, I had started eating soft boiled eggs (yolk only) and
Until my late twenties my diet consisted of all fruit (except grapefruit), raw carrots
and peas, salad, no meat or fish, butter, milk, yoghurt, Dairylea, cheese slices and
bread (white and wholemeal). I also ate cakes, biscuits, jam, virtually all desserts but
not crisps. I would drink any type of drink. Over the years I added a few random
foods including toast, chips, yoghurt, pancakes and Yorkshire puddings. I tried hard
with the yoghurt as a result of watching TV adverts. I always enjoyed what food I did
As I grew older, my diet had enough variety to enable me to join in with social
activities. My friends and family accepted me as I was and I really wasn’t bothered
about changing the situation. I went to friend’s homes after school for tea. As a
teenager, my circle of friends thought that going out for a meal was what old, boring
people did. When I did eventually start going to restaurants, my cover story was that
I was vegetarian and didn’t like anything on the menu. This was plausible in the
1980s when there was often only one veggie option. I would then ask for chips and
This continued until I was 27 years old around which time my social life was
changing. I had new friends, meals out became popular and I was invited on holiday
with friends. It was after a holiday abroad that I began to realise that my diet was a
hindrance, I didn’t like explaining to new people and it became something that I really
wanted to change.
Growing up in the 1970s, my family were typical in that meals were often meat
(covered in gravy) or fish with boiled vegetables, which I still wouldn’t consider
eating. I do eat boiled vegetables now, but prefer roasted or stir fried. I began with
potato croquettes and vegetable crisp bakes. It wasn’t too difficult once I decided to
try, but it wasn’t a huge advance either.
Around this time a friend took me to a pancake restaurant in London. It was
marvellous to be able to order straight off the menu and eat the same as everyone
else. I wanted to achieve more, but didn’t know how to.
Then I met someone, who is now my husband. He is vegetarian, a good cook and
ate the type of food that we didn’t have at home. He would cook pasta, chilli, curry
and was unphased by my restricted diet. I began to wonder if I could possibly eat
what he did and asked for his help. To be honest I did think that this type of food
looked a bit like ‘sick’ and said so, but he just laughed. So we began the gradual
process of me trying what he had cooked. Never at meal times which I think is
important. Initially, I managed the tiniest morsel of bolognese. That was all. We didn’t
try for more. He put the food away and we forgot about it for that day. This became a
routine, usually at the weekend when we were not going out. We progressed to an
amount the size of a dessert spoon and introduced chilli with a small amount of rice.
He says that the look on my face when I tried these new foods was exactly the same
as that of his baby nephew.
This is a long time ago now, but we both agree that at some point it was as if something was switched on inside me and the whole thing snowballed. I no longer had the fear of eating something new and I wanted to try as many things as possible.
However, it is also true to say that it was a gradual process. From the point of me
deciding that I wanted to change my diet to the point of complete success was
probably about 2 years.
From my own experience, I know that it is possible to change a restricted diet for the
better even after many years.
Having a reason to change, and wanting to change is vital for an adult.
Trying new food outside of mealtimes and the influence of children
or adults outside the immediate family can be helpful. Personally, I needed to take
the lead and control the pace of our attempts, but having the support of someone
who would cook, be patient, non-judgemental and not put me under any pressure
I am still vegetarian - because I want to be and with hindsight it worked for me. I am
told that I am a good cook and I enjoy a wide variety of food including Italian, Indian,
Moroccan and Mexican. There are still some things that I would never eat, but if I go
out for a meal with friends or family, I am no more likely to say that I don’t like
something than they are. There is a huge variety of food available today compared
with when I was growing up and I don’t think it’s possible to like everything.
Before I changed my eating habits, I would never have believed that some of the
best meals I would have would be when I tried something new for the first time, but