Tim’s Aspie Diet

Here is another topic that I think a good amount of fellow Aspies can relate to: an “abnormal” diet. I consider my daily meal plan to be rather unusual, at least compared to that of most other people around me. Much like with obsessive interests, I know that this is a fairly common thing among individuals who are on the autism spectrum. In one manner or another, what we like and do not like to eat on a regular basis somewhat differentiates from what’s considered “normal” in our society.

In this post, I will share some of the ways in which my average food schedule could be seen as odd or weird. This includes a couple of foods that I like to eat, what I typically chose to eat for certain meals, what I refuse to eat, and how I prefer to eat particular foods. This time I’m almost 100% confident that someone out there will be able to relate very closely to what I’m about to share.

Let’s start with breakfast. Now most people like to munch on things like eggs, cereal and milk, pancakes, waffles, and French toast. Here is what my typical breakfast looks like: a whole poppy-seed bagel (heated in the microwave for 40 seconds), two cheesesticks, a couple of carrots, and one or two pieces of fruit. Sometimes I will have some cereal as well, but never with any milk; I seriously cannot stand the stuff (on its own, that is). I’ll also eat things like donuts, bacon, and croissants if they are being served. You definitely won’t convince me to eat any pancakes, French toast, or eggs, and I might end up getting breakfast on my own if nothing I can tolerate is available. Also, if you think my typical breakfast today looks weird, I used to eat things like broccoli and leftovers from last night’s dinner for breakfast when I was much younger.

Next up is my typical lunch. On average it will include a strawberry yoghurt, a piece of fruit, sugar-snap peas, pretzels, and maybe a couple of Oreos. I will on occasion buy things like burgers, hotdogs, salads, and pasta for lunch, but the aforementioned list is what I normally eat at home or at work. This might not seem too unusual upon first glance, until you consider that I absolutely refuse to eat most sandwiches and salads. Yep, for some reason, I cannot tolerate vegetables and cold-cut meat between two pieces of wheat bread. I won’t even eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches anymore (I used to eat them for lunch at school, but now I try to avoid them as much as possible). Most pre-made salads are off for me as well, since they usually contain things I don’t like such as cherry tomatoes, celery, olives, cheese, and sea food (I’ll talk about sea food a bit more later). I will only eat salads that I make myself or ones made by my family, unless they add many of the items mentioned above. As a result, it can sometimes be a bit inconvenient for me to eat at someone else’s place for lunch, as there is usually nothing else available but sandwich stuff.

When it comes dinner, I normally eat what is offered to me to my parents or whoever is making dinner. Of course, if the meal contains something that I do not like, then I’ll try to avoid that food item and push it out the way. Only on very rare occasions will I refuse to eat the meal altogether, and eat some stuff that I like afterwards. If I am on my own for dinner, then I’ll usually purchase something from a nearby pizzeria or supermarket. Right now, I can’t really cook that many meals other than pasta and rice, and I mainly subsist on pre-made microwavable meals when I’m living on my own. If there are any leftovers of a meal that I enjoyed, then I’ll naturally have it for dinner.

That’s it for the three main meals, so I guess I should talk about snacks. For the most part, I don’t snack an awful lot throughout the day. Every now and then I’ll munch on the typical snack food such as peanuts, fruit, cookies, candy, and ice cream. However, there is at least one food that I really like to have as a snack which I doubt is common among most other people, and that is carrots. I’m not talking about baby carrots or sliced carrots that you’ll find at a party along with other vegetables and some dipping sauce. I’m talking FULL carrots, just without the long leafy stem at the end. I love those kinds of carrots sooo much, especially when they are first brought home and washed before put in the fridge. I consider them the absolute perfect snack for any time of the day. I guess you could say I’m also like Bugs Bunny in a way (maybe that’s where I originally got it from).

I would now like to list a couple of other foods that most other people seem to enjoy, but I either have to force down my throat or outright refuse to try. They include popovers, cornbread, olives, cream cheese, lettuce that isn’t chopped up in a salad, eggs, tomato slices, mushrooms, pineapples, melons, oatmeal, almost any kind of pie, lamb, tarts, and ham unless it’s dipped in mustard. Like I said earlier, sea food is a major turnoff for me, and I mean any type of sea food, even crab cakes, lobster, tuna, and sushi. I also can’t stand the taste of alcohol, so I’ll usually drink soda while everyone else is having beer, wine, or martinis.

I believe that is about it in terms of my overall eating patterns. I encourage readers who have Aspergers or any autism-related disorder to share some of their own “weird” eating habits in the comments below. In addition, I would like to say that there is absolutely no shame in having a food pattern that differs from that of most other people. I strongly believe you should feel free to eat whatever you feel like eating at whatever time you please (as long as it isn’t significantly harming your health, of course).

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“It’s not good enough. I’m not good enough.”

Do you constantly find yourself worrying that the work you’re doing might not be “good enough?” Do you also tend to worry about not being “good enough” as a person in general? If so, then let it be known that you are not alone. In fact, a sizable percentage of the human race has some form of perfectionism; they believe that no matter what, they’ll never truly be good enough. I just might be one of those people who suffers from this the most.

If there is one thing that never fails to bring me severe stress, it’s the endless, relentless fear that I’m not doing an adequate job: whether it be on a specific task, or as a general fact. In other words, I have a pretty severe case of perfectionism. I stated in the post, “What do I do? What ‘should I do?” that this, along with my poor time management skills, makes it easier for me to panic whenever I have many tasks to handle at once. Just as I did with time management in the previous entry, I will now elaborate upon my issues with perfectionism and why it causes me so much anxiety.

As I mentioned earlier, I am completely aware that tons of people have this problem of constantly trying to meet a certain standard in their lives, and never feeling fully satisfied with themselves. It’s definitely NOT an unusual condition, and it may very well be that the majority of all human beings suffer from it. With that said, perfectionism seems to have a particularly powerful influence on my day-to-day behavior. Perfectionism affects my life in two key areas.

Firstly, whenever I am given a responsibility or task to complete, I will often spend a considerable amount of time making sure that I do a “good job” on it. This mostly applies to tasks such as schoolwork assignments, duties at work, and long-term academic projects. It can also sometimes apply to less substantial things like household chores, exercise, meditating, buying products, and even playing video games. In any case, as I engage myself in the task at hand, I will quickly become obsessed with getting the most praiseworthy result that I can; with being able to feel genuinely proud about what I have accomplished. Of course, when you’re such a perfectionist and nit-picky person, it’s not easy to be fully satisfied with your work, and you tend to give yourself unreasonable standards for quality. Consequently, I will spend far more time than necessary to finish a particular task, with much of it spent struggling to meet these standards. Most of the time, I will be unsatisfied to some extent with the end product and believe that someone else could have done it a whole lot better.

For example: I rarely feel completely gratified with my own posts on this blog. No matter how hard I try, I can’t shake off the impression that the article I’m writing could be a little better. As a result, I have to make several modifications to each entry before I consider uploading it. I will sometimes even send the post to my mother for a quick review. Even when she says that it’s perfectly fine, I’ll still feel a little disappointed with how the post turned out in the end. Since I am apparently unable to make it as fantastic and well-crafted as I’d like it to be, I upload it anyway, hoping that at least others will appreciate it. So I guess you can say that I’m not a huge fan of my blog, because I’m so perfectionist and self-critical when it comes to writing. I also tend to assume that other people write far superior blog posts, including on the topic of Asperger Syndrome (please don’t try to convince me otherwise, because that’ll mean you’re putting down your own writing, which I do not wish to hear).

The second way in which perfectionism enters into my life is on a much more general level. It would be difficult to explain this issue fully without making the post over 3000 words long, so I’ll do best to give a basic summary. Whenever I take a good look at myself – what my social life looks like, how independent I am from my family, how hard I study, how productive I am at work, what I do with my free time, how much I contribute to charitable causes, among other factors – I’m always extremely discontented. Particularly when I compare myself to others in those areas, I can’t help but feel awfully pathetic, unaccomplished, and lazy. As a result, I keep on thinking that I need to do a lot more with myself and follow the suggestions of others in order to become a more admirable person.

For this reason, I like to give myself a bunch of activities casually recommended to me by other people on a regular basis. These recommended activities can include things that my parents said I may want to consider, advice given by my therapist or counselor, interests a friend has which they want me to try out, or suggestions from a book that I’m reading. Whatever the source may be, I will often perceive the recommendation as something that’s mandatory, an activity that I need to perform in order to feel better about myself. I will typically add the activity to my to-do list, put a reminder for it on my iPhone, and try to make absolutely sure that I eventually attend to it. Alternatively, I may myself stress out because I don’t have the time to engage in that activity or because I simply don’t want to do it. Again, even though it is merely a suggestion, I will treat it as a vital task or a direct command from someone else, thus feeling pretty awful and lazy when I cannot fulfill it.

Even if I do commit myself to performing an activity that was recommended to me, it doesn’t guarantee that I actually will get to it. Either I may forget about it completely, or I might be too busy with academic assignment, work-related stuff, and other responsibilities to make time for it. When that happens, I will naturally feel somewhat guilty and stressed – criticizing myself for “being lazy” and not “doing what I should be doing.” Yes, I know that it never was 100% essential, yet I cannot help to perceive it as if it were, since I’m so unsatisfied with myself and I constantly think that I need to do more with my life.

Once again, I fully realize that I’m not the only one who has these problems with perfectionism and self-disapproval. It’s something that affects those with or without autism-related disorders, including those without any disorders at all. All the same, I have a good feeling that those somewhere on the autism spectrum likely struggle with it more than “neurotypical” individuals do. It may have something to do with our troubles with executive functions, how we tend to interpret what other people say, or perhaps the way we grew up as children. In any case, I think it’s very important for all of us to be aware just how critical and nit-picky we can be toward ourselves – far more than most people are in our lives. I, for one, am currently trying my best to abandon my perfectionist way of thinking, and adopt a more encouraging, more relaxed way of looking at things. I believe that many others out there, Aspergers or not, may want to consider doing this as well.

All the time in the world… and it’s never enough

I wish to start this post off by acknowledging that I actually don’t have that much on my daily schedule, at least compared to many others my age. Aside from duties at work and academic assignments, there really isn’t anything else that I have to worry about on a regular basis. Indeed, for the most part, the only two big responsibilities that require my attention are schoolwork and my current job. Therefore, I usually have a huge amount of free time on my hands.

Despite this fact, I often find it very difficult to accomplish all the things I want to accomplish throughout the day. For a number of reasons (that I will mention later), it feels like I hardly ever have the right amount of time to get enough work done. Indeed, even though I probably have a lot more free time than most other people, managing my time efficiently is still a major challenge for me.

In last week’s post, “What do I do? What ‘should’ I do,” I said how I sometimes get “stuck” because I cannot decide what to do when I have so much to worry about at once. One of the main reasons for this, I explained, was that I have trouble acquiring sufficient time to complete all of the tasks that I would like to complete. As I promised in that post, I will now go into more detail explaining what this problem entails, including why it exists.

To give a reliable summary of the issue: when I’m given a large number of school assignments, personal responsibilities, or casually suggested activities to do, I will unlikely be able to secure the right amount of time to execute a lot of these tasks in a single day. Put much more simply, there just isn’t enough hours in a day to for me to accomplish an amount of work that I can be satisfied with. As a result, what I can get done that day is fairly limited, and I’m frequently disappointed with how little I was able to complete. This is made much worse when I notice that others around me are getting a lot more done than I am, including fellow students, friends, and family members.

There are multiple factors that contribute to this time management problem, some of which have been touched upon in previous blog posts. Firstly, I am only able to be fully productive for about 9-10 hours during the day because I have to take medication in order to be stay moderately focused as well as disciplined. The meds take about an hour to take effect in my body, and they wear off about 9 or 10 after I take them. This means that I cannot be at all productive in the early morning or in the evening; so late-night studying or reading is not for me.

Secondly, even while the medications are active in my body, I still have a lot of difficulty concentrating on the tasks that I need to be engaged in. I can’t help but be continuously distracted by my own thoughts about miscellaneous topics and by my obsessions with things like rock music, Nintendo games, and political controversies. As much as I try not to, I will inevitably waste an hour or more of my time lost in thought or reading “triggering” comments online (See “My Aspie obsessions over the years”).

Thirdly, there are a number tasks that take slightly longer for me to complete than they do for most people. I’m not sure if this is mostly due to my Asperger Syndrome, my Attention Deficit Disorder, or something else, but I normally require an extra amount of time to finish certain activities, such as reading, studying, exam-taking, cleaning, waking up in the morning, making decisions, and recovering from a workout.

Fourthly, if I have so many responsibilities to tackle at once, then, as explained in my previous post, I will become frozen with anxiety and worry myself to death. This, obviously, takes away a massive chunk of time that could be used to complete some of the tasks on my to-do list, thus adding more to my severe frustration. So this means that my problems with knowing what I should do in these situations and my problems with time management are reciprocal; they each cause the other issue to get worse and worse.

This is all essentially why my daily schedule, from an objective point of view, does not include a lot of responsibilities or hobbies. Just like with everything else, if I was able to be productive for much longer, stay more focused on my tasks, and get things done slightly faster, then time management wouldn’t so much of a problem. I could then occupy myself with far more productive activities, from volunteering at a local animal shelter to finishing the video games that I bought 3 months ago. Plus, I wouldn’t have to worry about being so incredibly stressed out whenever I have numerous responsibilities at once. As always, I hope that as time goes on, I will get slightly better at managing my daily schedule, allowing me to feel much more productive as a person.