Guest Post by Alix Adair (they/them)
I didn’t eat peanut butter from August 2020 to August 2021.
I wanted to, but I couldn’t, because the doctor I saw in August 2020 in order to get started on testosterone told me that it was just like eating lard, and I was nauseated even thinking about eating peanut butter for an entire year after that.
I grew up mostly vegetarian, and so peanut butter is one of the ways I get protein when it’s too hard for me to eat meat. I’m autistic, so the textures and smells–all the sensory aspects–of food can be really hard to overcome. There’s a stereotype that autistics are all incredibly picky eaters, and it’s not altogether wrong.
But there’s medical data to suggest that it’s not just being picky–that some foods don’t ping in our brain as “food,” the way that the foods we consider safe do. I have a friend who absolutely cannot put eggs with ketchup in her mouth. Her brain doesn’t think it’s food, and her body will react as if she tried to eat cardboard.
I’m that way with, unfortunately in Alberta, steak. Yes, I’ve tried it. Yes, I’ve tried it cooked by a very good cook. Yes, I’ve tried it at that great restaurant. I have spit it out every single time. That’s not food, and I can’t convince myself that it is.
So when I found a doctor who was well-versed in queer healthcare who ALSO clocked me as autistic at our first meeting, I really thought I’d hit the jackpot. He told me to go ahead and fidget while we talked, and not to worry about eye contact. He explained everything he did before he did it, and asked me if I was comfortable first.
It seemed rational enough when he asked me if I’d had any noticeable weight gain or loss in the past year. This is a question I feel like it’s within the bounds of good medical practice to ask, like, “is your body doing the normal thing that your body does, or are unusual things happening to you?”
We were mid-pandemic and I’m twitchy on a good day, so I allowed as how I’d lost about ten pounds out of sheer anxiety. He congratulated me and said, “Well, hey, at least you’re losing weight!”
And that’s how you lose my trust in a nanosecond, folks, because I had absolutely nothing to say to that.
I was half my size in high school, starving and miserable. I love and respect this body now and feed it the things it asks for when I can. My anxiety can cut my list of safe foods down to protein shakes and Diet Coke when it gets really bad, but my partner makes sure I take vitamins and stay hydrated, and if I need chicken nuggets, I always get them. My blood pressure is always perfectly normal, as is my cholesterol, and I’ve never been at risk for diabetes or any weight-related conditions.
Side note: AND IF I WERE, that would not be a reason to disrespect me or shame me. Bodies come in every size and shape, and health is not guaranteed. Being in a fat body is like being in a trans body: it suddenly becomes the reason for everything wrong with you, from chest pains to a broken leg. Doctors will ignore everything to focus on weight, and people die from not getting the diagnoses they need.
I think I said something like “Yeah, I try to get food in my body when I can, you know, it’s hard.” And he must have asked what kinds of things I eat, because that’s when I brought up peanut butter. I tuned out the entire lecture about the “natural” kind of peanut butter being the only kind of peanut butter that it’s okay to eat, because after he said that regular peanut butter is just like lard, it was the only thing I could think about. For a year.
My testosterone prescription ran out last week, so I contacted the doctor. He hadn’t seen me in over a year, so he wanted to have an appointment first. And here’s where I’m really proud of myself, because I told him in writing that if I ever do see him again, it will be with the agreement that he is not to discuss weight or food with me at all. And I told him about the peanut butter.
If you think he apologized for taking away one of my safe foods, you probably have a fantastic doctor. Do everything you can to keep them. He insisted that I had completely misunderstood and that NATURAL peanut butter was fine and perfectly safe to eat! I should go eat some today!
SIR I AM AUTISTIC, and you know that. I heard you the first time, but I haven’t changed brands of peanut butter since moving to Canada in 2014. We get the big jar of Kraft with the blue stripe for low sugar, the one our dogs can fit their heads inside when it’s almost gone.
That’s when he started sputtering that he doesn’t actually know that much about autism and food, and thanked me for the learning experience.
I am not here to be your learning experience.
You are supposed to help keep me healthy, not make what I already struggle with worse.
Last week a friend of mine (they/them pronouns) took their five-year-old (she/they pronouns) in for a routine checkup and was told, “Well, at least she’s in school now and can be running around and losing some of that weight.”
They’re FIVE. They’re healthy and active and eat a wider range of foods than I do.
She is not here for you to comment on her body. She has strong muscles and a body that is capable of lots of things.
The rage I felt when I heard that someone wanted her to be smaller already… My friend will not be returning to that pediatrician. They’re going to protect their kid, instead. They’re going to continue to encourage a healthy, positive relationship with food and movement. They’re not going to put their five-year-old on a diet. And that’s why they’re one of my best friends.
It really starts that early. I have to wonder if the pediatrician would have been as concerned if my friend’s kid were a boy. I have to wonder if I’d have been dragged along to all of my mother’s weight loss meetings as a teenager if I’d been a boy, sitting there among the middle-aged women who just looked like normal middle-aged women, worried that fruit had too much sugar in it and denying themselves bananas because they cost twice as many points as apples. I wonder if I’ll hear less diet culture and body-shaming nonsense now that it’s harder to look at me and figure out what gender I am.