July 6, 2022

Mindfulness Eating with Covid-19 Taste & Smell Disorders

By Brianna Moreland

Mental Health & Wellbeing

You just recovered from Covid-19 and your taste and smell are coming back. To celebrate the comeback of your senses, you decide to go to your favorite restaurant. You order a juicy burger with a side of fries and are so excited to dig in. The waiter brings the food out and you realize something smells off. The once savory-smelling burger kind of smells like trash, but you think your brain is playing tricks on you. You take a big bite of the juicy, warm burger, and all of sudden you spit it out. It tastes like rotting flesh and chemicals. You grab your soda and now that tastes like sewage. 

Your journey with parosmia has begun…

Say Hello to Taste and Smell Disorders

Most people know that Covid-19 can cause loss of taste and smell, and many people regain their senses within a few weeks post-covid. However, there are  a handful of people who suffer from smell and taste disorders post-covid. These disorders are:

  •  Anosmia: loss of smell
  • Hyposmia: reduced smell
  • Parosmia: Distorted smell and taste
  • Phantosmia: Smelling things that are not really present

Living with one or a few of these disorders may cause depression, suicidal thoughts, loneliness, and anxiety. 

The Power of our Senses

Our five senses are important to our well-being as humans. Seeing, smelling, touching, tasting, and hearing help humans enjoy life to the fullest. When one of those senses is taken away or distorted for a long period of time, it can cause one to lose enjoyment, allowing feelings of hopelessness to set in. Senses are connected to memories and memories are what can bring us joy. The smell of a newborn is what most moms long for. If you can no longer smell your newborn, it can be depressing. Currently, there is no cure for these taste and smell disorders, besides being patient for your olfactory nerves to heal, which can last for a few years. I believe learning to practice mindfulness eating can help ease the emotional turmoil when waiting for these disorders to heal themselves. 

So What is Mindfulness Eating?

Mindful eating is an approach that focuses on individuals’ sensual awareness of food and their experience of the food. The key is focusing on your food moment by moment without judgment. Dealing with these disorders may cause anger and sadness, so the goal is to approach your food without judgment. No matter how it smells or tastes, you want to learn to accept it how it is. Here is an exercise for you to try by Jon Kabat Zinn, the “Raisin Meditation”

  1. Holding: First, take a raisin and hold it in the palm of your hand or between your finger and thumb.
  2.  Seeing: Take time to really focus on it; gaze at the raisin with care and full attention—imagine that you’ve just dropped in from Mars and have never seen an object like this before in your life. Let your eyes explore every part of it, examining the highlights where the light shines, the darker hollows, the folds and ridges, and any asymmetries or unique features
  3. Touching: Turn the raisin over between your fingers, exploring its texture. Maybe do this with your eyes closed if that enhances your sense of touch
  4. Smelling: Hold the raisin beneath your nose. With each inhalation, take in any smell, aroma, or fragrance that may arise. As you do this, notice anything interesting that may be happening in your mouth or stomach.
  5. Placing: Now slowly bring the raisin up to your lips, noticing how your hand and arm know exactly how and where to position it. Gently place the raisin in your mouth; without chewing, noticing how it gets into your mouth in the first place. Spend a few moments focusing on the sensations of having it in your mouth, exploring it with your tongue.
  6. Tasting: When you are ready, prepare to chew the raisin, noticing how and where it needs to be for chewing. Then, very consciously, take one or two bites into it and notice what happens in the aftermath, experiencing any waves of taste that emanate from it as you continue chewing. Without swallowing yet, notice the bare sensations of taste and texture in your mouth and how these may change over time, moment by moment. Also, pay attention to any changes in the object itself.
  7. Swallowing: When you feel ready to swallow the raisin, see if you can first detect the intention to swallow as it comes up so that even this is experienced consciously before you actually swallow the raisin
  8. Following: Finally, see if you can feel what is left of the raisin moving down into your stomach and sense how your body is feeling after completing this exercise.

This exercise can help you learn step by step to accept the food as it is. When we eat we usually think about the taste and smell, but this exercise helps you focus on seeing, touching, texture, and swallowing. The first few times may be difficult depending on the severity of your disorder so be patient with yourself. If you only can make it to step 3, that is still a win! On the following day repeat those steps until you can make it to step 4. There is no need to rush through all of these steps in one day. Be patient and kind to yourself through this process. 

Tip: You may use a raisin or pick a different food. If you choose a different food, please choose a food that is not your worst trigger. I would recommend making a list of your trigger foods and rating them on a scale of 1-5, 5 being the absolute worst and 1 being the best. Pick a food somewhere between 1-2 your first time. Eventually, you can work your way up to a number 5.

If you are ready to learn more about approaching your food in a non-judgmental way, please reach out today to see a therapist here at Optimum Joy!

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