Editorial Note: The author of this inspirational piece, David Thomas, passed away shortly after submitting this article to Dysphagia Cafe. In the brief time I worked with him, he demonstrated a great passion for sharing his story in hopes of providing a source of light to others living with dysphagia. May his life, memory and the motivations behind this article be a blessing to millions!
Needing a wheelchair hasn’t stopped me from camping and traveling. Extreme muscle weakness hasn’t prevented me from working and participating in sports. Dysphagia won’t get in the way of my enjoyment of food. Here’s how I became the Chewless Foodie.
FROM THE BEGINNING
I was brought into this world by my amazing parents back in 1974. There was really nothing unusual about my birth. The doctors had no clues that there might be something wrong with me until I was a little bit older. Once my Dad noticed that I didn’t kick or fuss about like most other babies do he figured something must be wrong. My parents took me to the doctor and they were told that I had Spinal Muscular Atrophy.
I was raised like any other child even though I had a disability. My Mom and Dad got me involved in bowling, Boy Scouts and wheelchair soccer. They always encouraged me to try new things, especially food. I fondly remember going to my Mom’s best friend’s house for lunch. She was from India.
Rachel never let her swallowing difficulties get in the way of her enjoying the taste of food.
We would enjoy her rotis, spicy curries and other authentic Indian dishes. Occasionally I would think some food looked or sounded gross. My Dad would make me try it. He would always tell me that I had to try the food before I could say that I didn’t like it. I now appreciate his lesson because it has made me open to experimenting with food and keeping an open mind.
Pureed food was the one thing I could not stand to eat during my childhood. I remember crying when I had to eat blended hospital food. Any pureed food I had tried was always mushy and tasteless. Even porridge was a terrible breakfast experience for me. Fortunately my chewing and swallowing was not a problem when I was young. This allowed me to experience all types of flavours and textures of various ethnic cuisines.
MY INSPIRATION FOR ENJOYING BLENDED FOOD
I began going to a group home occasionally for respite care when I was a teenager. Living with other teens who had various neuromuscular disorders was great for me. I enjoyed my time there and I learned a lot being around people who were going through similar problems like myself. One thing I learned was how to enjoy pureed food.
There was one resident, Rachel, who was unable to eat any solid food. She was on a tube feed for most of her nutrition but she had a similar love of food as I did. Rachel’s food had to be thoroughly blended and then strained so there were absolutely no lumps. I remember being amazed that she would eat everything that the rest of us ate.
Rachel never let her swallowing difficulties get in the way of her enjoying the taste of food. I remember her sucking the flavour out of potato chips, corn chips and cheese puffs. One time I stayed at the group home, we went out for dinner. I remember we asked the waiter if they could puree her meal and strain it.
If anyone asks, “Is it possible to eat only blended food and yet be a foodie?” I am living proof that the answer is YES!
He said that would not be a problem. I don’t remember what she ordered but I remember that they pureed her meal beautifully. There were no lumps and they had even drizzled some cream on top to make a nice, artful presentation. Occasionally we would get take out from McDonald’s and she would even eat a hamburger and fries! One day I was curious and I asked her how she made her pureed burger taste good. Her answer was “Lots of sauce.”.
Those experiences prepared me for my current life with Dysphagia. I live by the “lots of sauce” rule now that I am having difficulty swallowing and need to blend my food. I find that blending food removes its texture and its flavour. Adding extra sauce solves the flavour problem for me.
WHERE I’M AT TODAY
I’m currently somewhere between a National Dysphagia Diet (NDD) Level 1 and Level 2 diet. This means the extra sauce also helps my swallowing because the additional moisture helps my weakened muscles push the food down. My lessons from the group home, hours of watching cooking shows and my willingness to experiment have allowed me to keep my diet interesting.
I recently joined some Dysphagia support groups on Facebook and I noticed that a lot of people were looking for meal options besides soups and shakes. I thought maybe I could start a blog that featured some of my favourite recipes. This was how I came up with The Chewless Foodie.
THE CHEWLESS FOODIE
The Chewless Foodie started in August 2017. Since then I have posted 8 recipes and have many more on the way. I plan to write about some of my personal experiences living with Dysphagia; like dining out, going on trips, eating at the office and more. The Chewless Foodie is a passion of mine, but it wouldn’t be possible without the help of my personal care attendant. She makes all of my food ideas come to life and helps me take all of the photos. Between the two of us, The Chewless Foodie will continue to grow.
Working on The Chewless Foodie has already taught me a lot. Even though I have had a couple of swallowing studies and seen a few Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs) in my life, I feel like I have learned more about Dysphagia in the past few months. Taking pictures of some of my food has made me realize that I need to work on my presentation. I look forward to learning more and improving The Chewless Foodie as we continue to grow.
I hope that The Chewless Foodie will become a valuable resource for people with Dysphagia, from the perspective of someone who has Dysphagia. Unfortunately, I lack the medical knowledge of most of the other sites for those with Dysphagia, but I hope my years of experience will help people enjoy their meals again. If anyone asks, “Is it possible to eat only blended food and yet be a foodie?” I am living proof that the answer is YES!