repetitive eating

i started seeing a dietician a few months ago, from the lovely local organization FoodSavvy. she was great (and the only reason i’m not still seeing her is that paying $90 for a 30 minute chat sends me to hell, and I would rather spend that $90 on food, which i think she would wholeheartedly agree with) and as a result i’ve had to do a lot of reflecting on the ways i eat lately: the ways i used to restrict my eating, the things i want to eat if left to my own devices, how i want to eat.

for the most part, there’s nothing wrong with the way i want to eat. i like big portions, i love strong flavors, i prefer savory foods to sweet ones. Also, one time i poisoned myself with my breakfasts?

before i talk about the mild poisoning incident i need to break down what leads me to call this post “repetitive eating” and why it works really well for me. like everyone, i’m a complex critter — i need a mix of newness and familiarity in my life. i love spontaneous events, but i want underlying structure. i really like to know *roughly* what i’m going to eat today, but with the possibility for unexpected twists!

breakfast is the meal with which i most struggle to be spontaneous. i’ve just gotten up and slammed a handful of random pills, i’m drinking some old fashioned lemonade, i’m hungry and i need food. Right now, the solution is this: every day I get up and have a toasted bagel with cream cheese. Easy. Done.

a few years back, i had a slightly different solution: every day I get up and have a cheap bread roll with chicken liver pate.

Breton Cracked Pepper Pate, a delicious, smooth pate lightly spiced with cracked peppercorns.
Breton was my preferred brand, in these dark times

this was ideal for me for a few reasons. first, i really, really like chicken liver pate. (i’m going vegetarian now, which is going to need to be a whole ‘nother post, but it was the farthest thing from my mind at that time.) this means that i’m enthused to get up for breakfast, which gets me out of bed.

secondly, i can easily buy a pack of eight cheap bread rolls, and my breakfasts are sorted for a week! a thing of pate can last two weeks or longer (this will come up again later).

finally, it requires no cooking and minimal assembly: rip open the bread roll, slather on some pate, put in mouth. at the time i had four flatmates other than my wife, and we all shared the kitchen in the mornings, so it was great to be in-and-out quickly.

unfortunately, there were also… consequences.

Consequence The First was that i actually liked chicken liver pate a little *too* much. this meant that if it got me out of bed for breakfast, sometimes when lunchtime rolled around i’d be like “hey, what if i have chicken liver pate on a bread roll… AGAIN?” usually, the moderating force of My Wife prevented me from pulling the same trick for dinner, but on nights she was away there was a decent risk of Pate All Day.

this led directly into Consequence The Second. it turns out you totally can eat too much chicken liver pate.

my understanding of what pate contains was pretty limited, but at the time i started eating this for breakfasts, i joked often that i was going to give myself gout, the disease of kings. people can and do get gout in the modern day era, though usually there are underlying metabolic health issues that contribute to it rather than simply loving pate.

after a few merry months of these breakfasts, something else happened: every day, a few hours after my pate, i would start getting migraines. sometimes these were the classical “shooting head pain” migraines, but more often my migraines, when i have them, take the form of freaky neurological side effects that are not immediately identifiable as headache-related. riding the bus one morning, i became so dizzy i had to tuck my head between my legs for the entire trip. often i felt like i was being swirled around in a big glass of something, or being picked up and shaken. lights hurt and so did sounds.

“maybe it’s the pate,” my beautiful wife suggested one day as i tucked my head between my knees at home.

“IT’S NOT THE FUCKING PATE,” i replied immediately, because i really, really like chicken liver pate and i didn’t want to have to eat something else.

aged foods, like fermented veggies, strong cheeses, beers, and cured meats (including — yes! — pate), contain this funky thing called tyramine. for most people, in most situations, tyramine is not really a problem; careful storage and production of foodstuffs in the modern era has meant that the stuff you buy in the store does not contain levels of tyramine that cause issues. the only people who really have to know anything about tyramine are people who take medications in a class called MAOIs, which can screw up your body’s ability to handle it. i was not on any MAOIs so the thought never crossed my mind.

the thing is, something like aged liver actually does have quite a lot of tyramine in it compared to foods that people will be eating every day. and the longer that aged liver stays open — like, say, for a few weeks in the fridge, because you’re being so frugal and just having a sliver of it on your bread rolls in the morning — the more tyramine builds up. and if you then start to eat it for two or even three meals a day, because life is hard, you’re suddenly having a lot of tyramine. this is a migraine trigger and can also cause problems with blood pressure and other weird neurological symptoms.

i didn’t know any of this, so i was sitting down to my delicious Sandwich of Migraines every morning and then going about my day nearly passing out, getting jostled around in God’s clenched fist, wondering why life was so hard these days, and in fact it’s too hard to think about lunch or dinner so maybe i should just eat another Sandwich of Migraines?

anyway, i went to a doctor who was like “oh my god, stop doing that” and then i stopped doing that. surprisingly, all the symptoms of tyramine poisoning went away when i stopped eating ridiculous quantities of it. i still miss my pate on bread sandwich…