Parosmia can be very difficult to live with. Lots of food will be unpalatable, particularly in the early stages. What you can tolerate will change over time which also makes it difficult to plan meals. We call foods that set off that disgust response 'trigger' foods. Triggers are different for everyone, and different over time which is why we encourage experimenting. You will also start to identify some foods that you can rely on: we call these 'safe' foods.
Here are some tried and tested ways to deal with parosmia, from people who have been through it.
A sudden change in the way foods taste is a shock. Many people find these early days very intense, and smells will make you gag and even vomit. Be kind to yourself and don't force yourself to eat anything unpleasant. Flavour-free protein shakes such as Huel or even ice-cream will help you get some basic calories when it's really tough. Don't worry about a balanced diet just now, this doesn't last for ever and you'll soon feel able to try other things again.
Cooking food - particularly meat dishes - is a really common trigger. The temperature of what you're eating can make a real difference; roasting turkey may have you running from the kitchen, but cold turkey slices could be fine.
Instead of roasting in the oven or grill, try slow-cooking or pressure-cooking. The trigger molecules are less volatile with these cooking methods.
In the ‘bland and bold’ strategy, you need to identify two types of food to help you to tolerate meals and find foods that you can eat.
‘Bland’ foods are bases that you can eat that don’t have a strong odour to you – meals can be built on these, and it’s a useful tool to have these safe foods.
‘Bold’ foods are stronger flavours that work for you to cover up unpleasant smells. Some people find that cinnamon helps, or hot sauce. Finding something that works for you (and this may change over time) may help you to make a meal tolerable.
This is a strategy developed by a chef with parosmia, Carol Shadford, as a way to play with food ‘safely’.
In this, you prepare small portions of several different foods. One or two are ‘safe’ foods that you know that you can eat, and the others are foods to experiment with. You then test out different proportions of each food within mouthfuls – some with more of the ‘safe’ foods, some with less. This allows you to experiment with portion size, and to find foods that work for you.
Eating is a complete sensory experience. Sometimes focusing on elements other than flavour can help. Try using different coloured plates. Go for texture and sound or even try finger food to bring the other senses into play.
Chrissi Kelly and Dr Duika Burges-Watson discuss these strategies in detail in a webinar available on AbScent's YouTube channel.
As well as the tips shared in our webinar, we encourage you to join our Facebook group for people with parosmia – these are a great source of support, advice and tips, and just people who ‘get it’.
The AbScent Network has a topic group sharing 'safe foods' and recipes.