Eating noises.. uuh!
March 11, 2009 6:33 PM   Subscribe

I wonder how common being irritated at eating related noises are, and if anyone has advice on how to get over it? I'm hugely irritated by the noise of someone eating, licking, sipping, chewing etc etc, sometimes to the point where I leave the room. There's really no defence to my annoyance, it's probably just the result of being brought up to not make food noises. In particular, I live with someone who likes to eat yoghurts, scrape the bottom of the tub loudly, constantly licking the spoon with a *smack* and then cleaning the thing out with her finger.... uhhhhh...

Any advice on how I could get over this? I'm not really irritated by other noises of the sort, and I don't want to expect people to eat quietly for my sake. Mental tricks? Mantras? Become a Buddhist monk??
posted by hannahlambda to Human Relations (44 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
For what it's worth, I'd outlaw chewing gum if I was master of the universe. Between those sounds and folks that sniffle/hork their snot, you've got surefire torture methods for me. Add in a flu season and people that cough loudly and often in an open-plan office and I retreat to my cone of silence often.

The best advice I can give that has worked for me is to talk to the people doing whatever it is bothering you - it helps to humanize them instead of keeping them as an oracle of seething hate in your mind.
posted by kcm at 6:36 PM on March 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

For massive exposure/desensitization therapy, move to an Asian country for awhile?

Any time I have a background noise that's bothering me that I can't get away from, I notice it but don't let myself fixate on it-- observing your own breath or attending to anything else (the TV program you're watching together, the texture of the pages on the book you're reading, etc.) can help, but it takes practice. If you try not to think about it, it's like, "Try not to think of a pink alligator"...what mental image immediately springs to mind?

What you describe sounds kind of gross, though-- could you make a joking-serious comment about keeping it down over there, or even just leave the room yourself?
posted by availablelight at 6:40 PM on March 11, 2009

Pink noise wav/mp3 on repeat + earbuds, and I am not kidding. I have a colleague whose chewing I fixate on and which makes me crazy, and pink (or white, YMMV) noise does the job very well.
posted by everichon at 6:43 PM on March 11, 2009

'Mouth noises' are what I call 'em, and they're my nastiest pet peeve. The worst offender of late is the dog, who will sit behind me when he wants to go out and just lick his chops over and over, as loud as he can. Nothing short circuits my anger braintrack quite like that.

You need to find ways to distract yourself when you find your attention zeroed in on someone else's actions like that. Think about seven distinct other things. Take yourself out of the room (even if just in your mind). Use your other senses to neutralize the torture your ears are putting you through—touch something delightful, or bury your nose in a flower. It's so easy to get stuck in an annoyance loop, so easy to let it affect your mood and interactions, and so easy to pop yourself out of it by deliberately forcing your brain on to the next subject. Good luck, and I feel for you.
posted by carsonb at 6:46 PM on March 11, 2009

In my college household we dealt with our yogurt and granola eating, bowl scaping, spoon smacking clicky-jawed resident by heaping scorn on the hapless/oblivious noisemaker and signaling our understanding that he must have been raised by farm animals. Or sometimes but making motorboat and train noises while waving our own spoons around the table.

Good times.

These days I'd probably just try and deal with it. Especially since this sounds like it's your SO and I doubt making a fuss over it is going to have positive effects on the rest of your interaction.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:51 PM on March 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

I suggest you get up and find something to do, unless minute observation of other people eating yoghurts is how you earn a living.
posted by fire&wings at 6:57 PM on March 11, 2009 [3 favorites]

FWIW I struggle with this at times. I also don't enjoy the sound of water flowing or lapping against a shore, or the sound of a dog lapping water.

Sometimes all you can do is try to focus on another noise instead. I think it's a function of being hyperaware of sound, period.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:58 PM on March 11, 2009

Oh wow, I have the exact same "problem".. people crunching food just drives me NUTS!!

and slurping? I could run screaming from a room when I hear unnecessary slurping (and face it, it's always unnecessary!!)
posted by newfers at 7:00 PM on March 11, 2009

A well located and very loud belch is good, then upon seeing the looks that invites just smile and say "Thought it was a competition"
Gum and gum poppers, gum droppers, gum smackers all should be forced to clean sidewalks and theater floors with a small dull blade.
posted by Freedomboy at 7:00 PM on March 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm still trying to train my GF to chew with her mouth closed.
Usually I end up turning up the volume on the TV or stereo.
posted by tresbizzare at 7:00 PM on March 11, 2009

It seems like your noises are more poor manner-related than just plain old eating noises. If this is a significant other, I don't think you'd be totally out of line to address it. If it's just a roommate, you might be better off just leaving the room or putting on your ipod or whatever.
posted by smalls at 7:05 PM on March 11, 2009

Oh god, the sound of swallowing liquid is the worst!

I don't think you have a problem. In this case, I think other people should be more considerate and not act like ravenous hogs while in the presence of others!
posted by Houyhnhnm at 7:12 PM on March 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

My husband seems to need to vacuum soup off his spoon. This creates a large slurping sound. Sometimes, the sound is just a familiar noise, and sometimes it's the edible version of fingernails on a chalkboard. I have learnt that the difference between those times is me, and my mood. If I can't control my irritation, I will make an excuse to eat at another time/place, or create some noise blanketing or as availablelight suggested, focus internally, on something like the sensation within my nostrils, or the feel of the soles of my feet on the floor. This becomes an internal competion with myself, as it is hard to maintain the focus on something so boring. The challenge often overrides my irritation with an external noise.

If it is a sound that ALWAYS bothers you, try
a. desensitisation by over exposure to that noise
b. realise that of all horrible the things a person can do in their life, making eating noises rates way below stealing, lying, murder, violence, gossip, cheating, sarcasm, spitting, unlicensed surgery, poor hygene, using the toilet with the door open, not washing their hands, leaving their dishes until maggots grow, never cleaning the fridge - well, start your own list.
c. earplugs
posted by b33j at 7:13 PM on March 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Stepping back and thinking, "wow, that person must really be enjoying his/her food" helps me feel less irritated.
posted by kookaburra at 7:17 PM on March 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Or think about all the people who don't have food.
posted by sweetkid at 7:27 PM on March 11, 2009

Just to commiserate, here is a Smack the Pony episode that feels the same as you.
posted by small_ruminant at 7:29 PM on March 11, 2009

For me, the worst part of this feeling is the lack of control -- this thing is bothering me and I can't do anything to stop it. That's the advantage of something like earplugs -- even when I don't wear them, I know that I can put them on if I feel like I really need to, and that can make all the difference.

Except that it's not quite reasonable to wear earplugs while eating. So, hopefully my comment will be helpful a) to others who may be annoyed by sounds other than eating, or b) to you if you can work out some other way of feeling a little bit more in control.

Or try drugs. My issues with this stuff went away very quickly when I went on antidepressants (which I did for other reasons).
posted by wyzewoman at 7:30 PM on March 11, 2009

My son has this and I've seen it described as a sensitivity to "soft sounds" and diagnosed as "Misphonia".
posted by mmf at 7:33 PM on March 11, 2009 [3 favorites]

For some reason my comment was deleted.
I'll say it again, in case you didn't read it in time....

I suffer from this terribly, you are not alone. I find two things helpful:
1. I eat at the same time as I don't tend to notice the noise as much.
2. Desensitization. I sometimes force myself to sit and listen to the noises that are the most intolerable. Such as chips.
posted by meerkatty at 7:47 PM on March 11, 2009

Anecdotal data:

When I was in middle school I would go over my friend Matt's house. Matt's older brother Josh had either an allergy or just a nervous habit of sniffling ever minute or so. It would go like this.


Every single time. Body noises can be annoying. If you can, leave the room. If you can't, put in headphones or earplugs.
posted by drjimmy11 at 7:47 PM on March 11, 2009

Lots of noises drive me crazy.Especially paper movememts.
I read (and unfortunately do not have time to add a link) some people are
neurologically more sensetive to noises than others.
Some people are sensitive to touch (some fabrics drive them nuts)
When my bed mate husband is rattling papers and driving me nuts..I ask him in the sweetest way knock it the fuck off.
Many times I wear industrial model wax ear plugs.
posted by Palmerpoodles at 8:01 PM on March 11, 2009

Oh hell yes! You know those Carl's Jr's commericals with the pornographic hamburger slurping? I freak right the fuck out whenever those come on. I cannot adequately articulate how much I detest those ads. I'm not particularly insane in any other noticeable manner, but I will convulse and snap when I'm exposed to audible eating.

I was just about to post a question similar to yours because my son has a chronically congested nose and will not chew with his mouth closed without repeated and constant prompting at every other damn mouthful. I've gone from being Miss Manners to Mommy Dearest at the dinner table.

I haven't yet found a way to overcome my revulsion to mouth noises. When I have the chance, I eat by myself, which is probably the best solution for all involved. So I have no advice, but I wanted to chime in and say you are not alone.
posted by bibliowench at 8:16 PM on March 11, 2009

I'm sensitive to sounds, too (especially clicking! Clicking and flicking and picking their nails! Gad!!!!!). But I'd like to point out that it can be unfair to blame eating sounds on slovenly habits as some people here are doing.

I had a boyfriend who was sensitive to mouth noises and we examined why I supposedly created such noise, and we couldn't find a reason. I don't chew with my mouth open. I don't slurp. Maybe it's my thin cheeks, or maybe my skull is empty and therefore resonates. So please don't assume the noisiness is always rudeness.

My boyfriend's solution was the same as mine when someone nearby is clicking/flicking/fidgeting/biting their nails: leave the area or apply earplugs. I like the foam kind that I can keep in my pocket. If you cut them short, you can wear them without it being obvious and could manage a conversation while filtering out at least some of the eating noise.
posted by PatoPata at 8:41 PM on March 11, 2009

Seriously, I feel it too. Earplugs, white noise, leaving the room - they're all not really possible when it's your partner and you're eating dinner together. It drives me mental too. Teeth clamping down, sniffing, slurping, ugh!!!

Here's what has worked for me:
- background music - softens the offending noise
- when I notice the sounds, I remind myself that I'm annoyed - this sounds weird but sometimes I just have increasing amounts of anxiety about it, without pinpointing the problem. Saying, "you're getting really annoyed about the chewing. But you've reminded her about manners or nosies and she can't always help it, and really, do you want to be the person that can't have a civil meal with your partner? You're just in a particularly bad mood today. At least you have food, each other, a job, etc." Surprisingly getting outside of that "chomp chomp sluuuurp sniff" does make it more bearable.
- I have come clean -- "I know this comes off as slightly crazy but eating sounds drive me bonkers, like literally bonkers... it's not a manners thing so much as a visceral reaction. I'm trying to get over it, but in the meantime, do you think you can try to be a little aware? Music helps me too."

It totally still sucks. Sorry - hope you find something that cures you.
posted by barnone at 8:41 PM on March 11, 2009

Yet again, AskMe makes feel less of a freak. Thank you. No one in my real life has this problem but me.

For previous discussions here, none sadly with any terrifically useful solutions beyond moral support, see here and here.
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:40 PM on March 11, 2009

Just chiming in to say you're definitely not alone in this. I find the extent to which I get annoyed depends on my general mood that day - I am sometimes squicked out to the point of physical trembling, if the day has not been good, and sometimes barely notice the eating noises.

I mitigate it by telling my husband that this is definitely a problem with me, not him, but that I'd appreciate it if he was mindful that I might have to leave the room if the hog-like chomping gets too much.
posted by altolinguistic at 2:04 AM on March 12, 2009

I have a friend who is incredibly "spitty". To make a long story short I basically can't spend time around him because I know there will be spit on me, on my food, I'll be hearing the spit gather as he talks, and if anything is eaten there will be overly involved licking of fingers. Eucch, I feel your pain!
posted by autodidact at 3:03 AM on March 12, 2009

Response by poster: sometimes it's the edible version of fingernails on a chalkboard

That's how I hear the spoon scraping on the yoghurt carton.

The annoyance seems to only happen with certain people, people I know and am around a lot, and once it begins I notice it more and more.

My brother's gf used to sound like a chipmunk eating an apple, like - she'd smack with every little nibble, mouth open, until he began to notice my leaving the room and started gently teased her about it. Thing is, I'm pretty sure she has a bit of a complex about eating manners now around my family, which suuuucks!

The fact that I get irritated only around people I know, in TV watching/conversation/dinner party situations, and generally not around strangers, leads me to think the "earplugs/background noise/ipod" scenarios wouldn't do - I'll practice mindfulness, I like that suggestion. "I'm just annoyed irrationally, she's not a disgusting lout of a slob".

Yet again, AskMe makes feel less of a freak. Thank you.

Anything I can do to help ;) (and ditto).
posted by hannahlambda at 3:57 AM on March 12, 2009

Response by poster: Oh, also, I don't think I could just come out and tell the offending eater the type of reaction I have. Basically, I'd just hate to offend him/her.

I have come clean -- "I know this comes off as slightly crazy but eating sounds drive me bonkers, like literally bonkers... it's not a manners thing so much as a visceral reaction. I'm trying to get over it, but in the meantime, do you think you can try to be a little aware?

How would people react to this? I'm probably too sensitive, but I'd be a bit mortified!
posted by hannahlambda at 4:00 AM on March 12, 2009

I too find loud eating noises hugely distracting plus I hate seeing people eat in public (outside of restaurants, cafes, picnics or other 'normal' locations) plus I am pretty sensitive to odors plus I have a touch of claustrophobia. I ride the #1 twice a day and my personal hell is when public eating happens on a jam-packed subway. I uncontrollably fixate on what sort of criminal would choose to eat his or her digusting meal on the train at rush hour, can they not hear themselves, ohgod why am I trapped smelling grease and please, thinkpiece, stop watching it dribble off the chin ... Nothing distracts me. Obviously, on many occasions, I've gotten off the train and waited for the next one.
posted by thinkpiece at 5:39 AM on March 12, 2009

I couldn't survive the subway without headphones.
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:23 AM on March 12, 2009

Just last night at dinner I experienced this, I wanted to jump out a window

For me its not just the noise; I connect the noise to the activity, it seems like the offenders are always eating so fast and just gobbling down their food, licking the plate and utensils clean, usually with an open mouth.

I always thought it came from growing up in a big family where you have to eat fast to get enough food. Regardless its disgusting.
posted by RajahKing at 6:32 AM on March 12, 2009

Been discussed here before, multiple times. Maybe tagging with "eating noises" might help.
posted by zadcat at 6:39 AM on March 12, 2009

After 10 years of hearing my husband slurp soup like it was an Olympic event and he was America's gold medal contender, I finally snapped and said something. Poor guy could never eat soup around me again. YMMV.

I say leave the area.
posted by agentwills at 6:41 AM on March 12, 2009

How would people react to this? I'm probably too sensitive, but I'd be a bit mortified!

Slurping soup or similar really specific actions by a generally normal eater, I think you could maybe get away with saying something without being totally rude. I've asked people to avoid chewing gum, too, but it's been in the context of work, asking them to refrain from chewing gum through a meeting.

General mouth eating noises or someone like your roommate who eats everything noisily...[shudder]...well, at least you know that you're not alone in your revulsion. I'm afraid my solution has been to just silently judge them and leave the room if possible. It is a little easier to handle if I'm eating at the same time, though.
posted by desuetude at 7:03 AM on March 12, 2009

Thank GOD I'm not a freak - or at least, I'm a freak with lots of company. :)

For me it was my partner (and his kids) eating with their mouths open. I simply asked them to chew with their mouths closed, because I didn't want to see or hear their food. None of them had really been raised with the whole "manners" thing - nobody had literally ever taught them that before. I said it nicely, I said it with a big smile, and I said it probably a few dozen times in a period of a few months. They still slip now and again but for the most part it no longer sounds like I'm eating at the table with cows.
posted by twiki at 8:13 AM on March 12, 2009

Not trying to start a fight, but as a noisy eater I'd laugh at you and see it as a new form of entertainment if you asked me to eat quieter. Slurping my pho is one of the few truly unmitigated pleasures of this world, you should try it!

I used to have the same problem when people played the Grateful Dead or some other horrible music somewhere that I couldn't control and I would bicker with loved ones endlessly about them "making" me listen to something that I hated.

Then I grew up a lot and got over it, realizing it stemmed from my childish and impossible desire to control everything. Maybe it would help if you had fun with it--make fun of the loud eaters that you know if possible, as long as you acknowledge that ultimately it's your problem not theirs.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:09 AM on March 12, 2009

Response by poster: Yeah I totally acknowledge this is my own self indulgent petty faff; I'm not looking for ways to make people shut up, but to find ways to deal with this kind of thing in general.

I suppose this is part of a general quest to become less distracted by the little things - thinking "uuh, rain/honking horn/yoghurt carton" etc is purely negative and puts a drain on a person from day to day. It seems like a wise thing to do to accept these things - am I talking about 'mindfulness'?
posted by hannahlambda at 9:54 AM on March 12, 2009

Oh, also, I don't think I could just come out and tell the offending eater the type of reaction I have. Basically, I'd just hate to offend him/her.

I am so glad you said that. Shaming someone because you have an issue with eating noises is wrong. Walking away, music, ear plugs are all much better options.

And, for the woman with the son who has a chronically congested noise, has he been tested for allergies? If he wasn't congested it would be easier for him to chew with his mouth closed.

I don't have this issue but my husband does. Commercials are worse for him as not only are there the noises but often close up of the mouth. He mutes commercials and walks away when someone is making him crazy while eating.
posted by SuzySmith at 10:35 AM on March 12, 2009

"I know this comes off as slightly crazy but eating sounds drive me bonkers, like literally bonkers... it's not a manners thing so much as a visceral reaction. I'm trying to get over it, but in the meantime, do you think you can try to be a little aware?

How would people react to this? I'm probably too sensitive, but I'd be a bit mortified!

I've done this with 'moonMan. He teases me a bit, but in general he's totally accepting of "it just drives me bats" and doesn't eat crunchy food when he's sitting RIGHT NEXT TO ME or if he does, he understands that it means I'm going to put headphones on. I was nice about it, I framed it just as mentioned here "This has nothing to do with you, it just totally, totally makes me bats." Like I said, I get a tiny bit of teasing, but that's it.

With people you have relationships with (family, friends) simply acknowledging that this makes you crazy, and being able to kind of laugh it off in a "Oh, ha ha, look at my neuroses!" kind of way is a totally reasonable thing. People you don't know so well - coworkers, strangers at parties, that guy you met one time at the thing in the place... yeah, you kind of just have to cope. Eating is one of those things that everyone does and it's way harder to say "Could you stop slurping?" than "Could you stop cracking your knuckles?" Eating is just too personal.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:51 PM on March 12, 2009

For me these sounds are very annoying but they drive some people I know CRAZY, including one relative who won't eat with anyone or be around anyone else who is eating. This condition seems to be an aspect of his OCD which he is being treated for. Possibly seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist to see if this applies to you and what drugs/treatments are available would be useful.
posted by cdc at 10:38 PM on March 12, 2009

Response by poster: Possibly seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist to see if this applies to you

Hm, this is really not serious enough to seek professional or medicinal help. I think it's just a matter of letting go - I think what wyzewoman said about it being an issue of control is interesting.
posted by hannahlambda at 5:31 AM on March 13, 2009

Sorry - should have popped in earlier! As for coming clean - I wouldn't do it with anyone other than close family or partner. But it totally helped with my partner.

Now I don't have these crazy bottled up feelings that will one day explode - and if I get up at dinner to put the radio or music on, she knows what's going on. Sometimes she'll even set the table and choose the music -- I think it somehow made it okay for me to talk about as a generic issue and not with her in particular. Like *I* have this total aversion, and since we eat together 90% of the time, it so happens that she's the one I listen to most of the time.

It helped neutralize the craziness and squirelly-feeling and turned it into more of a general thing that we could work around. But she's also awesome, not jealous or confrontational, and goes with the flow. We have a healthy enough relationship that we can each have our issues without necessarily taking them all personally.

As grapefruitmoon says, being able to laugh it off, and make it a point of conversation, rather than my big, scary neuroses, has been valuable, and actually helps desensitize the power of the irritation itself.
posted by barnone at 11:18 AM on March 13, 2009

This is so funny. I didn't know someone had the same problem as me.. I was just thinking of this earlier..

I always been known as the loner eater.. everytime the family gets together and eats, I'll take mine to the table in the other room and eat alone. Turn on the TV.. finish.. then go back.

So I guess the answer is.. you gotta be a little antisocial and sacrifice it.. cause it won't go away!!

Just have that be 'youre thing'.. like what ur known for.. that person who has to eat alone..

They'll get used to it after a while.
posted by 0217174 at 4:44 PM on March 13, 2009

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