help me stop hating food-sounds
January 3, 2004 5:50 PM   Subscribe

How to loose a serious pet peeve: Seeking advice on dealing with food noise issues [more inside]

Certain noises annoy me to the point of distraction, mostly eating related noises, also crinkling bags, etc. I become focused on the noise and distracted from other things (like a friendly dinner time conversation, or the details of a movie I'm watching). It makes me frustrated, annoyed, and generally less fun to be around. It bugs my wife and I, enough so that I consciously avoid situations like this, or do other things to compensate. I've been coping for 20 some years, now I'm motivated to do something about it.

I've addressed this in 'talking cure' style therapy, but not too much avail. I've considered wearing earplugs to the dinner table. I've found next to nothing regarding this as a specific issue via google.

I've discussed this with an ENT and an audiologist. It's not deafness or frequency sensitivity according to my audiogram. ENT says that this would be a 'central processing' issue, and that the only recourse is 1-2 years of reconditioning therapy. Basically -- "Buck up, get over it."

Various folks have mentioned to me that this is indicative of ADD/ADHD or related issue. I wouldn't necessarily disagree, but other regards I function well.

I've also briefly looked at the work of Dr. Tomatis, who's promises sound very suspiciously too good to be true, and the "curative" mechanism doesn't make any sense to me. I'm skeptical.

At this point, I'm considering hypotherapy, or addressing it as an ADD/ADHD issue.

Basically, my questions are:
Anybody else experience something similar to this degree (or more)?
Ever found anything that helps?
Thoughts on ADD/ADHD therapy or the Tomatis folks?
Other ideas?
posted by daver to Human Relations (24 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Is it just the sound of someone chewing and swallowing their food, or does the sound of cutlery and the like annoy you also? I'm similar to you, I think, but only when I hear the sound of someone chewing - it enrages and sickens me. I always turn the television or the stereo on when I am eating with someone else, as classless as that sounds.

People should learn to eat quietly. I'm not about to change.
posted by malpractice at 6:01 PM on January 3, 2004

the only bit of advice i have is to tell you that you can function well with adhd -- are you fidgety otherwise?

i wasn't diagnosed with adhd until i was an adult, and it made sense with the nervous energy and fidgeting i'd been dealing with my whole life. i never was a "classic" adhd case, ie, a hyperactive child. last i heard there are different types of adhd, of which you may have one.

i chose to deal with my condition with medication, and it has improved my life immesurably. i have no direct knowledge of psychiatric therapy for adhd, so i'm not sure what advice to give you there.

i hope this helps. good luck with whatever you choose to do.
posted by sugarfish at 6:03 PM on January 3, 2004 [1 favorite]

Well, as an adult who was diagnosed with ADHD in his early teens, I can say that it is possibly a manifestation of the problem, but if the noises you describe are the only manifestation I'd look elsewhere. While a stimulant like methylphenidate may ameliorate the problem, I wouldn't recommend it since you say that in all other respects you function well.
In my case, without medication just about anything can distract/annoy me, but it is universal, not specific to one group of noises. To me it sounds more like an anxiety type reaction, though why these sounds would provoke it I don't know. Does eating/food in general hold any unpleasant associations? You may simply be hyper alert at meals due to some early experience(s), if you are unconsciously listening for one sound, all the others could easily grow overwhelming.
At any rate, in the absence of any other AD(H)D symptoms, I would discount that as the explanation. Though I am not a doctor, and this is based only on my experience with the illness.
Again, it sounds like an anxiety type problem, one that may be treatable with a antidepressants such as Paxil, Zoloft, or even Wellbutrin.
posted by Grod at 6:06 PM on January 3, 2004 [1 favorite]

Everyone's really annoyed by bags crinkling and gum snapping and extra-loud potato chip crunching...does it really stop you from functioning or just irritate you? We're assaulted by noise all day long, and have to tune it out if we can--it sounds to me that maybe a different kind of therapist can teach you tricks to help--there are goal-directed, short-term practical ones that specialize in this kind of thing.
posted by amberglow at 7:12 PM on January 3, 2004

Daver, I'm not trying to scare you but that is a symptom I have to deal with periodically as a person with bipolar disorder. The noises of people chewing and eating, of a dog lapping water-heck, the sound of waves lapping on the shore or a bubbling brook for that matter-all have the potential of driving me absolutely ape crap. Fortunately these symptoms come and go, but when I am in that mode it is torture. Like nails on a chalkboard.

Sit down with your wife and discuss any other types of symptoms you may be having, like sleep problems or periods of overwhelming irritation, etc. You indeed may have a form of adult ADD or some other condition that medication could help with. If you come up with anything, or if you simply want to leave no stone unturned, find a decent psychiatrist (they do mostly meds now, not lie-back-on-the-couch-and-tell-me-about-your-mother.) He or she may be able to sort this out, or at the very least point you in a direction that will help.
posted by konolia at 7:54 PM on January 3, 2004 [1 favorite]

Sounds like those you describe, daver, trigger hallucinations from my psychosis. Whoda Thunkit that someday I would be taking a drug to stop hallucinations? Heheh.
posted by mischief at 8:13 PM on January 3, 2004

In line with some of the other comments, it's possible that you have a disorder that may - MAY - be treated with medication. I began taking a small daily dose of Paxil about two years ago, and am MUCH less aggravated by certain things - including noises as you describe - such as long lines in public, heavy traffic, and other places where I have less control than I would like. The Paxil also enabled me to stop stop chewing my fingernails 'till they bled -- for the first time in 20+ years.

Can't hurt to investigate the possibility.
posted by davidmsc at 9:48 PM on January 3, 2004

Response by poster: Any downsides to these types of meds? I'm of the opinion that meds are probably overkill (or that I'll need something for the denial as well. They make that now, right? :-) ), since this isn't disabling. It is, however, serious in that in routinely negatively impacts my life and my families.

Amberglow, I'm interested in the goal oriented folks you mentioned, do you have a buzzword I can use to group them?
posted by daver at 11:41 PM on January 3, 2004

Heh...only one "significant" to put it delicately? Suffice to say that "desire" suffers somewhat.
posted by davidmsc at 11:57 PM on January 3, 2004

I can't stand loud eaters. It makes me want to kill. Unfortunately for me, my total loser younger (adult) brother lives with us (my husband's idea, not mine) and he is about the loudest eater in the world. He just doesn't close his mouth when he chews! He slurps and smacks his lips, and I just want to kill him. Or at least beat him badly enough that he can only eat through a straw. He seems to not notice or care a bit that he's the most annoying person on the entire planet. I think he even does it on purpose. I don't even speak to him because I am so incredibly infuriated with his loud eating and his other generally loutish behavior (slamming the kitchen cabinets, not being careful with mine and my husband's things, etc.). But no one can criticize him at all, because he throws a temper tantrum. It's like living with a giant, violent 4 year old. I want to throw him out, but my husband and my father (who moved in with us when he retired) won't allow it. They think he can't survive on his own, whereas I think if we threw him out on his own, he'd be forced to get a clue and grow the hell up. The other night I had a dream that my brother moved out. I was ecstatic, until I woke up a realized it was just a dream.

For me, the loud eater problem started after I had gastric bypass surgery. I didn't mind other people eating, but I just couldn't STAND the noises they made. As long as I couldn't hear them eating, I didn't care. I was taking Wellbutrin, which a popular book recommends for the particular type of ADD I have, and it didn't really annoy me any less. Loud eating may bother me more than most people, but I still think it's the loud eaters who need to stop being such crass pigs and learn some manners.

As far as drugs, Wellbutrin works really well for me, but didn't do much to help my annoyance with loud eaters. I absolutely would not recommend Paxil to anyone. My husband took it for a short while, and it is very very bad stuff. In addition to what davidmsc talked about, when you stop taking it you get the feeling of electric shocks in your brain.
posted by Shoeburyness at 12:10 AM on January 4, 2004

when you stop taking it you get the feeling of electric shocks in your brain

The severity of these varies greatly, it should be said, and can be reduced significantly by tapering off the dosage over a period of, say, a month. When I finally tapered off, they were annoying for a couple of days, and then they went away. They were more like startle reactions than electric shocks. You know how when you're really tired and everything startles you, you're constantly getting these little adrenaline reactions? Like that, only without being tired, and not quite so severe. For some people they are worse, but if they were that bad for everyone, no doctor would prescribe the drug. Certainly most patients derive therapeutic benefits that far outweigh a couple of days of inconvenience at the end of treatment. So, basically, I'm saying not to rule it out entirely; it helped me a lot, twice, although I was taking it for depression.
posted by kindall at 1:46 AM on January 4, 2004

Just some personal experience here.

My last partner had this problem, quite severely. Any kind of organic people-noise drove her into a rage. More specifically, eating/chewing noise, breathing noise, etc. She could literally hear me blinking on the other side of the house.

As time went on, she grew less and less able to cope with this issue, and was unwilling to seek professional help (due to the 'crazy factor'). Eventually, simple things like going out for coffee, going to a film, or taking public transportation became giant emotional ordeals. Not to mention any kind of intimate contact, or even sleeping in the same bed.

This problem became one of the major stumbling blocks of our relationship, and took away greatly from our quality of life (as I'm sure you can imagine), contributing in no small part to our eventual breakup.

I wish I had some sage words of advice, or a solution to offer those of you having problems -- My only suggestion is to keep looking for a way to deal with it, and not let it escalate to the point where it starts seriously impacting you on a day-to-day basis. Once it gets that far, it might be too late to easily turn things around.
posted by Jairus at 1:57 AM on January 4, 2004 [1 favorite]

There ARE other drugs out there besides the ones that potentially kill your libido. It might be that something like Straterra would work (I tried it and there were no side effects of that nature.)

I really would discuss this with a qualified doctor. If there is a drug free solution, great, but if there isn't, couldn't hurt to be informed.
posted by konolia at 4:37 AM on January 4, 2004

My mom has a similar reaction to noise like the one you describe, but it's not just food/people noise it's all distractive noises. The docs seems to think she has Cyclothymic Personality Disorder which is a big name but my Mom describes it thus "When too many stimuli are in front of me at once, I feel like I have squirrels in my head." Other ways to describe it are like a low-end bipolar disorder, or the sort of creative end to ADHD. In any case, I have some of the same feelings, though not all of them. If a radio is on loud to a talking station and someone tries talking to me, I literally can't hear them because I am focussing all my energy on not leaving the room. When I talk on the phone to my Mom [who really should know better, IMHO] and she starts washing dishes while talking to me, or preparing lunch or whatever, I can't hear her any more. I try to communicate with most people by email because phone calls can get really rough like this. I'm fully and totally distracted by whatever noises are going on. I also can't sleep when someone is breathing loud in my ear, or if the TV is on in another room in the house. In my mind it's the relative level of noises -- I can listen to one loud noise over a soft noise, but not two noises at exactly the same level. Noise literally stresses me out, though it doesn't make me irritable, just instigates an evasion response.

My solutions are usually about limiting the overlap of noises, earplugs at night [and sometimes even earplugs during the day at events where I don't have to listen too much, you can get earplugs that just lower noise levels not eliminate sound and they can be helpful]. I tend to do one of those count-to-ten things where I know the sound overlap will not last too long, and if I'm with friends I'll often just say "I'm a little ADD, can we turn the radio off when we have dinner?" [this is a bit rougher at the dentist where I have the same request but it's not aften met with as much sympathy]. You can also de-stress places that are particularly rough for you [like the kitchen?] with white noise or noise cancelling devices. Sometimes wearing a walkman with a baseline white noise playing can help you drop other noises down to manageable levels and interact with the people you are trying to communicate with.
posted by jessamyn at 7:28 AM on January 4, 2004

daver, I'm almost sure it's called Cognitive-Behavoral therapy: (a friend went thru it, and it worked for her and I've heard all sorts of athletes do it when they have performance problems)A client involved in CB therapy can expect to be engaged by a therapist who focuses upon planning a time-limited process of education, behavioral homework and practical application of what is learned. The CB client will discover that the therapist is supportive and that she or he cares about what happens to the client when therapy ends. Therefore, the CB client will find that the therapist expects active participation in the treatment process, including the time between sessions. The CB client will also learn that the therapist does not hesitate to challenge errors in thinking, unrealistic goals or irrational beliefs. --from here
posted by amberglow at 7:35 AM on January 4, 2004

Cyclothymic disorder actually IS bipolar lite. When I was young they did diagnose it as a personality disorder but later on all the info I have seen is that it is simply a milder form of BP. And actually ADD is either a comorbid condition or sometimes misdiagnosed as BP or vice versa.

What amberglow suggests sounds like a great adjunct to medical treatment, but as someone who personally deals with it I doubt it would help on its own without meds-but it really all depends on WHAT is causing the problem to begin with-and that is why a psych doc visit is in order. IMHO.
posted by konolia at 12:52 PM on January 4, 2004

I was raised to believe that it was poor manners to chew loudly with your mouth open, and I subsequently find people who do so, as well as people who smack their lips incessantly, slurp a lot when they drink, and crinkle foil bags loudly during movies or other like entertainment, to be annoying to absolutely no discernible end. I'll start taking medication for that when I start taking medication for my annoyance over people who talk during movies.
posted by The God Complex at 3:27 PM on January 4, 2004

TGC, it's really a matter of degree here. What I am referring to (and I am assuming daver as well) are normal noises that usually don't bother anyone else.
posted by konolia at 4:07 PM on January 4, 2004

Boy, wow, this is a very imformative thread. Loud chewing drives me bonkers. It doesn't even have to be loud--eating noises in general driver me crazy--particularly the scrape of teeth on a fork. Sniffing or coughing irritates the heck out of me, too, if it persists for more than a minute or two. If I'm in an an enclosed space with some one who is sniffing or chewing loudly (say, riding in the car with some one who has a cold and is slurping on a cough drop), I feel like a caged animal. I can't think about anything else until the noise stops. I've left fingernail marks on the steering wheel in an attempt not to say something mean to the poor person next to me who just has a stuffy nose and can't help it.

Similarly to jessamyn, too much noise in a given space is very distracting to me as well. I have a very difficult time dealing with the TV on in one room and the radio on in another, or TV or radio alone turned up too loud. I've always had a problem with very crowded spaces, and reading your description, jessamy, I'm wondering if it's the noise of the crowd that gets to me.

I don't find these irritations debilitating, but they are distracting to a point that I wonder if there's something I can do about it on my end. While I'd like the rest of the free world to chew with their mouths closed, the odds of that happening are slim. Wandering through a room full of people who are sniffing, smacking gum, coughing, scraping their teeth on their fork, watching TV really loud, and listening to the radio at the same time without wanting to jump out a window to MAKE IT STOP would be a nice, pleasant change. I don't think it warrants medication, but I'm intrigued by the CBT that amberglow mentioned. Daver, if you try it, I'd love an email on how it went.
posted by jennyb at 6:23 AM on January 5, 2004

Oh my god. I'm practically weeping here to find out I'm not alone.

For me, it's gum and very specifically gum. I simply cannot stand to hear someone chewing it, and let's not even get to popping it. I don't like watching someone chew it either, but it's the noise that gets me homicidal. "Like a caged animal" - bingo!
It sounds ridiculous, but it's become a serious life issue. I hate taking public transportation because half the train or bus is chewing away. Getting a new job, which I want, is a problem because my line of work involves sitting with lots of people - and someone's always chewing - and right now I lucked into my own office, which is not something I could expect if I switched jobs. I've trained my friends, but going to the movies can be hell if someone near me is cracking their gum. When I take planes, I always have a walkman to "protect myself."

I don't have any ADD or any other weird symptoms. I believe in my case it must stem from a day I remember vividly as a child when I came home chewing gum and my mom went psycho on me and made me throw it out. She really scared me and I think it has to be that.
But knowing it doesn't seem to help. I have to say, knowing I'm not alone does at least make me feel less freakish!
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:05 PM on January 5, 2004

I can't stand when people are either eating potato chips or snapping gum (or even just chewing loudly). Both sounds make me want to crawl out of my skin. I started a new job a few months ago and in the cubicle next to me the woman does both. Daily.

I honestly thought it was just me, I didn't realize there were other people with the same....umm...'affliction'.
posted by kelrae3 at 6:42 AM on January 6, 2004

It's believed that part of the problem with schizophrenic's brain chemistry is a lack of filter, which results in not being able to stop paying attention to sights/sounds which are easily ignored by others. While I am not schizophrenic, I've joked with friends and family for years about my "broken filter" - it's there, but it doesn't work so well. It seems reasonable that it's a brain chemistry problem, rather than just an annoying personality quirk. The linked article suggests that nicotine may have a moderating effect - not that I want anyone to start smoking - but maybe there is other newer research that identifies other chemical solutions.

Food noises are really unpleasant for me (especially commercials that emphasize the "crunch" noise the product makes), and I am terrible at large, chatty parties because I can't attend to the conversation in front of me exclusively. I'm really grateful to find that I'm not the only one.
posted by donnagirl at 8:27 AM on January 6, 2004

I've been watching this thread with interest as well. Over the years I've begun to wonder if I was insanely oversensitive, or an intolerant jerk, or what. I've had office neighbors that crunched pretzels, gnawed on apples, slurped coffee, snapped gum and yammered on their speakerphones all day long and it made me so crazy I was almost non-functional. And I'd love to get my hands on the person who first thought it was a good idea to sell popcorn at movies theaters -- AUGH!

I'd hate to have to medicate myself just because other people are obnoxious slobs, but it's indeed nice to know I'm not alone in my frustration.
posted by Tubes at 10:52 AM on January 6, 2004

I'd also like to kill the popcorn at the movies inventor. And now it's nachos too!

FYI - I'm a smoker so that's no solution.
posted by CunningLinguist at 4:54 PM on January 6, 2004

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