When I Lost My Sense of Taste to Covid, Anorexia Stepped In

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I found myself relating to one of Ben & Jerry’s founders, Ben Cohen, who has very little sense of taste and no sense of smell. When he and his partner, Jerry Greenfield, were developing their signature ice cream in the 1970s, anosmia-stricken Ben advocated for chunks. He became the texture taster, the one who would determine if teeth could be satisfied even when the tongue could not. After three small spoonfuls, I put the ice cream back in the freezer, not allowing myself to have any more.

There are often competing forces at play in my recovery; the healthy side of me that recognizes I need to eat more and wants to indulge in foods I enjoy, and the old eating disorder that tells me I shouldn’t.

The next day, family friends dropped off a homemade broccoli and cheese casserole, coloring books for my kids and a dozen bags of groceries filled with food we like to eat: cinnamon raisin bagels, red grapes, smoothie mixes and more. I wanted nothing more than to enjoy the home-cooked meal, which looked like something my mom would have made. I ate some of it, but not enough.

As our symptoms subsided and our two-week quarantine ended, I started to see the effects of eating too little. I could see it in my slightly sunken-in cheeks, could feel it in the contours of my hip bone, could hear it in my stomach, which groaned in the dark of night. I took a photo of myself and recognized I was too thin. My husband noticed, too. He reassured me that my taste would come back, and he reminded me of how much traction I’d lose if I let myself get stuck in the setback.

Over the years, I’ve had to change my perspective on what it means to be in recovery. I used to strive for “full recovery” — a life without slip-ups or setbacks — and would always feel like I had failed whenever I faltered. Now I frame my thinking around what I call “the middle place,” that sticky space between sickness and full recovery. I make it my goal to continuously progress through that space — for myself, for my family. Recovery is about recognizing that I’m in control of my choices, even when anorexia comes knocking, pleading for another chance. During Covid, I opened the door a crack, but eventually closed it.

My sense of taste was gone for about five weeks, and once it came back I started to regain my footing and, eventually, the pounds I had lost. Taste first showed up one morning when I was eating a banana; soon more flavors re-emerged.

And then one Sunday afternoon, I ate creamy tomato bisque and felt and smelled and tasted every single spoonful. There was the warmth, the savory tomatoes, the bliss of basil.