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Q: Hypersensitivity to the sound/sight of people eating? ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   11 Comments )
Subject: Hypersensitivity to the sound/sight of people eating?
Category: Relationships and Society
Asked by: pillowphat-ga
List Price: $15.00
Posted: 30 Oct 2002 09:47 PST
Expires: 29 Nov 2002 09:47 PST
Question ID: 93244
Ever since I was a small child, I have had an extreme sensitivity to
the sight and sound of other people eating. My parents taught all of
us "table manners" and were fairly strict about that, but none of my
siblings developed this hypersensitivity that I have.

I cannot stand to see certain people eat, and certain things drive me
almost to madness. The sound of people snapping or smacking on gum
makes me want to scream, and I tend to stare/glare uncontrollably at
the offender, wanting to rip his tongue out and stuff my fist down his
throat. I'm normally very calm, sensitive, polite, and peaceful, but
all that has to be controlled when I get around someone with poor
eating manners. Also on my list of "don'ts" is:
- Chewing anything with mouth open
- Eating fast, or with large (too big) bites
- Scraping teeth on the utensils
- Slurping (unless you are from an asian culture where it is polite!)
- Chomping ice.. ooooh, now that really gets me going too
- People in movie theatres shoveling handfuls of popcorn into their

I have been known to stop dead in my tracks at the shopping mall when
I hear a passerby snapping her gum, staring at her as she passes as I
am unbelievably irritated by her.

When I was 7, I had already learned that the people around me were
really bothered by my irritation, and that I basically needed to hide
my distaste with people at meals. I developed complex ways of dealing
with it, including playing a "game" with my little friends called
"Colonial Times". I told them we were pretending to live in colonial
America, and that rules at the table were very strict and children
weren't allowed to make any sound at all. That was one way of
compromising, but I am an adult woman now and things have never really
gotten any better. What's terrible is that I have really tried for
many years to stop feeling this way, but it hasn't really gotten any
better. It has impaired some of my close relationships, and I always
end up feeling like crap when I share this with someone close to me,
because then they usually end up feeling weird the next time we eat

What's strange is that it doesn't really bother me if I'm eating with
just an acquaintance. With my last several romantic partners, their
eating suddenly started bothering me right about the time a certain
level of intimacy was reached. Any ideas on beating this? My family
used to joke that they were going to lock me in a room with my uncles,
who all eat like pigs, to do some desensitizing, but I have a feeling
that would definitely not work.

I don't have an eating disorder, and am otherwise fairly
well-adjusted. Grr!

I would just like to be able to eat in the same room with the people I
love, without having to strap on my mental defenses or avoid them. I
realize this may be an issue for a therapist's sofa, but I thought it
was worth a try. Any ideas?
Subject: Re: Hypersensitivity to the sound/sight of people eating?
Answered By: hummer-ga on 30 Oct 2002 11:55 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Dear pillowphat,

You have my sympathies. I used to experience something similar,
although to a much lesser degree than you.  My mother sucked on candy
charms, you know, those hard colored candies that have a hole in the
middle. Well I think she was addicted to them, because it seemed to me
she was never without one in her mouth (sometimes she would switch off
to Necco Wafers, which made me happy because she would give me the
chocolate ones). Anyway, the clicking sounds that the hard candies
made on her teeth drove me up the wall. Funny, I don't remember ever
telling her about it, I just remember how it drove me crazy to the
point where I would have to leave the room.  My mother died a few
years ago, and as you might suspect, I would give anything to hear
that clicking sound again.

What you must come to realize I think, is that you are not alone, we
all get annoyed with little things. But it sounds as though what
should be just a simple annoyance, has moved on to become a "food
intolerance" or "social phobia" for you because you are letting it
interfere with things which would otherwise be enjoyable or easy to
do. Once a person developes a phobia they tend to worry a lot about it
and feel very anxious before going into the social situation that
worries them. In a way, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. For you,
this would mean you worry so much about sharing a meal with other
people, that sharing a meal with other people inevitably becomes a
disaster.  Afterwards, you probably find yourself going over and over
what transpired and wishing you had handled the situation differently.

To lighten your mood, I'm sure you will enjoy this site:
"Things That Make Your Skin Crawl"
Here is an excerpt:

"As if foods themselves didn't send our spines shivering enough,
listening to each other dine, ups the shudder factor considerably.
Here's a little check list for you of things that will drive us right
out of the room:
* Chewing with your mouth open
* Chewing gum - Who in their right mind decided to invent something
that makes everybody look and sound like a bunch of cows chewing the
* Proclaiming "Aaaahhhhh..." after each sip of a hot beverage, blowing
off hot air each time.
* Soup slurping - "f-f-f-f-fp" - This is highly irritating,
particularly as it goes on for an entire meal and can be perpetrated
by a whole table full of people.
* Doing an audible intake of breath with each mouthful.
* Scraping the fork against your upper incisors as you remove it from
your mouth.
* Creating the slurps, slops and suckles generally brought on by
eating foods like peaches.
* Burping after a meal of, say, cheese and pickled onions.

If you can work up the courage to eat again, be sure to brush your
teeth afterwards. The yellow or brown teeth of one who hasn't brushed
in a day or so rates high on the skin crawling meter."

I think once you start looking around on the internet, you will be
surprised to find out how many people share your "eating intolerance".
There's nothing better than talking to other people who really
understand what you are going through, and often they can offer advice
on how to feel better. Therefore, my advice is to find a group of
kindred spirits online who you can share your feelings with.

I was able to find the following link of a little band of people like
yourself. I suggest you post a note to them - hopefully they'll be
able to give you some advice and direct you to other groups:

1. Rocket Girl: Neurosis: 

Here are a couple of examples of what I found while searching around -
I hope they make you feel better about yourself and make you realize
you really aren't as different as all that.

"And it is not only with the eating of food that I have a problem.
Other people very often drive me mad with their chomping and slurping.
I know a girl who I swear crunches her carrots just to annoy me,
something which she manages to do quite successfully. The sound of
someone biting into an apple sets my teeth on edge, and more than once
I have come close to striking out at people who crack chewing gum in
my presence. It is called chewing gum for a reason; were it meant for
cracking, it would surely be called cracking gum instead."
 Stuart Mudie 2001

"I have a ton of pet peeves. I guess that makes me an easily annoyed
person, I guess. :) I can't stand to be near people chewing with their
mouths open. As if the site of half-chewed food isn't enough, it's the
sound of lips smacking together. Gum chewers doing this are the worst!

"The sound of people chewing. It's sooo gross. I mean I can't stand
staying too long for dinner, I have to leave like half-way through and
then come back again. It's so annoying!"
(no copyright noted)

And to read about how it is from the other side:
Gibberations: Chewing Too Loudly:
"I have been reminded on a number of occasions that I have the
tendency to chew too loudly."
(no copyright noted)

Search Strategies:


Terms Used:


My goal was to lighten your load a bit and to point you in the right
direction - I hope I've accomplished that. Perhaps developing a sense
of humor about your "condition" and being able to laugh with others
about yourself, would go a long way to being able to enjoy a meal with
those you love. A little practical advice: try to eat in a noisy
environment, such as outdoor barbecues. Not only will other sounds
drown out the sounds of eating, but there are many other distractions
to get your mind off your companions.

Sincerely (good luck),

Clarification of Answer by hummer-ga on 31 Oct 2002 15:06 PST
Hi Pillowphat,

Thank you for your rating. I did start out my response to you in the
"therapy mode" (as expertlaw-ga suggests), but as I began to think and
read about it, my direction changed  - I'm glad it ended up being what
you needed.  Thinking about it since, I would like to add that trying
to avoid sitting around a dining room table in a quiet setting
wouldn't be a bad idea. I think if you can get your focus off of what
everyone is doing, and onto something else, it would be most helpful.
It's alittle like Tinnitus (chronic ringing in the ears). The more a
person thinks about it, the louder it seems to get. Being able to get
one's mind off of the sound and involved in other thoughts, makes the
sound "go away". But for sure, play some music during those family

I would love to hear how you make out - I have my fingers crossed,
pillowphat-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
Thanks for your thorough answer! I appreciate all you had to offer and
I will try to formulate a strategy now that I think I've been poined
in the right direction.

Subject: Re: Hypersensitivity to the sound/sight of people eating?
From: afisguy-ga on 30 Oct 2002 12:13 PST
I wonder if perhaps you could have someone with a camcorder follow you
around and film you for a day, and then watch yourself on film.

I wonder if it might help you to ease up on the edacious of the world.

At any rate, keep up the good manners - some of us appreciate it!
Subject: Re: Hypersensitivity to the sound/sight of people eating?
From: expertlaw-ga on 30 Oct 2002 15:00 PST
I heard on NPR a few months ago that, after he went blind, Joseph
Pulitzer was so offended by the sound of people eating that people
applying to become one of his personal attendants were required to eat
a meal in complete silence as part of the interview process.

It is my understanding that short-term cognitive therapy can be very
effective in treating this type of aversion.
Subject: Re: Hypersensitivity to the sound/sight of people eating?
From: mwitzah-ga on 31 Oct 2002 12:24 PST
I don't think this problem is really an issue of judging other people
- it is an aversion to the sounds made by others. For me, at least, I
sometimes get disgusted by the chewing noises I make myself! I know
that I am not a perfect eater, but I try my best to avoid making
noises and committing the faux-pas I was taught about while growing up
[perhaps, for me too, this is the reason for my chewing-anxiety]. I do
get absolutely disgusted by chewing sounds, too, and am really happy
to read that there are actually other people out there that are as
phobic of this as I am!
Subject: Re: Hypersensitivity to the sound/sight of people eating?
From: jamesv-ga on 04 Nov 2002 12:52 PST
I was absolutely shocked to read this question.  It describes my life
too, at least the part about sound.  Although I am a well adjusted and
easygoing man, I have had a lifelong struggle with certain noises. 
Despite all logic and circumstance, chewing (food and especially gum),
barking dogs, and sniffling drive me absolutely insane.  I'm
exceedingly tolerant in general, but these noises have brought me
untold grief and misery all my life.

It was worse as a child when I found I didn't have the power to
control my circumstance.  I remember being stuck in a classroom,
forced to listen to people chew gum around me.  I felt like I was
being punched in the stomach repeatedly.  Almost as bad was the
knowledge that strangers and even family could not understand how
upsetting the noises were to me.

I have no answer to this question, but feel your pain.  The following
strategies help me cope:

1.  Avoidance.  The simplest solution is to remove myself from any
situation which I find unbearable.

2.  Exercise.  I have found my tolerance somewhat raised when I have a
rigorous daily exercise routine.

3.  Sleep.  Obviously lack of sleep makes anyone more irritable. 

I'm no scientist, but it would be interesting to learn if there's a
genetic component to this.  I know at least one of my ancestors had a
heightened sensitivity to noise, although not to my extreme.  I had to
laugh at the advice

"I think if you can get your focus off of what
everyone is doing, and onto something else, it would be most helpful"

which was well meaning, but useless.  At least in my case, my
annoyance is an immediate, unconscious, and involuntary reaction. 
Getting my focus off it is about as effective as trying to ignore a
pinch on your arm.

Glad to know I'm not alone out there.
Subject: Re: Hypersensitivity to the sound/sight of people eating?
From: pillowphat-ga on 04 Nov 2002 13:19 PST
Thanks to you guys for your additional comments, which I have taken to

Jamesv, you may find the following book helpful personally - it's
something I keep meaning to check into more, but apparently there are
a bevy of "HSPs" (Highly Sensitive People) out there:

Thanks again, and I'll keep fighting the good fight! (While others
aren't eating, of course)
Subject: Re: Hypersensitivity to the sound/sight of people eating?
From: hummer-ga on 04 Nov 2002 15:05 PST
Hi pillowphat & jamesv,

"I think if you can get your focus off of what 
everyone is doing, and onto something else, it would be most helpful"

"which was well meaning, but useless.  At least in my case, my
annoyance is an immediate, unconscious, and involuntary reaction. 
Getting my focus off it is about as effective as trying to ignore a
pinch on your arm."

I understand what you are saying, but I don't think my advice was
useless. Ask a woman who has gone through labor using the Lamaze
method - it is not idle advice for her to get her mind off the pain by
trying to project herself somewhere else - she'll pick something to
concentrate on (the clock on the wall) and I'm suggesting you do the
same thing. Avoid those quiet meals around the dining room table - eat
out on the back porch where you can concentrate on that Robin in the
tree (BE that Robin in the tree).
"Glad to know I'm not alone out there."

I just knew you all would feel that way -

Good to hear from you again, pillowphat,
Subject: Re: Hypersensitivity to the sound/sight of people eating?
From: feivel-ga on 04 Nov 2002 15:47 PST
I can't touch dry wood. Can't eat an icecreambar or popsicle unless i
wrap paper around the stick.  Have no idea where that came from. 
Never met anyone else with that idiosyncrasy.
Subject: Re: Hypersensitivity to the sound/sight of people eating?
From: hummer-ga on 04 Nov 2002 17:14 PST
Dear feivel,

Wow, that sounds awful.  First thing that came to mind - have someone
blindfold you and put a wooden object in their one hand and a similar
unwooden object in their other hand. Choose a hand, over and over,
touching whatever object is in it.

I don't see how you can get through the day without touching any wood
Subject: Re: Hypersensitivity to the sound/sight of people eating?
From: feivel-ga on 05 Nov 2002 08:51 PST
just dry untreated wood. wood that's been varnished or painted, etc.
is no problem.  really never comes up except with popsicles and the

not a life-altering problem, just curious as to what the source of
this is.
Subject: Re: Hypersensitivity to the sound/sight of people eating?
From: steph1000-ga on 02 Dec 2002 02:14 PST
Read "The Inner Game of Tennis" by W. Timothy Gallwey 

This book will teach you how to redirect your hypersensitivity. Don't
mind the title of the book, most people who rave about this book don't
even use it for tennis.
Subject: Re: Hypersensitivity to the sound/sight of people eating?
From: pmoshay-ga on 04 May 2003 05:04 PDT
don't feel badly about it... they ARE gross behaviors.  you left off,
how really elderly people constantly "smack" their lips.  ever take a
longer elevator ride in a downtown medical bldg?  yuck!

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