I live with multiple chronic illnesses, and one of those is called gastroparesis, which translates to "paralyzed stomach." Due to this disease I have to avoid all food. I get 100 percent of my nutrition (TPN) through a central line leading to my heart. There's nothing my body can tolerate through my digestive tract. It's ironic that doctors typically encourage eating healthier and a wider variety, but my doctors had to cut everything from me...
After explaining my disease to the curious person, they start asking questions. A question I seem to get all the time is, "How does it feel to sit at the dinner table while everyone else is eating, when you can't eat?"
I swear my answer is almost always the same, and I just have it memorized by now! Honestly it does not bother me as much as some think, but it is different for every person. My parents have never forced us to sit at the dinner table if we don't want to. Typically for me, I spend that time in my room doing homework or I go into the shower so I can't smell the food that is being cooked downstairs in the kitchen.
Family dinner is not as big of a deal in my house as it is for some. Out of the six of us who live in my house, a third of us are unable to eat any sort of meal. My parents have tried to instill the idea that food is not a central role in our life. Yes, food is needed to survive; however, look at just how much food is portrayed in our daily lives. Billboards, advertisements, Halloween candy, Thanksgiving, peanuts at a baseball game, dinner dates, birthday cake, Easter eggs, Christmas cookies, any sort of party, and even going to the movie theater getting popcorn to enjoy is a trend in our society. Although the world needs food to survive, and we obviously can't take that away from those who are lucky enough to be able to eat, we also need to realize just how big of an aspect in our lives that food has become.
What if you had to sit in the lunchroom at school and watch everyone eat pizza? The catch is that you can't eat it. You can smell and see the pizza, but you are only allow to sit there and watch the others eat. The situation is similar to putting a treat out in front of a dog but not allowing them to eat the treat. There are many situations when I am unable to avoid sitting down at the table while all of the others eat. While being around food doesn't bother me as much as some, it is still challenging for me. No matter what the situation is, it's difficult to watch everyone do something that you are unable to do. For me, that "something" would be eating food.
Think about that New Year's resolution you created about going on a diet. By now many people have already given up on that resolution they created, or if they are still at it they have certainly cheated a few times. When you cheat on a diet the there are no true consequences besides not being able to loose weight as fact. A person on a diet can cheat and go on about their life; however, people like myself don't have that luxury.
Being unable to eat food is not only about the physical consequences of eating, it is also about the social and emotional aspect that comes along with it. Although I may want the food, I just can't have it. If I choose to "cheat" and eat food there will certainly be consequences, and I don't mean sitting in timeout for 15 minutes. The consequences consist of nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, cramping, and I could go on and on... The only times I cheat and eat food is when food is in front of me as part of a social event. I do have more self-control at my age to know that I can't eat the food in front of me because it will make me sick, but I have to admit that I can't always handle that craving of wanting food so bad. I know it will make me sick, but I do it anyway. Most of the time I don't allow myself to do that, but sometimes I can't wrestle in my mind what's worse: the physical consequences of eating food or the mental consequences of watching the world do something that you would give anything to do. If it's hard enough for me to sit there, imagine being several years younger than myself. My brother is only 10 years old and has never truly been able to eat food ever. I can only imagine what war goes on in his head. The mental battle between doing what's best for your health and how you feel but also struggling with the mental realities of what is like to live a life without food.
I am thankful to live in a household that has come to realize that food does not need to be the center aspect of our lives. We know this because we have learned to live without. I know I can come home and have a place where I don't have to worry about food. I understand that we are unable to make the world change just because of how myself and others have to live but I wish people could become more understanding and compassionate towards those of us who have to live a life without food.