Why I Don't Want You to Experience a Meal Like a Gastroparesis Patient

Gastroparesis is a functional motility disorder that impacts the upper digestive tract, primarily the stomach, and causes a wide range of symptoms. It’s a disorder that can be caused by different factors, or be completely idiopathic. It’s a disease that leaves some people nauseous after a small snack, and prevents others from eating by mouth at all.

Essentially, gastroparesis patients have a partially paralyzed stomach, which causes a myriad of different symptoms.

When I first began experiencing the symptoms of gastroparesis, soon followed by a diagnosis and referral to a dietician, the biggest shock was realizing how weird a part food plays in our society. I had never realized just how integral it was to a social setting, or experienced being unable to partake in it, until I had my first bowel obstruction and was told that my body could only tolerate small amounts of clear liquids – provided I took a motility drug first.

Having gastroparesis has made any situation involving food, whether it’s a birthday party, a holiday dinner with my family, lunch on campus with my friends, or being asked out to get coffee, a nightmare.

It’s distressing to not be able to eat the foods I once enjoyed. Every time I’m out with my friends, seeing a movie or getting brunch, I feel anxious turning down food. I can feel, or think I can feel, people like the waitress, the teenager working the concession stand, or the barista at the coffee shop silently forming their own opinion about why I’m saying no to pancakes, or popcorn, or a brownie with my tea. My friends never fail to ask, “Can’t you just take one bite?” or wave a chocolate bar under my nose as though it will tempt my stomach into not being partially paralyzed.

Family dinners are just as uncomfortable. I initially thought that sitting at the table with my family, who are all aware of my diagnosis and my dietary limitations, would be a relaxing way for me to get comfortable being a person who can’t eat in a situation full of food.

I was wrong.

My family, though they may be sympathetic and understanding, are also painfully optimistic. Every time my brother came in from barbecuing burgers during the summer, he would make a plate for me as well. Whenever my dad brought home take out for dinner, he would offer me a spring roll or try coax me to take a bite of pasta. When my mom went to the local bakery on Saturday mornings to get bagels and rolls for our family, she would always bring home one of my old favorites: a cinnamon roll, dripping with icing.

It hurt me to see how discouraged my family would get each time I had to turn food down.

Being surrounded by food when you have gastroparesis is indescribable. It’s upsetting, and nauseating, and weirdly emotional. Watching you friends and family eat while you sit silently by, or dine exclusively on medication and meal replacements, evokes a weird kind of envy.

It makes you self conscious of the fact that you cannot eat the way your loved ones can. You start saying no to certain things, avoiding certain places, or not sitting with your family at the dinner table.
When you cannot eat in the way that society largely views as “normal,” you can feel isolated in settings where food is present.

A trend recently has been for people with chronic diseases or disabilities to challenge others to experience a moment the way they do. My initial plan for this article was to challenge you to sit through a meal unable to eat, feeling nauseous and sore and bloated…But that isn’t something I would wish upon anyone.

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