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The Difficulty of Being Unable to Eat Thanksgiving Dinner Due to Chronic Illness

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For many, the holidays are a time of joy, traveling to see family, cooking, feasting and celebrating. But for someone living with chronic illness, they aren’t always so merry and bright.

My family and in-laws look forward to feasting on Thanksgiving and enjoying a plethora of foods, but me, I dread sitting down for that meal. Not because I don’t want to eat, but because my body isn’t allowing me to eat and is unable to digest solid food. My family and my in-laws don’t understand how difficult it is for me to even show up, let alone sit down around a table full of dinner plates piled high with foods, while my plate consists of a cup of homemade bone broth. I want to be able to eat solid food again more than anything so it is hard for me to witness everyone eat the foods I would love to be eating. I would give anything to be able to eat again and get my body to accept solid food.  Bone broth is all my body is allowing me to consume today. Earlier this morning, I attempted a small portion of oatmeal and the pain I was left in was agonizing. So instead of forcing food in me that my body will reject, I make the decision to just have bone broth as I know it is what my body can handle.

It is never easy. I don’t think my family and in-laws know how much it hurts to be badgered with questions, on top of the physical pain my body is already in. When I sit down without a plate full of food they ask: Why aren’t you eating? What is that? Why are you eating only broth? When I answer, “I can’t digest solid food,” they usually say, “That’s awful” or “That’s a shame” and then carry on with socializing and eating. Not that I want them to be miserable and unhappy like I am, I just wish they understood how much it hurts when they draw attention to it. What’s worse is after saying, “I can’t eat solid food,” as food is getting passed around the table I continuously get offered each dish after responding “no thank you” at least a dozen times. I again am reminded of my situation and how much it hurts when they place the desserts in front of me on the table and again ask if I want any. Again I decline and say, “No thank you, I can’t eat that.” They don’t take into consideration the psychological struggle and how difficult it is to sit down at a big family meal when I can’t eat any of the food on the table. It’s hard for them to understand the level of upset they cause by simply offering me a nice meal because I can’t eat it.

My family often tells me, “You don’t have to come and eat, just come for the company.” This makes me feel even more out of place. Sitting around the table, again full of people with plates piled high with food when I’m not eating anything is hard. I feel like I’m the center of attention, but in a bad way – not a positive way. Coming for just the company will still always raise questions of “how are you feeling, are you feeling better?” and when my answer is “no,” it just reminds me how unhappy I am living like this.

I utilize self-compassion to get through these difficult situations and many others, in which I am questioned as to why I am not eating what everyone else is eating. In these situations I try to draw my focus inward on myself, instead of focusing outward on everyone around me. I remind myself I am doing what is best for my body by giving it what it asks for. I remind myself to take deep breaths. I sometimes repeat a mantra to myself such as, “I am calm, I am present, I am making the right choice for my body.”

It is hard to spend time around family members and in-laws over the holidays when they don’t understand why I am not able to eat the foods everyone else eats. As difficult as it is, I still go to holiday meals because I know I would feel more upset and alone if I did not. If you find yourself in a similar situation over this holiday season, remember that you can turn to self-compassion to help yourself remain calm and present during difficult situations.

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Photo via shironosov on Getty Images

Originally published: November 21, 2017
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