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5 Comments on Food Choices That Can Be Hurtful to Those With Illness

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Oftentimes people don’t realize that food choices sometimes aren’t “choices” at all. They are often what works in the moment for a person with chronic illness. I would like to share five things not to say to someone with a chronic illness about food and eating. Everyone is on a different journey. For some food is a sour subject of discussion. Food choices may be restricted or required, or a person might have a feeding device one doesn’t know about. Regardless if you know the person or not, everyone’s battle is different, and that is why I bring up this issue.

1. Don’t tell people to eat more or less.

This is one of the biggest challenges when I am around my friends. Often people mean well, but aren’t always aware of what is going on inside my body. I shouldn’t have to explain it. It is hard enough at times to be told to add salt to my food or to eat more than I can do in the moment.


My weight has also made me a target, for there are people who choose to publicly shame me. I have had people walk up to me, lecturing me about cutting calories and weight loss. I have several nutritional deficiencies and deal with malnutrition because my food doesn’t always digest and it has been proven I am not absorbing nutrients like the average person. My body has mixed signals and doesn’t always realize I am giving it nutrients. This has caused my weight to go up and down.

I often think, if that person only knew. My friends who know me know I don’t eat a lot. Those who don’t know me often judge me because of my weight. I am one to say that I’m sure people experience this at different levels. It isn’t anyone’s job to tell me to eat more or eat less because they do not know me, nor do they know my battle, but it is common for people to judge in today’s society. It isn’t necessary and can be hurtful.

2. Don’t tell people they are picky eaters.

People tend to notice when a person is eating the same meal multiple times or routinely. They often want to help the person by suggesting new foods or new meal ideas. That all may seem great, but sometimes with chronic illness people may be limited in what they can eat. Sometimes people have food allergies or food intolerances. This can be socially awkward and embarrassing. It can also put stress on a person because no one wants to have their friends order a gluten-free pizza when everyone else is having a regular pizza.

In my own journey, I find it hard to go to social gatherings with people. It is hard to find food to eat with having many food allergies. People say to me, “Oh, you haven’t got much on your plate.” “Are you not hungry?” I hate having to tell people I have food allergies. Also, I don’t feel like I should have to disclose this to people.

Even for the person who might have just had weight loss surgery or the person who might have dysphasia, it is hard to hear the words “picky eater” or to feel like no one understands your struggle.

Sometimes it’s easier to bring food with me for social gatherings rather than pick around things and worry I might spend my evening in the bathroom or end up in the emergency room because I ate something that put me in harm’s way. I am not a picky eater, but people just go by what they see and speak before they think.

3. Don’t tell people they “have it so lucky” because of how much or how little they weigh.

Weight is a big issue that challenges many people. It is an issue that plays tricks with one’s mind. Sometimes people can eat a lot and not gain weight. Then there are people who have issues with weight gain that has nothing to do with how much they eat. It is crucial that people don’t associate the amount of food someone eats with their weight. It can be emotionally damaging to someone. Chronic illness takes a toll on the body that some might not understand. There are people who have feeding tubes, swallowing problems, digestive issues, and other challenges.

People need to be sensitive in conversations of this nature. Not everyone is at the weight they want to be or understands what nourishment is, but whatever the reason just remember it’s a sensitive subject that people must take caution in discussing.

4. Don’t tell people they are “so disciplined” in the way they eat.

It’s hard not knowing which option is going to be a good option on a particular day. This idea of discipline just makes me angry because there aren’t two days that are alike in my world. As I stated before, food choices might not be choices at all. At times I wish I could drink a milkshake or eat an egg omelet. I know those foods aren’t options for me.

Sometimes I feel bored with my food choices. I get angry because I don’t have a variety. People see me with my protein shakes and think it’s a routine towards weight loss. My protein shakes are what give me nutrients on a daily basis. It’s not a plan for weight loss. It’s my plan that gives me life, fuel and energy. I would much rather be eating solid foods every single day. There are days when my liquid protein shakes are what I must do to function. I often get tired of people thinking they are praising me for my efforts of healthy eating and wish they only knew the reality of my life. I long to eat “normally.” My normal isn’t everyone else’s normal. That’s the reality I have seen with chronic illness.

5. Don’t bully people about food.

People might not realize it, but there are many out there who will attack people for what they eat, how much they eat or how little they eat. Maybe they might condemn a person to the point it becomes shameful or challenging for the person to eat in front of others. Food choices are not always choices; they can be restrictive and challenging.

One must realize that food can be hard subject for those with chronic illness. I remember having to drink thickened liquids after my stroke. A kid told me my apple juice looked like urine. Even though they didn’t mean to say it, I definitely didn’t want to drink thickened apple juice anymore. I had to literally force myself to drink this restrictive beverage because that was all I could drink at the time. It wasn’t my choice but it was the choice I had to make to have a life and keep moving forward.

Consider your words wisely when you are around people.

As you drink your morning coffee or read this over your evening snack, challenge yourself to step outside your normal interactions with people around you. There are many invisible illnesses that one may not be aware of. It is important to recognize we all come from different walks. We are all on different paths to healing and wholeness. If we consider these five ideas that challenge people, we might have a different perspective on how to interact with people and be more aware that food affects people in different ways. While we cannot see inside the human body like in the magic school bus, everyone’s system works differently and food should be a judgment-free issue.

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Thinkstock photo via CentralITAlliance.

Originally published: June 12, 2017
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