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I Can't Clean My Plate, I Have Gastroparesis

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According to Cleveland Clinic, gastroparesis is defined as partial paralysis of the stomach, which affects the ability of the stomach to empty itself of food. As a child, I was raised in a household where my parents frequently told me to finish everything on my plate.  I was reminded that there were other hungry people in the world who would love to have the food that was in front of me and to “eat it all up.”  In many places, it could be disrespectful to the cook to not eat what was offered to you.  I have heard other people remark that they were to eat what was offered to them for dinner or they could decline and go hungry, for there would be no other meals made.

Gastroparesis can be a troubling disorder. Hallmark symptoms for me include bloating, nausea, vomiting, gas, terrible stomach pain, and feeling full after only a few bites. Due to my disorder, I must eat slowly to give my food a better chance at reaching my stomach and to be processed by my body. It constantly feels as though my food gets stuck just above my stomach or in my stomach and it just will not move.  My doctors described this as though my stomach is filling up faster than it can process the ingredients, so the excess food I am taking in does not have time to work through my body before I take in more.  This can cause a stoppage, which can be dangerous. I may vomit or experience severe and disabling abdominal pain which can wreck any plans I have for the next several hours.

In order to alleviate this pain and discomfort, I will frequently stop eating when I am no longer hungry.  It does not make sense for me to overeat if there is no more room in my stomach for more food.  My doctors recommended that I eat smaller meals more frequently throughout the day and try to make choices that are healthier.  They also told me it is OK to dine out, however, cooking at home is better for my body because I can have better control over what ingredients go into my food and monitor my diet more efficiently.  For instance, I know spicy foods are not good for me because they are associated with indigestion, which is another problem for me.  And some other foods are off-limits as well or I will only eat them on special occasions knowing I will pay for it in the end.  One of these I try to avoid is red meat, especially if it is undercooked.  I know that eating such will cause me digestive problems, so I recognize that that food product is something I must not partake in, or it could make me sick later. Acknowledging this allows me to have a healthier experience at the dinner table.

It is very difficult to attend family functions where food is usually a reason for bringing everyone together. Family members can become offended when I do not eat everything on my plate, or I take smaller portions to better allow my stomach to process what I am putting into my body while giving it a reasonable amount of time to digest before I ask for more.  On some occasions when dining out, I ask for smaller portions or will not “clean my plate.”  I have received comments from family members asking, “Are you done already?!” or “Is that all you’re eating?” and when I say yes, I can get the dreaded head shake followed by sour looks of what appears to be disappointment. They seem to think I am ungrateful, especially if I’m not the one paying for the meal.  This also leads me to believe my family members see me as unappreciative of what is in front of me.

Instead, I will just ask for a “to-go” box and bring the excess food home with me to eat later when my stomach settles.  These are reasons I do not like such comments that put me on the spot and can cause me to become defensive of my condition.  I have tried educating and advocating for myself in order to explain my disorder, however, some people do not understand unless they experience it for themselves.

Gastroparesis for me is a miserable condition. It causes me much pain and discomfort and it can make eating a chore. However, food is necessary for survival, so I must be mindful of what exactly I am nourishing my body with, and how much I am taking in. In many cases, I am physically unable to eat more food than my stomach can handle within a reasonable amount of time.  In other words, it’s just not worth the discomfort and sickness I will certainly experience later just because I felt the need to appease other people by “cleaning my plate.”

Getty image by tdub303.

Originally published: February 15, 2022
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