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To the People Who Ask Me What It’s Like to Be Around Food When I Can’t Eat

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The 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 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 being cooked downstairs.

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. However, look at just how much food is involved 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 and getting popcorn to enjoy are all trends in our society. Although the world needs food to survive, we also need to realize just how big of a deal food has become in our lives.

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 allowed 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’m unable to avoid sitting down at the table while 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 can be difficult to watch everyone do something you are unable to do. For me, that something would be eating food.

Being unable to eat food is not only about the physical consequences of eating; it is also about the social and emotional aspects that come 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. Because of my chronic illnesses, 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 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 who also has chronic illness 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 it’s like to live a life without food.

I am thankful to live in a household that realizes food doesn’t need to be the central aspect of our lives. I know I can come home and have a place where I don’t have to worry about food. I understand we are unable to make the world change because of how I and others have to live, but I wish people could become more understanding and compassionate toward those of us who have to live a life without food.

The word life written in green on skin next to a tube

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Originally published: February 2, 2016
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