For People with Gastroparesis, Holidays Can Be Painful

By Rachel Whetstone from In The Cloud Copy

Food is fundamentally linked with celebrations in every culture around the world. Families gather for a feast at big holidays and birthdays that are celebrated with cake and treats. Feeding one’s friends and relatives is seen as an act of love.

It’s hard to truly grasp how ingrained food rituals are in society. It’s something most people take for granted. However, for people who are living with disorders that leave them on restrictive diets or even unable to eat altogether, the awareness is all too painful.

Well-meaning relatives feel obligated to continue to offer food that is tempting but too hard on a patient’s body. The person is left feeling isolated and humiliated when explaining that partaking in food customs isn’t a possibility.

Gastroparesis Can Make Eating Impossible

A condition called gastroparesis makes normal eating difficult or impossible for people who suffer from it. The disorder is caused by nerve injury, particularly damage to the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve helps the stomach to contract and push food into the intestines. When it isn’t functioning correctly, food can sit too long in the stomach, causing illness and malnutrition.

Symptoms of gastroparesis include:

  • Heartburn or reflux
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Early satiety (feeling full quickly when eating)
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Poor blood sugar control

Most people with gastroparesis suffer for many years. Although medication can sometimes help, it doesn’t perfectly restore healthy digestion. Many patients still suffer from nausea and vomiting and may need surgery.

Missing the Taste of Food

Some gastroparesis patients are only able to receive nutrition with the help of a feeding tube or IV. Nutrients are deposited directly into the small intestine or bloodstream and eating by mouth is abandoned altogether. For people with very severe cases of gastroparesis, this brings them a lot of relief from their symptoms, but they often suffer psychologically from being unable to enjoy a meal with their loved ones.

Birthdays Can Be Especially Difficult

Briana Beaver is a woman who has gastroparesis and cerebral palsy. She is living with a PICC line to deliver nutrition and says that she misses eating food most around her birthday:

“For several years, I’ve been fruitlessly reassuring myself that when my next anniversary of living rolls around, I will be able to eat birthday cake. Along with an array of other grievances that I ruminate on around the time of my birthday, my continued digestive distress takes a big bite out of me.”

“I can’t imagine a more satisfying way to commemorate my upcoming birthday than with a chocolaty confection. The freedom to gift my taste-buds with this now unfamiliar sweetness would be a wish come true. My childhood culinary preferences were for pastries of any kind, but my adult heart longs merely for the ability to eat freely without fear or pain. I wish time and time again, year after year, to have my cake and eat it, too.”

Loved ones of people with gastroparesis or other digestive disorders can try to remember how difficult the holidays can be for those who are unable to eat normally. Alternative customs that are unrelated to food can make gastroparesis patients feel welcomed and included.

Learn more about this story here.

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