Saturday, September 08, 2007

Confessions of a Compulsive Eater

by Tory Butterworth

On a previous job, my co-worker and I were trained in a protocol for asking patients about their end-of-life wishes. During the training, she role-played asking me questions about the circumstances where I would like to continue life support and where I would choose to end it.

"And if you could not eat, but had to be fed by a tube, would you want to live?"

"No," I replied emphatically, not having thought of this question before.

What did I imagine? All the pleasure I currently get from food stripped away. Instead, a harsh tube irritating my throat, my only tastes of food from occasional burps into my esophagus.

No, I would not want to live that way.

My co-worker questioned my decision, pointing out to me all the other pleasures in life I could experience without being able to eat: reading, talking to family and friends, stroking my cats. Our instructor stopped her, suggesting that she had my answer, it was not her job to try to talk me out of my wishes.

I looked at my co-worker, the same age as me, who maintains a healthy weight for her height and bone structure. For the first time, I got a glimpse into the world of a non-compulsive eater.

I can't imagine a life without eating, that pleasure sublimated into other things. Though it wouldn't be my choice, I can imagine a life where I am unable to walk, or unable to see or hear. But unable to eat? It feels to me like the whole meaning on which I base my life would be stripped away.

Yet I know people who are relatively indifferent to food, who eat because they get light-headed if they don't, who go out to eat to be with friends rather than experience new tastes and textures.

Around this issue, my empathy fails. I just can't imagine being like that.

At the end of many diet books is this adage: Do you live to eat, or eat to live? I'm afraid I still live to eat.

How about you? Can you imagine a life without food?


Cathy said...

Maybe with the feeding tube you could at least suck on hard candy--like cinnamon, or root beer barrels, or maybe toss a candy corn around in there. I could make it on root beer barrels alone, I think.

This reminds me of the scene from the movie "Splash" with Tom Hanks and Darryl Hannah where he goes with her into her underwater world to live. All I could think of was NO MOVIES. He would never get to watch another movie again the rest of his life. That would be even worse than the feeding tube.

Gina said...

Interesting post, Tory.

I seem to be one of those people who can take food or leave it. I noticed over the past few weeks when I was not working and didn't have the structure of having to eat breakfast before leaving in the morning, or cram lunch into a designated time, that I'd often forget to eat at all until mid-afternoon, and then it would be more of a thing of thinking, "Oh, yeah, I guess I really ought to," rather than ravenous hunger. Still, there are things I'd miss if I could never have them again, although I think I'd miss the mouthfeel -- crunchiness, etc. -- more than flavor.

I'm not sure what I'd rather be dead than live without. It would probably depend upon what else was going on in my life, and how annoying it was. I know I'd hate to live without dreaming.

Tory said...

Cathy: I'm not sure hard candy would make it for me!

Gina: I don't think you have anything to worry about. Most diseases/ medical treatments push you closer to being in the dream state.

Annette said...

What about all those foods that are absolutely delectable, but not at all good for you? Trying to eat "healthy" can provide a similar conundrum. Fake cheese? No, thanks. And for a long time after I decided to cut out trans-fats, I skipped crackers all together rather than eat those cardboard things that were less hazardous to my health. At least now I've discovered some excellent saltines that TASTE like saltines, but still have zero trans-fat. YAY.

But fake cheese still sucks.

I'd take the feeding tube, I think, if the rest of my life was fairly normal. Although life without pizza??? I dunno.

Joyce said...

I'd have to go with the feeding tube. There are foods I'd miss, but I could live without them.

The worst thing to me would be blindness. If I couldn't read or write, I don't know what I'd do. Books on tape just aren't the same.

Annette, the cheese made with 2 percent milk is pretty good.

lisa curry said...

My mother used to say she wished humans didn't have to eat -- that scientists could just come up with a pill we could all take to meet our nutritional requirements. She was NOT a good cook and disliked cooking, and my sister and I used to complain about most of the things she made. The rule at our house was that you had to eat everything on your plate (and, sadly, you didn't get to choose what was put on your plate). Considering that, I guess it's no surprise that I don't have much of an attachment to food. There are foods I enjoy, and I also like the feelings associated with going out for a nice dinner or preparing a nice dinner for my family (I'm a better cook than dear old Mom, if I do say so myself), but I would still want to live with the feeding tube, and I can definitely imagine worse things to lose than the ability to eat. I'm with Joyce -- it's the idea of being blind that terrifies me.

Tory said...

Joyce: A woman who came to the Pennwriters' conference this year is blind, and we had an email exchange before she got there. I didn't ask her the specifics, but I assume there's now some form of Braille that allows her to write and read computerized text.

Annette: I refuse to eat anything that's labelled "healthy" but doesn't taste like real food. I just can't believe it's that good for me!

Tory said...

Lisa: I have another friend who's mom was a very good mother in other ways but a lousy cook. When my friend is under stress, she forgets to eat! (Something else I find hard to imagine.)

Sometimes I wish I had that kind of mom.

Candace Salima (LDS Nora Roberts) said...

I love to cook too much to live a life without eating. That being said, I am afraid I'm one of those who eats when I get lightheaded rather than because I'm hungry.