When will we stop? When will we stop berating ourselves, and those around us? It would be fair to say that everyone’s connection with food is unique. There are many parts at play in this respect, such as culture, religion, generational differences. The list is potentially endless. When I was a young staff nurse, working in acute mental heath care, I witnessed food shaming at a disturbing level. What I am about to write is in no way blaming or shaming the health professionals, because that would be a classic case of pot and kettle.
Our patients would all eat in the dining room. Evening meal was served around 5pm and we would round up the patients and encourage them to come for their meal. The benefits of this practice were simple. To nourish yourselves and to engage with others.
We had a young patient (let’s call her June), who was very poorly. She was experiencing psychosis on a very extreme level. Because of this, she was prescribed a cocktail of medications, and this included anti psychotic medication. Those of you who are unaware of these medicines, it’s crucial to note that increased appetite is a very common side effect. The urge to eat is compulsive and consuming for the patient.
June would be the first in the dining room. Her food intake already restricted. We even had a care plan in place to restrict her intake of ‘sweets and chocolates’. All the while, the team felt that this was the best care for her.
So we’re in the dining room, June is hungry. She is medicated to a level where she is no longer actively psychotic, but she has no sense of appropriateness still. She is first up at the food table. She is hurrying her food. She wants more. She has another portion of the meal. And still she is not satiated.
At this point, it is explained to her that it is no good for her to overeat. June is fuming. You would be though wouldn’t you? She becomes agitated and cross, and requires more intervention for deescalation.
There was lots of derogatory talk about June and her ever expanding waistline. The disgust that humans display for one another is deeply disturbing to me. Now this is a long time ago, but it has stuck with me.
It stuck with me so acutely, because I too have been shamed far too many times for my appetite and my weight.
‘You’d be so attractive if you lost a couple of stone’ ‘You look pregnant’ (this was told to me as a child) ‘You’re not going to eat all that?’
Whatever the answer is, SHAME is most definitely not it. Writing this has made me hungry all of a sudden…..