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Food as an activity

August 31, 2015
by Kathleen Mears
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In a nursing home where residents never feel like they have enough to do, eating becomes an activity. For some residents, their only daily activities consist of going to meals and afterward napping. Consequently, most residents tend to gain weight.

Residents’ caloric intake is controlled at meals. However, we are allowed to buy snacks and staff is more lenient with what is purchased. One afternoon I saw a resident eat the equivalent of a medium-size bag of potato chips. I understand that residents like their snacks, but that is a lot of chips to eat at one sitting.

Eric* used to live a couple of doors down from me. When I first came here, I knew he probably weighed more than 300 pounds, used a walker, and was visually impaired. He continually surprised me by saying hello as I rolled past his room. Eric clearly could see more than I thought.

Once a week, Eric ordered out for a large pizza with everything. The aroma always wafted its way into my room. The next day I would see the empty pizza box sitting in his room.

Back then, Eric's sister visited once a week and brought him fried chicken from a well-known food chain. It was usually a small box, which I assumed contained a three-piece dinner, or five or six pieces of chicken. I knew Eric loved his food. Though Eric was heavyset, he walked to meals, activities, snacks and 7 smoke breaks a day. That is more activity than some residents get. A couple of years ago Eric had some health problems and he had to use a manual wheelchair. After he was better he navigated the chair himself, albeit very slowly. It is easy to tell by observing that Eric is not very comfortable. In the past couple of years he has gained a good deal more weight.

A few months ago, I chatted with his sister and she now brings him a bucket of his favorite chicken. I have to admit I was surprised that he ate that much.

At a previous facility, I ordered out about once a week. I want different food and a choice, but the extra calories caused me to gain weight. Every time I cut back on ordering out, or stopped completely, I lost weight.

I want my favorite foods, as well as junk food, just like most other residents. But I can no longer eat that many calories and feel comfortable. I understand Eric's cravings for snacks and favorite foods. But, as I told my sister a few weeks ago, food is fuel now; it is no longer for comfort.



Kathleen Mears

Kathleen Mears has been a nursing home resident in Ohio for 20 years. She is an incomplete...