Why do Dying People Refuse Food

Food equals love.

Food is the way we give energy to our bodies and a means in which we use to keep our body moving and alive. As human beings we eat to live. So you can see why it is so hard to comprehend that when someone is dying giving them food no longer equals energy or life for them. We often believe if only we can get them to eat and drink they will feel more energy and get better. After all, this is exactly what they need. We often hear “You need to eat to get stronger!” In the case of dying person, this is not necessarily true. When someone has a terminal illness or is slowly declining there becomes a gradual decrease in eating habits. Nothing tastes good. Liquids begin to replace solid foods and meats are usually the first to go. Soft foods replace foods that are hard to chew and digest. Foods like pudding, apple sauce, mashed potatoes, and soups are the easiest to swallow. Eventually energy shakes, milk shakes and supplemental drinks such as Ensure in small amounts may replace all foods. We teach our families and caregivers to allow the dying person to choose when and how much they want to eat. This is an important piece in empowering our loved ones to live the rest of their lives on their terms. Emotionally, this can be very difficult for the person caring for the dying. As a person enters the final few weeks of life sometimes even the smell of food makes them nauseous. It requires more energy to digest the food than it gives. The body has reserves of strength and can go a long time without wanting or needing food. Insisting or even forcing a dying person to eat can cause nausea and vomiting, increased discomfort due to inability to digest the food, as well as coughing and even severe choking which can lead to pneumonia. Offering food and fluids as well as allowing the dying person to take in what they want when they want and in the amounts they desire is the best course of action. At this stage the dying person will benefit from moist mouth swabs, ice chips, cool wet wash cloths, and mount moisturizer to keep their mouth clean and free from cracking. Love is the best way to show a dying person you care. Hold their hand, keep them clean, moist, and cool. Maintain their medication regimen for pain and comfort. Talk with them. Have no regrets. Say all that is needed before they die. Take comfort in knowing that they are not hungry or thirsty.