How I Navigate Eating at Holiday Parties With Myasthenia Gravis

When I'm having trouble swallowing food, I find a few workarounds help

Shawna Barnes avatar

by Shawna Barnes |

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‘Tis the season!

The last month of the year is filled with various celebrations, parties, and gatherings, depending on your family dynamic and your beliefs. In them, people typically come together and enjoy good food with good friends, family, and co-workers.

But what happens when you experience bulbar symptoms that include dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)? How do you participate in these gatherings without putting yourself in danger? Here’s how I handle it, based on my past decade of managing difficulties with eating and swallowing.

Soft foods, for instance, are my friend. Whether or not I’m actively having trouble swallowing, I always make sure to fill my plate with a serving of all the soft foods I like: mashed potatoes and gravy (with extra gravy for me), sweet potatoes, applesauce, stuffing, pudding or Jell-O, cooked carrots, roasted potatoes, and some other vegetables. Gravy serves a special purpose: It helps me when I’m eating other foods that may not fall into the “soft food” category.

Most get-togethers I’ve been to include a protein, such as chicken, turkey, or ham. Most days I can eat these items without issue; however, on days where I’m having active bulbar symptoms, these meats get stuck in my throat.

Enter gravy. I’ve found that by covering soft-ish foods with a sauce, I can eat them with minimal difficulty. Gravy, however, tends to be high in calories, which has its own difficulties for those of us managing weight gain due to prednisone. But for me, being able to eat a meal at a gathering is worth it.

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There may be days when sticking to soft foods or adding extra gravy isn’t feasible. What then? On those days, I pick a dessert or my favorite dish that’s available, take small bites, and eat them slowly. If it’s a food that can dissolve by sitting in my mouth for a bit longer so I can avoid chewing, that’s the one I choose. If I have to be that selective on what to eat, I make sure it’s something I’m going to enjoy.

At most of the gatherings my husband and I attend, nearly all attendees bring their favorite dish to share. Rather than bring a favorite dish, we bring one that we know I’ll be able to eat — usually candied sweet potatoes or a homemade soft, moist bread.

What if it’s a particularly rough day with dysphagia, and eating any kind of solid food would put me in jeopardy of choking or aspirating? On these days, my husband and I either call the host and explain that we won’t attend, or we show up fashionably late to avoid the mealtime. There are days where my bulbar symptoms are acting up, but the rest of my myasthenia gravis symptoms aren’t, so showing up late is an option we use often.

Navigating the holiday season can be tricky when you must plan around a dynamic, chronic illness like myasthenia gravis. By planning ahead and educating friends and family about the possibility of canceling at the last minute or showing up late, you can enjoy and participate in the festivities.

What are some of your favorite holiday meals and recipes? How do you alter them so you can still enjoy them on the not-so-good days when you experience dysphagia? Please let me know in the comments below.

Note: Myasthenia Gravis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Myasthenia Gravis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to myasthenia gravis.


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