Perfunctory Eating

Hi Everyone,

Food plays an important part in our lives; it has many functions. We eat for nourishment, to satisfy a physiological need. We eat for comfort, to connect, to communicate and for pleasure. Some people eat as a job requirement and then there are those times when we eat simply as a perfunctory activity. Last week, I endured 6 days of obligatory eating. It was not fun.

After a visit to my doctor I was prescribed a course of medication that I had to take 3 times a day for a period of 5 days.

The medication had to be taken with meals. I frowned as my neighbourhood pharmacist advised me of the instructions. Thinking aloud, I said, “But I only eat twice a day.” He looked at me with the tenderness a parent would to their sad child and explained that I could take one of the capsules for breakfast, another for lunch, and then dinner. I smiled and thanked him.

You’re probably asking yourself, what is the big deal? Well, here’s the thing. I generally eat only when I am hungry, not because it is a prescribed time of the day for a meal. I try to practice moderation, though there are frequent lapses. I’m working on that though. Faced with having to eat 3 meals in order to take the medication, I found that each day, I was forcing myself to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Anyway, I’d have breakfast, but no sooner would lunchtime arrive and I’d still be full from breakfast. The same would happen at dinnertime – I’d still be full from lunch, and in each case it was not because I was having large portions. I was eating to take medication, not for nourishment or for pleasure. My days were pointedly punctuated with perfunctory eating.

Mashed Yams Photo by Cynthia Nelson

Though everything I ate was tasty, I could not taste any of it; there was no enjoyment in my eating. I’d look at my plate or bowl, spoon the food into my mouth and determine after how many mouthfuls I should take the medication and how many to take after to ensure that it is properly absorbed with the food. I termed this medical eating.

Actually, it reminded me of how food writers whose job it is to review restaurants eat professionally instead of pleasurably. Their job requires that they consider the food as they eat; eating is a job requirement. In my case, eating was a medical requirement.


By the third day I gave up eating 3 meals a day. I couldn’t take it anymore. However, it was a requirement that I complete the course of medication so that meant I finished the treatment in 6 days rather than 5 days, taking 2 capsules a day for the remainder of the prescription (of course I don’t recommend this – follow your doctor’s instructions people).


Pumpkin & Split Pea Soup
Photo by Cynthia Nelson

During the time of taking the medication, I found that there was no consideration to what I ate just as long as I ate something to meet the requirements for taking the capsules. I generally cook and eat things that I want to and feel like eating, however, that week, I did not do that. Instead, I ate things like soup, porridge, and mashed yams.

On other occasions these dishes would be fine, if that is what I craved. This dutiful eating made me feel like food was holding me hostage; the kitchen my dark dungeon, chained to the stove and refrigerator.

I know my experience was not typical but it makes me wonder how many of us get into a habit of dutiful eating, by that I mean eating because the clock or workday determines our eating pattern. Former New York Times columnist, Mark Bittman had advocated a return to eating based on being in tune with our body and its needs, hence we’d shop for food closer to meal times. That is unrealistic for a variety of reasons – having a family to feed, transportation, availability of ingredients, prep time etc. Nevertheless, it might be useful for us to pay close attention to intuitive cooking and eating rather than dutiful cooking and eating.


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