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Daniel Neman: On choosing to die, part II: The readers respond

Daniel Neman, St. Louis Post-Dispatch on

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Two weeks ago, I wrote about my friend Roger, who died several years ago from complications resulting from his morbid obesity.

That was the way he chose to live and die, I wrote. Though his friends were left to grieve after his death, he did what he wanted. He derived more pleasure from eating fattening foods than he did from anticipating a healthier, longer future.

The column generated more response than any in the last four years. So I thought I would turn today's column over to some of the readers who responded by email or on Facebook.

From Inez: Roger's story was most touching, a gentle reminder to consider our life choices.

From Ann: Addiction is said to be consuming the addictive substance (be it drugs, alcohol, porn, gambling or even food) even with the knowledge that the substance is causing you negative consequences. While I appreciate the compassion you have for your friend in never disparaging his choice, I wonder if you would have a different reaction if he had a drinking or gambling problem and you saw him spiraling out of control?

In my experience, people do look at food addiction in a different way. If your addictive substance is alcohol, you "put the plug in the jug," but the food addict cannot abstain from food. Like with other addictions, there is a 12-step program, Overeaters Anonymous. I am a member.

I'm not morbidly obese, but I am overweight. I love food, and I love to cook. I love chopping and grilling and sauces and eating, and the fellowship and the emotions that food can evoke. But I know the end game, as it was with your friend Roger.

So, I go to OA, and I listen to others like Roger and like me tell their stories, and I try to do my best one day at a time. And sometimes I relapse and eat three boxes of Girl Scout Cookies in a weekend, but I start over.

From Lisa B.: I read with great dismay your article about your friend who recently passed away. I am so very sorry for your loss.

However, I think your discussion of your friend's condition completely missed the mark. I would say there is a good possibility that your friend suffered from an undiagnosed eating disorder, and this is what caused his death. Often, an eating disorder that has the binge and not the purge portion is overlooked.

Your friend's food intake was not a "choice" that he willingly made; rather, your friend was trapped in a horrible disease that ultimately took his life. Most people are familiar with bulimia and anorexia as eating disorders, but many are not familiar with two other types of eating disorders: binging (inability to control food intake) and orthorexia (the unhealthy obsession with healthy eating). Clearly, much work remains to be done to educate people about the signs and dangers of this disease. Eating disorders are real, and they claim lives.

From Rose Jonas: I adore everything you write, except the "obese pal" article. If I were your editor, I'd have made you do it over. I'd have seen it as ill-informed, lazy and full of assumptions about obese people and their decisions, with nary a whiff of informed opinion nor irony that the work you do might be part of the problem.

From Joseph Niemoeller: Your friend Roger was a very selfish man. It's understandable to say, "It's my life and my decision, and it doesn't affect anyone else." But it never affects only you. Needing your mom, after you're an adult, to take care of you because you just don't care enough to take care of yourself -- that's just wrong, wrong, wrong.

From Anita: For years, I've been trying to understand why my sister, who is 400-plus pounds, doesn't work harder (or at all) on losing weight. I think she is like Roger. She just enjoys eating a lot of unhealthy food even though she is fully aware of the consequences.


I now realize that there isn't anything more I can do to help her with her weight. Thank you for publishing this article. I am at rest now and know that this is her choice.

From Brent Warren: "Choosing to die." That phrase proves that the author doesn't understand the struggle. Obesity is a disease. I know people love to believe it's purely choice or lack of willpower, but there's so much more to it. Medical science is finally starting to realize that, but the general public can't get over the desire to blame fat people for their plight.

Do people with cancer "choose to die"? Or, say, cystic fibrosis? How about alcoholics and drug addicts? All are diseases. But at least with drugs, alcohol, or smoking you can stop using them altogether. You can't quit eating. That's why the rate of success in losing weight and keeping it off is virtually zero.

But go ahead and judge us if it makes you feel superior. It's not like we could stop you.

From John: My wife has a friend who was molested by her father as a child, and who ate to become fat and unappealing to him. How horrific.

Her experience caused me to (usually) not judge those who are killing themselves with food because I don't know their motivations.

Annette: Your friend Roger could be my husband. My husband has outlived Roger, so far to 59. I have tried every way I can to change his habits and to help him look toward the future, but he can't do it. He has made his own choices. I have given up. Thank you for writing about a subject that is very near to me, and I live it every day. It's very hard. Thank you again.

From Karen Wiegmann: I had a friend who also died an early death because of obesity. For years we said she was committing suicide by food. Very sad when an individual can see nothing that could happen in the future that could possibly be better or more worth while than eating lots of ice cream and potato chips.

From Teresa Montgomery: I get that some "healthy" people think all fat people have to do is lay off the junk, but this article is completely dismissive of the emotional struggles associated with obesity. I'm not 400 pounds, but I am considered "super morbidly obese." I'm currently on a good streak with my weight and blood sugar, but I know what it feels like to "know" you'll never be in good shape. You start to wonder why you should bother.

If a "friend" published this article about me after I died, I'd haunt him.

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