The paper discusses the case histories of three patients who have faced the emotional implications of being initiated onto long-term parenteral nutrition (PN). In each case the patient's personal and family history, relationship to their illness and the presence or relative absence of resentments and grievances have influenced their ability to tolerate the training and the transition to home PN (HPN). In addition, the emotional importance of food and feeding from a developmental and social perspective is explored, together with the numerous psychological and social ‘losses’ experienced by all patients on PN and the adaptations required within the family setting. The ‘meaning’ of PN to the individual and the need for both internal and external support are identified and, based on clinical experience, a number of features are described that may be indicative of the relative abilities of different patients to cope with HPN. Finally, the role of a dedicated Psychological Medicine Unit closely allied to a nutrition service is discussed.