Eating for Grief

When we feel like our life is falling apart, we cling to behaviors that make us feel like we have control.

This is especially true when we are grieving. We simply don’t want to feel the pain of heartbreak and we naturally will do anything to distract ourselves from it. And the most common form of distraction I see is with food and eating.

When I was young, I was aware of disordered eating behaviors such as binge eating, anorexia and bulimia in my peers. As a dancer, I witnessed my friends use food as way to control their weight. Even I succumbed to this behavior for a short period of time.

And it makes sense to a certain degree because what is happening on an unconscious level is that we simply want to feel better. Certain foods will do this for us quickly.

Eating foods such as chocolate, pastries or chips, which are particularly rich in carbohydrates and fat may have anti-depressant-like effects by increasing serotonin levels in the brain.1

It has been confirmed in several studies that when you are depressed you are more likely to use food to make yourself feel better. We pick processed junk food because it is quick and accessible. You aren’t going to take the time to make a gluten, sugar-free cake when you are depressed. It’s just not going to happen.

We really are programmed to feel better whether you realize it or not. It’s natural. We don’t want to feel anything that resembles pain and we will do anything to get out of it quickly.

The problem arises when the food choices start to compromise your health and your mental well-being. Although, you may feel better initially with the rush of endorphins, over time, the effects are devastating to your whole system. It causes weight gain, compromised immune system and may lead to diabetes and other autoimmune diseases. And most, importantly, it will prolong your grief process.

So, now that we know this, how do we change this behavior?

The key is to understand the underlying cause. It’s really not about the food.

Instead of allowing your inner critic to take over, be an observer. Be curious as to why you are eating the way you are.

First:

  1. Stop yourself from buying the junk food.
  2. Ask yourself questions, such as, what has just happened to make me want to eat this? Having a journal with you is always handy to unload your feelings.
  3. Then Affirm, “I need to be nurtured right now, so I will choose to love my body and do something different.”

Something different, may be in the form of exercise, going for a walk, taking a bath or booking a massage.

And remember, getting the right kind of professional support (through a therapist) is essential when addressing the underlying subconscious behaviors.

The more gentle you are with yourself during the process of grief, the easier it will be to console yourself and thereby move through it with more ease.

Love Diana.

  1. Ouwens et al., 2009; Konttinen et al., 2010

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