Ever since my son passed away, the holidays have been harder. The first holiday season after he died, I was numb. I wanted to curl up on the couch, under a blanket and just check out. It was understandable then that I needed to be left alone to do just that. I certainly had my fair share of comfort foods during that time to keep me well…comforted, right? They were comfort foods that consisted of some sort of favorite sweet treat or carbohydrate that temporarily gave me a boost of serotonin. Let me repeat, it was onlytemporary relief from the effects that these foods provide.
My son died in November 2013 right before Thanksgiving, leaving me with an intense desire to eat every ounce of apple crisp and mashed potatoes that was on the table. That year, I allowed myself all the comfort those foods can provide. I fell asleep with a full belly and basked in the sweet relief of a food high, then coma. I even washed it down with a glass (or two) of wine and that put me out for a while.
Then when I woke up the next day…ugh! My stomachache almost returns just thinking of that next morning after I indulged in all of that heavy food.
When we go through something hard in life, it is easy to rationalize that we deserve relief from comfort foods, especially during the holidays. Don’t get me wrong, every now and then we probably do deserve it. The problem is when we start to think we deserve it every day and it begins to be a craving or addiction. It is perfectly okay to allow yourself to dive into your favorite comfort foods now and then when you are in the beginning stages of grief, but doing it consistently will result in harming your body and even intensifying the negative emotions that grief presents us with.
Our minds are our biggest obstacle when staring at the holiday spread, I for one can have an all-out war with myself on whether I should have that second helping. After all, during the first few shocking months after my son died, I had a really hard time finding the meaning to life again, so I didn’t really care what I ate. My negative thoughts were doing a perfect job at controlling everything I did including my eating habits. Just remember:
Our behavior follows our thoughts, not the other way around.
If you are suffering from chronic, unresolved grief and convince yourself that you cannot make it through the holidays without reaching for the wine or three servings of pumpkin pie, then that is exactly what you will do. Now, as stated before, I am no stranger to grief and the dessert table, along with mashed potatoes…(ohhh the buttery whipped up bowl of heaven!), but perhaps you can pause a moment and consider that eating too much comfort foods, can really work against your sadness and anger.
Grief affects every cell in your body, altering your brain chemistry and can even lead to various diseases. So, let me share with you a little why eating the right foods can can help:
- First and foremost, when you find yourself comfort food binging – recognize what triggered you! Write it down.
- Eating affects the way you feel – how we function and how we can heal
- Convincing yourself that you need to ‘soothe with food’ will result to reaching for the wrong foods, the kind that turns into sugar very fast…like chips, cookies, pies, ice-cream, breads and cereals. . Food is fuel for the body and the body doesn’t run on sugar alone! It will not sustain you and give you the energy you need to heal. You know this already, but getting stuck in grief cycles can turn our brains off from logical thinking..
Trying to keep up with a good diet while grieving is hard, so do not knock yourself down if you have a bad day. Prioritizing self-love and self-care is a task all on its own, so practicing discipline in your eating is a way to contribute to that. You do not need to eat fancy, just well.
Here is a simple guideline to follow:
- Protein: stick to mostly vegetarian proteins such as legumes or nuts. Lighter protein will help increase your energy better.
- Tryptophan-rich foods: they will help regulate your moods – bananas or figs
- Fruits & Vegetables: any of them raw! They help strengthen your organs and brain
- Vegetable Juice: make it homemade – it strengthens nervous system
Add in a soothing tea at night such as chamomile and drink LOT’S of water throughout the day! I always recommend to take a good quality, whole food multi-vitamin during times of grief. This will take care of important vitamins and minerals that might have been missed during the day!
As we are about to slide into the holiday season, my prayers are with all of you and your families.