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How to Manage Emotional Eating During the Grieving Process

Many people eat when they’re stressed. And perhaps there’s no more stressful time than when you’re grieving the loss of a loved one. Emotional eating is when you use food to make yourself feel better; basically, eating to satisfy emotional needs, rather than a way to satisfy physical hunger. You may reach for the ice cream, hit the drive-thru or plow through a bag of chips when you’re lonely, bored, and yes, when you’re grieving. It’s very common, but you don’t have to let it overtake you. At this time, it’s important to keep yourself as healthy as possible so you can get through this tough time. One way to take your mind off emotional eating is to take advantage of bereavement services in Santa Clara and elsewhere.

Losing a loved one, especially after a long, drawn-out illness, may have driven you to use food as a primary emotional coping mechanism. This is when your first impulse is to eat whenever you are upset, stressed, angry, lonely or exhausted. We understand — grieving is certainly all those things! However, this can quickly lead to an unhealthy cycle where the real feeling or problem is never addressed, says HelpGuide. It’s important to remember that emotional hunger cannot be filled with food. While eating may feel good when you’re doing it, all the feelings that triggered the eating in the first place will still be there when you’re done.

Why We Overeat When Grieving

There are actually many reasons that grief and comfort eating go hand-in-hand:

  • Eating makes us feel good and lures us back for more: That’s because food, especially fats and sugars, can trigger the reward system in our brains. Then, all those feel-good neurotransmitters (think dopamine) start firing off rapidly, while our brain keeps convincing us to just keep eating.
  • Fatty foods make us happier — in the moment: While we may feel less sad for a few moments, that deep grief always comes crushing back once we’ve finished our binge. One study in Belgium involved showing sad images and music to people while in an MRI scanner. One group had fats injected in their stomachs, while the other group had a saline placebo. Because they didn’t actually ingest the food, no pleasure or flavor was involved in eating; however, those with the fat injections showed they were 50 percent less saddened by the images and music, says What’s Your Grief.
  • We think we deserve it: In our culture, we are adept at rationalizing our behaviors. After going through something traumatic and devastating, we very quickly rationalize our eating habits by convincing ourselves we deserved it. There’s no problem in splurging here and there. We’ve all had those bad days when it seems like we DO deserve it. It’s when it becomes an everyday occurrence that it gets serious.
  • Nothing else seems to matter: You may think: I’ve just lost my loved one…why should I care?…there’s nothing left to live for… Well, life can certainly feel meaningless in an instant when losing a child, parent or sibling. Suddenly, our health or appearance doesn’t seem important anymore. Why not eat that box of cookies?
  • It’s just there: If you’ve ever lost someone close to you, you know all too well that well-wishers tend to comfort the grieving with food. We eat when we grieve simply because it’s there. The fruit baskets, cookie bouquets, cakes, pies, and casseroles all start to pile up. You also receive gift cards to restaurants and carry-out places in town. Sure, this alleviates the burden of cooking, but being surrounded by so much food doesn’t set us off on the right foot.
  • We have no desire to cook: Grief saps you of all energy. Some days it’s all you can do to get up off the couch and drag yourself to the shower, let alone be tasked with the ordeal of cooking a full meal. It’s much easier to pick up the phone and call for a pizza. The portions are very large and you often eat way more than you normally would.
  • We’re bored: When grieving, you often have time off work. All that extra time hanging around the house can result in a lot of mindless eating, simply because you don’t know what else to do.
  • We associate food with comfort: From the time we are very young, food is used as a way of cheering us up or rewarding us. It’s no wonder we automatically turn to our favorite comfort foods to ease the pain of grief.

Take Back Control

Seeing a counselor, doctor or nutritionist during the grieving process can help you have a healthier relationship with food. You can also:

  • Keep a food diary.
  • Tame your stress through yoga, meditation, or deep breathing, suggests the Mayo Clinic.
  • Give cravings time to pass.
  • Get support from family and friends or join a support group.
  • Fight boredom by listening to music, reading or calling a friend.
  • Snack healthy with fresh fruit, vegetables and low-fat dip, nuts, or unbuttered popcorn.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

We offer many forms of bereavement support, including support groups, workshops and grief counseling. To learn more, contact us today to get the help you need at 888-978-1306.