This past weekend I was in Boulder, Colorado, attending a Psychology of Eating Conference. It was good to be back in the presence of the mountains. The majesty of the mountains never fails to nourish me. The conference was a powerful reminder of the importance of my work as an Eating Psychology Coach. I reconnected with some of my classmates and made some wonderful new relationships. I came away from the weekend with a deeper understanding of the correlation between eating psychology work and grief. Some of the same strategies that are used to meet eating challenges can also assist us on our grief journey.
Symptoms of grief can be symptoms of eating challenges. Eating challenges can also be a diversion, a way to distract ourselves from being with our feelings of grief. For instance, when we are in early grief compulsive eating may be a way to cope with our loss. It is perfectly normal to give ourselves the comfort of food as we come to terms with our loss. It can become problematic if we continue using food to suppress our feelings because then we do not process our grief and do not move through it.
How can we recognize if we are turning to food to distract us from processing our grief? How can you utilize Mind Body Strategies to meet your grief?
Notice your first instinct when you feel grief rising in you. Do you immediately reach for that cookie or tub of ice cream? Take some time to breathe. Take a few deep abdominal breaths. When your feelings of grief come up, allow yourself to feel them.
As your feelings begin to arise, your first instinct may be to tense up, to contract. Consciously continue to breathe until you feel yourself relax. All healing, whether it is physical or emotional, can only take place in a relaxation response. As you relax you reduce stress. Stress is any real or perceived threat. When you are in a stress response, your grief can feel intense and overwhelming. As you begin to relax you can begin to process one feeling at a time, rather than an onslaught of the many different feelings that make up grief.
What nourishes you? Make a list of everything that nourishes you. These can be self-care rituals such as receiving acupuncture, having a massage, enjoying a bath, walking in nature, or spending time with a friend. They can also be creative endeavors like making art, writing poetry, or gardening. It helps to make a list because when you find yourself feeling overwhelming grief, you can look at your list and choose an activity you already know will nourish you. Do whatever soothes you. Nourishing yourself in these ways will also help you relax.
In the first days after Leah died I began making time and space each day to feel my feelings exactly as they arose in that moment. I was often in situations at work where I could not process my feelings so I created a safe container to put them in, then at the same time each day, I visited them. I took one and a half to two hours each day; you can spend the amount of time that feels right for you. I was scrupulously devoted to this practice every evening for over two years. In the early days, processing may not be possible and that is okay. You can write about what is happening to you if you would like. The important piece here is consistency. When you know you will have the time you need at the end of each day to be with your feelings, you will find it easier to get through the day when you feel like you might fall apart. My clients find this to be a very beneficial practice.
Turning to food for comfort or as a distraction is a doorway to a deeper issue, whether we are grieving or not. By taking time to breath, relax, and nourish yourself you can receive clues about these issues. Your own journey is a gift to help you discover your magnificent self, even when it does not feel like it.