When we think about the idea and experience the reality of death, we normally think of emotions such as anger and even guilt. Thereafter, we deal with a crisis of a lost relationship.
The fallout after death can be extreme in our emotional behavior. Many have turned to alcohol, or even drugs to minimize the sting of death and loss. One thing that doesn't get discussed very often is the emotional draw to food. For example, we have lost a friend or loved one and food now becomes a "friend". It brings a false sense of comfort and happiness. It is curious, when we choose food as our friend, that the food is not of the healthy variety. It goes something like this - we are feeling sad, alone, and down, our favorite Mexican restaurant begins to call our name, and before we know it, we have eaten the whole bucket of chips and downed three margaritas. We all know how the saga goes.
Here's the problem with this – this does not solve the problem. It only makes us feel worse by adding inflammatory foods into our system, which later lead to conditions of chronic sickness and disease. Additionally, the pull of these non-nutrient dense and processed foods becomes so great. It gives us a sense of happiness, but the happiness is only temporary and false. We fall into a vicious cycle of unhealthy, emotional, and downright dangerous eating habits.
So why do we do this?
1. Sugary foods operate on the same neurotransmitter pathways as cocaine. That's right, cocaine operates on the reward centers of the brain. Sugar does the exact same thing. They both make us happy, and they both are extremely addicting. When our feel-good neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, began firing, we get brain signals to keep on eating.
2. We say "the heck with it". We talk ourselves into believing that nothing matters. Life can become meaningless. When nothing matters, why not eat whatever? We simply do not care anymore. So, let's go suffer in a pool of donuts.
3. We don't desire to cook. Cooking becomes a problem when we don't want to get off the couch. It is a feeling of impossibility. We begin to eat more, and select foods with much less care. We are dealing with convenience instead of health.
4. We eat because someone brought it to us and it's there. Normally, when death hits a family, others reach out in a particular language of love – bringing you feel good food. However, you quickly realize it is not making you feel good because you want to eat it before it goes bad. After all, they did bring it to you in goodwill and you do not want to throw it out. This dilemma makes it very difficult to stop and say no.
What can we do?
1. Only eat if you are hungry. Be honest with yourself. Are you really hungry? Or are you just bored?
2. Find alternatives to eating. Take a walk or do some sort of exercise. Call a friend and talk. Meet a friend for a cup of tea or a cup of coffee. Sometimes good exercise and conversation is just the ticket to relieve anxiety and sadness.
3. Understand emotions will change. Emotions can make you do things that you never wanted to do, say things you never wanted to say, and become things you never wanted to become. Emotions are fickle. Understand and master them.
4. Cook a meal and break the carry out cycle. The ease of eating out can be dangerous. Take the time to cook a meal, and even invite a friend to help you do it. Cooking can be rewarding. The smells and effort of the process can be quite satisfying. Obviously, the result is likely to be more healthy.
5. Consider that food is not the only source of pain relief. There are other ways to relieve the sadness of grief. Think about things you like to do, music you like to listen to, or books you like to read. Consider going down memory lane with the wonderful recollections you have regarding the lost loved one.
6. Make sure you eat real food instead of processed. Real food brings health, and processed food brings disease. There are no physical benefit to processed foods.
Food, though necessary for life, has become a "false comforter" to many, whether in grief or not. It is far better to seek peace elsewhere, especially spiritually. A broken heart will never be healed by a cupcake. A broken heart is only healed when emotions are understood, time is taken, and peace is found.
Living the wellness life together!
Dr. Mark Sherwood