Dealing with Loss During Eating Disorder Recovery

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Time of Death: 12:37 PM

She was gone– and there was nothing that I (or anyone else) could do about it. 

On August 29th she left this earth + passed from this life to the next.

My grandmother (nana, as I call her) had been suffering for quite some time. However, over the past year, she began to decline rapidly, having more trouble than usual walking + completing daily activities of living. 

As difficult and heartbreaking as it was to witness her departure from this earth, I take much comfort in the fact that she is no longer suffering or in pain.

Even so, it didn’t lessen the blow. Despite the fact that I knew what was coming, there wasn’t any way I could fully prepare for her passing. I wasn’t ready.

It is both a blessing and a curse to feel everything so deeply.

As past memories rushed into my mind, tears began to well up in my eyes. I started gasping for breath as I was simultaneously trying to comfort my mom + process what had just happened. 

As time passed by, I started becoming aware of the physical symptoms I felt in my body. My stomach was in knots, my head was pounding, and I couldn’t seem to control the tears running down my face. I felt weak and fatigued. I looked at the clock. It was around 2:00 PM.

How had the day gone by so quickly? 

I hadn’t had lunch; I didn’t want lunch. The thought of eating anything made me want to throw up. 

My grandmother was a “straight-shooter” as my mom would say, and she was never afraid to speak her mind. When I first started recovery from my eating disorder, she said to me, “Emily, you need to lay on the floor and eat a hamburger.”

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She probably (definitely) could have worded her statement differently– but in a way what she said to me was actually exactly what my recovery team had been encouraging me to do. Maybe I didn’t need to literally lay on the floor and eat a hamburger, but I did need to stop compulsively exercising and restricting food. I did need to add more variety and adequacy to my diet. Her comment was her way of saying to me that she was worried about me and she wanted me to get better. Although I didn’t understand it at the time, I appreciate that now. 

Loss of appetite is normal during the grieving process, but I knew I had to protect myself. I knew that I had to be diligent during this time or ED could easily return and hijack the situation, even after a few years of solid recovery under my belt: 

“How could you eat after your grandmother just died? It’s normal to lose your appetite during the grieving process. Some people don’t eat for weeks. Some people even lose weight because they can’t make themselves eat. You don’t have to eat….you don’t need to eat. Don’t eat.” –ED 

My nana would want me to take care of myself and eat lunch, so I did.

Skipping lunch couldn’t bring her back; there was no point in engaging in self-destructive behaviors at that point. Instead of numbing my emotions out, I let myself feel every bit of pain, anger, grief, sorrow, joy, and everything in between. 

Death / Loss is one of the most difficult parts of life. But it doesn’t have to derail you from your recovery, and it doesn’t mean that you should stop taking care of yourself. In fact, the best way to grieve is in a way that allows you to fully feel all of your emotions, not numbing them out by skipping meals (or binge-eating until you’re sick to your stomach). 

Here are a few things that have helped me stay on track during the grieving process: 

1. Consume Regular Meals: For the past few days, my schedule has been pretty out of whack. Grief has taken a big toll on my body. My digestion has been all out of sort and I’ve had headaches every day. I’ve felt weak + fatigued, lacking energy and motivation of any sort. My appetite hasn’t been huge, but fortunately it has gotten better since the day of my nana’s passing. However, I know that during this time I cannot simply rely on my appetite to tell me when I need to eat. My body’s cues are a little off right now, and that’s okay. It’s a part of life / grieving / being human. Similar to the refeeding process during recovery, my eating has been sort of mechanical, meaning that, I will eat at certain times of the day regardless of whether my appetite is big or small. I have made it a priority to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, in addition to incorporating snacks in between so that I don’t get too hungry in between meals. I’ve tried to keep everything as “normal” as possible. Do I always want to eat during these times? Maybe not. When you lose someone close to you, life becomes about so much more than food. But I know that refusing to eat wouldn’t do anything to bring my nana back.

Lack of adequate nutrition will only make things worse.

2. Pack Snacks: In a perfect world, we would always be able to control what time we eat. But in reality, we just can’t always do that. Sometimes we aren’t on our own schedules, but rather the schedule of the funeral home as we are making arrangements for our loved ones. Spend the extra 30 seconds it takes to throw a pack of peanut butter crackers and a granola bar into your bag to avoid getting stuck in a situation where you have to go several hours without eating.  

3. Eat Food that Sounds Good: There was a 2-3 week period during eating disorder recovery that my diet consisted mostly of chocolate protein supplements, peanut butter sandwiches, chips, granola bars, and fruit. At the time, it freaked me out. 

“What if I eat like this forever? Don’t I need more balance in my diet? Do I need to incorporate more ______? What is wrong with me?” 

My recovery team encouraged me to show myself grace and compassion for where I was. Did I need to incorporate a little more variety into my diet? Maybe.

But during that period of time, that food was exactly what my body needed. Eventually, I expanded my horizons and began to incorporate a wider variety of foods into my diet. However, for the time being, those foods worked just fine. Any food is always better than no food. Those foods provided me comfort and safety during a very difficult transition period of my life, and that was OK.  

The night of my grandmother’s death my appetite was still pretty limited, so I made the one thing that sounded good: Breakfast for Dinner 

Waffles have always been a comfort food for me. That paired with some yogurt, fruit, and bacon made for a delicious dinner– one that I was able to enjoy + helped me regain my appetite. 

Some foods provide more comfort to us than others.

It’s okay to eat food for comfort. That’s a part of being human. 

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4. Take Advantage of Free Food: When a close family member passes away, it’s common for others to come by and drop off meals + offer condolences to the family. This is particularly helpful when you don’t feel like / don’t have time to cook. Friends + family members have dropped off everything from sandwiches and chips to grilled chicken and pumpkin bread, all of which my family and I are eternally grateful for. One of the most freeing parts about being recovered is being able to eat any food, anywhere, at anytime. If you still struggle with this, I challenge you to consume a meal prepared by another person, without knowing the exactly what’s in it. This exercise not only weakens some of ED’s power over you, but it also helps you cultivate a heart of gratitude for the food on your plate + the hands that prepared it.  

5. Eat Meals with Other People: If there is one environment that I tend to thrive in, it’s when I am with other people. There is a time and place for grieving alone–I have done that + will continue to. However, after spending most of the day alone, it’s always good for me to re-group with family / friends. Eating with other people holds me accountable and makes it easier to eat meals when my appetite isn’t so hot. I’ve had dinner with my family nearly every night since my nana’s passing, and it’s been just what I needed. 

Sharing meals with others takes the focus off of ourselves and places it on human connection– something we all crave and need in the midst of loss.

“No matter how devastating our struggles, disappointments, and troubles are, they are only temporary. No matter what happens to you, no matter the depth of tragedy or pain you face, no matter how death stalks you and your loved ones, the Resurrection promises you a future of immeasurable good.” –Josh McDowell 

In loving memory of Ruth Stansell Weatherford // AUGUST 15, 1937 – AUGUST 29, 2018

Photos: Pexels // Bedroom–By: Burst // Hamburger–By: Valeria Boltneva //

// Waffles–By: Brigitte Tohm //

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 Comments

  1. Amazing, Emily. This is an amazing blog post. I am so proud of you and so grateful that you share your journey in such a way that is so encouraging. So supportive. God is using you.

  2. Hey Sweet Girl, We’ve been covering you & your family in extra prayer these past few weeks. Only now have I logged in to read your latest blog. What a beautiful tribute to your grandmother…a testimony to her love in your life! I totally LOVED the picture of joy between the two of you at your wedding!
    I’m pretty sure Nana is in heaven calling to you, “WAY TO GO EM!!!”
    With love and hugs (but especially prayers) always,
    Dickie Marie

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