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Dear Annie: I’m caught in a grief-eating cycle

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Picture: Thomas Kelley on Unsplash

Dear Annie: My mother passed away exactly two months ago. She was elderly and not in the best health but she died very suddenly within a week of becoming very ill with a digestive problem.

I was very close to her and was able to see her regularly but I have lots of guilt feelings about perhaps there was more I could do, etc.... I am aware of that as being a normal feeling, but what I am unable to control is eating food that isn't healthy and not being able to focus long enough to get my work done. (I am a freelance writer) It has become unbearable and I am weeks past deadlines, but this makes me eat even more.

Like I said, I am aware of what is going on,and that I am grieving but I still can’t make the change. I wonder if you can help in any way? – J.

Annie says: I’m so sorry to hear about your mother. It sounds like it has been a really shocking experience for you, despite her age and health. You are right, guilt and self-blame are very common after the death of a loved one, however that doesn't make it any easier for you.

It’s clear you're aware that your behaviour around eating and work is linked to your grief, but it sounds like you're getting frustrated by it and wanting to change it as soon as possible?

Whilst this is entirely understandable I do just want to first of all remind you how recent your mum’s death is. Two months is a very short amount of time, especially if you were close and saw her frequently.

Eating can be a very effective way of self-soothing, and so it’s really quite a clever way of making yourself feel better in a time of pain and suffering. We have some useful information about comfort eating and grief.

I know you're frustrated by it, and whilst what I’m suggesting is far from easy, the first step is about accepting that this is something you do because it serves you in some way. Once you are able to acknowledge that, it will be easier to ask yourself if there are healthier ways you can self-soothe – like taking a bath, or going to the cinema.

I suspect this is also about finding a way to make space to feel the feelings the food is trying to cover up.The cycle you talk about – eating unhealthy food, not being able to focus, missing deadlines – sounds like an effective and understandable way of distracting from the pain of your loss. Your attention has begun to focus on what you are – or are not eating – and how much work you have to do, rather than the painful emotions underneath.

So whether it’s through bereavement counselling, speaking to friends, going for walks where you can cry and feel everything – I would encourage you to consider how you can give yourself the opportunity to grieve for your mum and to begin to process the enormous loss in your life.

I wish you well on your journey – go gently.

  • If you’ve lost someone close to you, or been affected by a bereavement, psychotherapist Annie Broadbent is here to help. If you have a question for her to answer in this column, write to her at DearAnnie@funeralguide.com

About Annie

Annie Broadbent is a trained psychosynthesis counsellor, with specialist experience working with the bereaved. As a therapist she explores the mind, body, feelings and spirit, working with individuals in a way that is most appropriate for them.

She is the author of bestselling self-help book We Need to Talk About Grief, inspired by personal experiences of living through bereavement, including her own. Whilst writing her book, Annie volunteered at St Christopher's Hospice and has given a number of talks on issues around grief, bereavement and mental health.

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