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Food & Feelings: Grief, E.M.B.R.A.C.E. Healing

"When you stay positive & focused under any circumstances, you get a hold of great solutions." - My Dad (Ransley Gonsahn, January 19, 1954 - January 19, 2020)

My dad was more than a father. He was a serial restaurateur and culinary artist who expressed love through food. A true foodie and adventurous eater, he relished creating culinary masterpieces in the kitchen and exploring global cuisines with my sister and me. Thai food, a shared favorite, became a symbol of our culinary adventures.

Pad Thai - my favorite meal

Remembering delicious meals immediately invokes memories of my dad. Surprisingly, even as a recovering emotional eater, his passing marked the only time I didn't feel the familiar urge to eat for emotional solace. Grief, an overwhelming emotion, left me without an appetite, replacing it with a hunger that couldn't be satisfied by food. Recognizing that grief affects appetite and our relationship with food is a shared experience.

As a physician and integrative obesity specialist, my journey closely intertwines with those of others navigating diverse food experiences during their grief journey - from not eating to overeating.

In this blog post, I'll briefly explore the body-mind-spirit reasons why grief impacts eating habits in Section One. In Section Two, I'll share positive ways to E.M.B.R.A.C.E. healing on your grief journey.


Body: Grief, an extreme emotion, triggers the release of various hormones, specifically activating the body's stress response system. Initially the sympathetic system aka "fight or flight" system suppresses the desire to eat. But prolonged exposure to stress hormones such as cortisol can lead to inflammation and insulin resistance, intensifying the urge to eat.

Mind: Eating isn't solely governed by hormones. Emotions also shape our food cravings. We're conditioned to seek comfort foods during emotional highs and lows, often foods rich in fat, sugar, and processed ingredients. While this article isn't discussing alcohol or substance abuse, it's crucial to acknowledge that grief can trigger excessive alcohol consumption or drug use as an attempt to numb pain. Seeking help right away is essential. Please refer to the resources section which includes SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) to find help in your area.

Spirit: Regardless of personal beliefs or religion, losing a loved one is a profoundly spiritual experience. It reminds us of our mortality and disrupts one or more of the 4Cs of spiritual wellness: connection, community, charity, and creativity. This disruption can lead to attempts to fill the spiritual void with food. In my work at Embrace You Weight & Wellness , I've helped several people uncover underlying grief as driving emotional eating and affecting connections.

E.M.B.R.A.C.E. Healing

Healing from grief is a unique journey. "Time will heal" simply isn't true. Personal and professional experiences emphasize the importance of intentionality for healing. Instead of turning to food for comfort, consider these ways to E.M.B.R.A.C.E. healing on your grief process:

Express Yourself:

Grieving is personal; the traditional stages may differ for each person. Whether through verbal expression, writing, or creative outlets, find ways to express your emotions. During my grief journey I reconnected with writing poetry and wrote hundreds of poems. Like "Before Your Breakthrough" which was published in Cuentos George Washington University Internal Medicine Residency literary magazine.

Make Room for Support:

Grief can be isolating, tempting you to withdraw. However, having supportive individuals around is essential. Seek grief counseling or support groups, and consider a therapist or counselor, especially for the first year. On my own journey I had week therapy sessions for almost three years. It was comforting to know I had a safe space to process my emotions and gain proven tools to navigate transitions.

Be Patient:

Grief healing isn't instant. Medically expect grief to last <12 months, with most acute symptoms seen in the first 12 months. Seek professional help if your grief affects daily functioning or leads to harmful behaviors.

Release Unhelpful Influences:

Grieving is a personal journey. Avoid “energy vampires” who divert focus or rush your healing process.

Acknowledge the Need for Help:

Grief is stressful, and can be overwhelming. Do ask for and accept help on your journey. For example decrease stress with practical measures such as hiring a housekeeper or ordering dinner.

Celebrate Your Loved One Daily:

Find ways to honor your loved one in daily activities. For me, engaging in my dad's creative passions like listening to music, creating recipes, spending time in nature, crafting and more make me feel close to my dad. I encourage you to do something your loved one would enjoy as often as you can.

Everyday Self-Care:

Amid the practicalities of grief, prioritize spiritual, physical, and mental wellness. Incorporate activities that replenish you, whether it's prayer, family time, or outdoor exercise.

While the temptation to "comfort eat" during grief exists, I've found that consuming minimally processed, whole foods with less sugar contributes positively to emotional healing. Identify your self-care priorities and intentionally integrate them into your daily routine. Don't hesitate to seek support from someone you trust personally and professionally.

It’s so hard to believe it’s already been four years since my dad died. As I mark year four on my grief journey, I extend prayers for hope and healing wherever you are on yours. Remember you are loved & in whatever you do always Embrace You 💜 Dr. Sylvia

Dedicated to my Dad, Freeman Ransley Gonsahn (January 19th, 1954 - January 19th, 2020) - Gone but never forgotten. Love you always, Daddy.

Additional Resources:

- "When You Lose a Parent" by Theresa Jackson

- "Grief Bites: Finding Treasure in Hardships" by Kim Niles (YouVersion App)

- "Rising Strong" by Brené Brown, Ph.D., LCSW

- "Self-Care Prescription" by Robyn Gobin, Ph.D.

Resources for addressing emotional eating during grief:

- [Find a therapist in your area](

- [SAMHSA - Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration](

-Overeaters Anonymous

If you're experiencing thoughts of self-harm or severe emotional distress, call 1-800-273-TALK or 911.

May the joy of the Lord be your comfort & strength even as you grieve.

Romans 8:26-27💜

“Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.”

‭‭Psalms‬ ‭23:4‬ ‭NLT‬‬

“God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭5:4‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Disclaimer: Everyone's grief journey and needs are different. This information is provided for general use, not as specific medical

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