In my ventures of practicing health consultations with over fifty women, a common theme I heard was that women were often derailed on their weight loss journeys due to a parent or other family member dying. I had never experienced that type of grief in my life at the time that I was interviewing all of these women, so I could not relate to dealing with that level of emotion. Up until this week, I did not know what the impact would be on my emotional or physical wellness if I lost one of my parents.

I lost my dad three days after my fortieth birthday and two days after Thanksgiving.

It has hit me in the gut, the very place that has been healing for a few years now.

At first, I did not want to eat. I do not even know if I ate a whole meal on the day of his passing. It was a long day. He passed at 8pm. I did not want to enjoy anything to eat because he could not. I did not want Thanksgiving leftovers while he gasped for air beside me. I did not even want to drink while his body was dehydrated in front of me. He never got to eat his Thanksgiving dinner. He did not get any of my birthday cake. I could not sit and enjoy anything. I forgot to take all of my supplements that day.

The next day brought a frantic feeling and a very deep hunger. I began to want leftovers galore and a sampler plate of pies. I went for sweet tea again for the first time in months. A Walmart trip ended with Peanut Butter M&Ms and a gallon of apple cider. Sugar and hot homecooked foods are taking me back to when my dad was alive and to his good years when he wasn’t sick!

He had such a sweet tooth! Every night ended in large bowls of ice cream for him or Krispy Kreme donuts. He ate peanut butter crackers on golf courses and cookies and milkshakes after meals regularly. He loved Southern cooking, too. I had him for Thanksgiving once at my house and attempted to cook all of the foods he grew up on, to give him the best feelings of nostalgia that day.

All week since his death I have had a hard time wanting to get back to normal in any way, probably a common feeling for anyone grieving. I want to cling to the sadness because if I don’t, I am afraid to move farther away from my dad than I already feel.

I was logging my macronutrients before my dad’s passing. My birthday derailed me a bit with Indian food from my childhood next door neighbor’s authentic Chicken Curry and basmati rice and of course, a huge birthday cake – carrot, to be exact, gluten and all. I got a corner piece. But I was able to hop back into health mode afterwards for a very short time.

Since his passing, I am all over the place with my eating, like my emotions and my coping. We eat how we live, so I have learned. Right now I am living with sadness, pain, nostalgia, some regret, and uncontrollable periodic crying. I cannot pin down any one of these emotions, it seems, because I do not want to feel them about missing my dad. So I am having a hard time wanting to pin down what I am eating as well.

This could go either way at this point. I could fall into my sadness some more, go get Krispy Kreme donuts and pretend he is beside me eating them with me, and stop going to my workouts. I could be the next woman on the other end of the conversation who let herself go because her parent died. This sounds easy to do because it means I would not have to pinpoint anything, my emotions or my food.

Everything in me wants to comfort myself. I want my dad to come and us to go back to when I was five, when we walked on a pier with ice cream cones and flip flops. I’d do anything to be eating at a Quincy’s buffet again with him with big fat yeast rolls and butter that was not butter to dip them in. I was his night owl, staying up late to share whatever midnight indulgence he had. That was one of the ways that he loved, through food experiences together.

My other route is actually the one I feel him nudging me towards. He wants me to keep it moving. My dad wasn’t one for excuses or inaction.

Today I went back to my workout at the gym to keep myself in it. I felt emotions rise during the physical exertion of the exercise, and I fought back tears once. But it created movement in my body that I haven’t had in days and may have helped to pull me out of some of my sadness. My thoughts feel a little clearer after pushing myself a bit physically.

I have also attempted to log my foods again today and to stick to the macro plan I was on before. It feels okay though I am still wanting to comfort myself. I have replaced the food today with lots of blankets and a cozy sweatshirt and thoughts of my dad being proud that I went to the gym again.

In my twenties I never connected my emotions to my eating behaviors. I had no interest in analyzing why I binge ate or to have any conversations about root causes. It took me to a place of shame that made me believe I was born with torment and should just accept that there was something wrong with me. I did not want to stay there either, so I ate more to cover up those feelings, too.

As someone who has educated myself now on my lifelong issue of overeating and binge eating for coping, I cannot ignore what I know now. I know that emotional eating is driven by emotions, not eating, so it is the emotions that need to be addressed as the root causes.

Food is a distraction from emotions, as it certainly has been for me this week in dealing with the death of my father. It takes us away for brief moments, in this case with my father, to other moments when he was alive and well and we ate together! Of course I want to go back to those moments! But I can’t. So I tried with the food. It took me back for exactly that, a very brief moment. Then I returned to the reality that my dad is gone.

I will continue to get back on track as the weeks progress. I believe that movement is the key to creating inspiration. I am bound to have natural endorphins a’flowin’ if I stay in my workouts. Movement is life, as an entire section of my website declares! I know my dad wants me to have life, and that is one of the ways I have defined it.

As for the eating, it may take a few more nostalgic foods or a buffet trip or a plate of Southern fried food again, but I am not beating myself up about it. My father died. And he was my eating partner for years!

I believe in my path as a health coach and my ability to immerse myself in the tools that will help me meet my goals. Sitting with my emotions as they arise and allowing my feelings to be ugly sometimes are the keys to the true comfort that I need. That awareness is how to inform my eating decisions as I navigate through grief.

Self-love and compassion are needed more than ever in a time of grief. I know that with those values as my base and time to heal my pain, I will return to my goals very soon. While I focus on my health for me, the child in me still wants my dad to be proud of me. So I will use him as a guide in returning to my journey.