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Grief and Eating Disorder Recovery

Updated: Jan 9, 2023

By: Gabby Morreale M.A. LPC. C-DBT.

We survived the holidays…Congratulations!! I don’t know about you, but after the holidays I often feel a sigh of relief. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the holiday season, the twinkly lights, the music, the cookies, the gifts all the festive things that come along with it. However, the pressure and the stress that often come up…not so much! Also the grief, oh the grief! If you’re anything like me, you want to make the holidays just right for those you love, but when your heart aches sometimes you just can’t.

So now the holidays are over, the fun decorations are packed away, some of the pressure has subsided, but the grief is still very present. The grief, it's heavy, suffocating at times…well, now what? As an eating disorder therapist, grief is something I talk about often. Whether it’s body grief, grief of things we’ve hoped for, grief of strained family relationships, grief of the life we suffered while in our disorder, or grief from those we have lost…it’s so important to feel it.

For me this holiday was very different, not only was I missing family I had lost in previous years throughout my life, whom I deeply cherish. I was missing my daughter Hannah, who should have been born. Talk about a punch in the gut. Although I did my best to put on a smile and tried to make the most of the season; I will admit I had many private cries. Deep cries, the ones that take your breath away…and that’s ok.

Eating Disorders and Grief

My daughter should have been born on December 2nd, 2022. I don’t know if the holiday season will ever be the same for me. What I do know is that I did not engage in my disorder. That said, if you did, it’s ok, you are human and recovery is hard!! Really hard!! If you can, do your best not to continue to rely on your disorder to numb or escape but take the steps to heal. Whatever you did to survive this holiday just know you are not alone! Being a human is beyond difficult these days.

Pink flower

Grief is often a very complex emotion (like many emotions) but it’s one we don’t always know how to let ourselves feel and it’s surely not one people like talking about. Grief is overwhelming, grief is exhausting, and grief is often love. We wouldn’t hurt so bad if we didn’t love so much. That love is often unique, painful, and so so incredibly beautiful, especially when related to those we have lost. Grief often comes in waves and sometimes we can ride the waves and sometimes it feels like we have been taken by the undertow. There is NO right or wrong way to grieve. There is also no guide but one thing I do know is it’s so important you let the grief in. Let yourself feel the deep, messy, unfathomable at times pain of whatever or whoever it is you miss.

Allowing Yourself to Feel Grief

The more we avoid our grief, the more it compounds, and the more we often begin to fear it. Like many things in life, avoidance is not the answer. There was a time in my life I wouldn’t let myself cry or feel much for that matter. I thought if I left myself cry, I would never stop. I believed my pain was bigger than I was… but it wasn’t. One, I can promise you no pain, no emotion will last forever!! Two, I can promise if you dig deep and find the courage to let yourself feel the grief and difficult emotions that come with it, you will begin to heal, and even more importantly, you may even have moments where you can feel the love. The moments when the sun hits your face and you feel happy those moments are in your grasp it just takes time. You are worthy of those moments.

No emotion even grief can last forever! Emotions at their peak intensity last 90-120 seconds. Although those intense moments feel like an eternity they will pass. Also remember it’s more than ok to fall apart!! Fall apart! Be messy! it’s ok!! I promise you do not need to always have it together.

Tips for Dealing with Grief After the Holiday Season

With all that said, here are some tips if you are anything like me and saying now what…post this holiday season.

Feel Your Grief

1) As I’ve already mentioned a few times - feel it!! The better question and a question I get asked often as a therapist is how? Feeling our feelings, when we are use to numbing emotions can feel foreign to us. A gentle reminder, we were made for emotions! We were designed to feel. So start small…what I mean by this is the next time you start to feel a wave of grief come over you acknowledge it. For each person, this may look different. One thing that has helped me is just pausing to acknowledge the emotion. Whether it be out loud or in your brain, just acknowledging that you feel the grief or sadness, anger, or whatever it is that’s coming up for you. By acknowledging the emotion, it often is a small step to beginning the healing process. Also, do your best not to minimize it. Your feelings no matter what they are or where they are coming from are 100000% valid!

Schedule Time for Your Grief

2) Tip 2 schedule it… If your grief continues to come up after pausing to acknowledge it, try pausing to feel it. This will look very different for everyone. Also, I fully acknowledge that scheduling grief is not always possible, but just hear me out. If you have the luxury to take time to cry or scream, or whatever you need to do…do it!! I can’t tell you how deeply healing it is to let it out. However, I acknowledge the privilege it is to be able to take time for yourself to heal, just know you are worth it.

Woman sitting in quiet through grief

For me, it often meant stopping what I was doing when possible, and giving myself a set amount of time to feel. By allowing myself to stop and knowing there was an end time this felt safe. For some people, this may mean scheduling time to let yourself have that good cry or write the person you miss a letter or just hold something of theirs and talk to them. These ideas may sound silly but I can’t tell you how helpful this was for me and many of my clients. Also, if this isn’t for you totally ok.

Find Connections to Help You in Your Grief

3) Lastly, connection!! There is so much healing in community. We were not only built to feel but as the amazing Brené Brown says we are “wired” for belonging. You don’t have to do it alone. Of course, therapy is always a good idea. We have an awesome eating disorder and grief specialist on staff, Maggie Terrels LPC, who would love to work with you!! If that isn’t an option for you that’s ok! Please remember you don’t have to do it alone. Talk about your sadness with your friends or family or whoever feels safest for you. One thing I often encourage clients to do is to make a list of their “safe” people. These are the ones who could be best to share your despair with. They want to be there for you.

Friends sharing grief - Recovered and Restored eating Disorder Therapy Center

Also, you never know, your bravery and transparency to share may touch them and allow them to feel safe enough to share what they may be going through. One thing I try to do is ask permission before sharing something heavy. Make sure your loved one has the space for it. I will often say things have been hard is it ok to share it with you? Or if someone says how are you I may say "Alive." Yes I really say this, and if I am with a safe person, and in the space to share I may say is it ok to say more? This is by no means necessary but just something I like to do! Anyone who loves you wants to show up for you. Give them the chance. :) You are not a burden. Your pain is not “too much” You are wonderfully human. Vulnerability is scary for sure but don’t let it stop you from forming those immensely meaningful connections and relationships. People want to be there for you. We all need each other.

I could probably write on this topic forever. For the sake of your time, I’ll stop here and leave you with some resources. You don’t have to do it alone give and let’s give ourselves a pat on the back guys we survived 2022!!

Resources on Grief

The power of vulnerability TED talk by Brené Brown

The Relationship Between Eating Disorders and Grief

By: Tali Yuz Berliner, Psy.D.

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