The Healing Power of Food
Since Libby passed away a few weeks ago, I must admit my highly nutritious athlete’s diet has been a little suspect. For the majority of the time I’ve still been able to stick to my general diet guidelines that I describe in my blog post about eating like an athlete, but there have been times when I’ve struggled.
I’ve discovered that grief does weird and wonderful things to your body and mind. I find myself at times incapable of making a decision or plan, Something I swear by normally, especially when doing my food shop. I’ve also found when eating out, it really hard to choose something to eat on the menu. At times I’ve just felt so overwhelmed and almost panicked, just with something that is so simple and normally natural to me. This has meant that I’ve not always made the healthiest of choices, tending more towards foods that are comforting and safe and that in my head I think will make me feel better.
I have been reading a really interesting book called ‘Eat Up’ by Ruby Tandoh, which discusses the important role of food for not just nourishing us physically, but also mentally. As well as its massive role in different cultures and societies. I have found it really helpful in dealing with my grief, as it has helped me to understand some of the food choices I have made lately and also helped prevent me from feeling bad or guilty about making some unhealthy and possibly wrong choices expected for the diet of an elite athlete.
Our body’s have a knack at times of surreptitiously letting us know what we really need. I believe it is why at times we have really random cravings. I know sometimes I just can’t get enough of spinach and others oranges. People might find this weird, I know most people crave cake and chocolate, and I definitely do this too, but when I experience this I believe its my body telling me it needs more iron, or vitamin C for example. At the moment I’m craving a lot of childhood favourite foods and home comfort food. I think its because my body is telling me I need to feel happy and I’m struggling with that just now.
Foods that I am turning to just now are bread, spread with loads of butter. Its what my Nan was famous for. A couple of days after Libby passed away I also had a massive desire for a crisp butty, with fresh crusty bread, plenty of butter and salt and vinegar flavoured McCoy’s crisps. Which of course I had to indulge myself in. In the morning of that day I had tried to train on my static bike at home and had a mini melt down. Having to ease off the pedalling after 15 minutes to sob my heart out. It is amazing the power of food at times. After this melt down, a crisp butty was all I could think of and once I provided myself with it, I immediately started to feel better, even if it was only short lived.
Another thing I’ve been eating more of this past little while is cheese. It goes very well with bread and butter. It also makes most pasta dishes taste even more appealing when covered in starting to melt grated cheese. The best though is when cheese has been grilled and has melted until crispy, chewy, but not quite burnt on toast, or a crumpet, on top of an omelette or on anything really. Grief can mess with your appetite at times. I think adding foods that make it more tempting or appealing definitely help to encourage you to eat.
The other thing I’ve found is that i’m wanting to add sweet things to everything. This is why a lot of my recipes lately have included mango or pineapple. They make a great sweet addition to a savoury dish and tempt me in to wanting to eat them. I’m lucky that its not just me I’m having to cook for as this forces me in to making dinner. If I were living on my own I think I would really have struggled to provide myself with 3 nutritious meals a day. Having someone around who both needs and enjoys my cooking has given me the reason I need to keep going.
I find myself swinging between the need for routine, where I cling to normality, and trying to escape from it all. “This is the time I normally start cooking, so this is what I do”. “I normally eat lunch around now so this is what I do”. “9 A.M is when I get on my static bike to train, so that is what I will do”. I feel a little like a robot, minimising how much I need to think and use my brain. Then there’s other times when I just need to get out the house and away from it all. Going out for meals, be it breakfast, lunch, coffee, cake or dinner has given me a reason to do this. I’ve always enjoyed eating out and indulging in good food. It makes me feel happy, so i’ve been doing it more often lately. The problem is, when I eat out I’m not in as much control as to what I’m putting in my body. I’m also tending to eat more unhealthily and taking in more calories than I usually would. Normally this is absolutely fine if it is occasionally. I’m a big believer in everything in moderation is the healthiest approach, but I realise at this moment in time i’m eating more unhealthy food than I normally would. This has resulted in me occasionally experiencing feelings of guilt and frustration after I have overindulged, “I really shouldn’t have eaten all that ice cream should I?” and “did I really need that chocolate bar?” But at the time of eating it, it brought a smile to my face, and at the moment, any reason to smile is a good thing and so the answer to both of those questions is a definite and resounding yes.
Food is powerful. It can unite us, it can comfort us, it can sustain us and it can make us feel happy, loved and content. As Ruby Tandoh explains in her book, someone going out of their way to provide you with food that you both like and enjoy, is one of the greatest displays of love you can show. However, food can also divide us, make us feel sick when we have overindulged, stress us out when something we have slaved over cooking goes wrong. Eating can make us feel so many emotions good and bad, as when we eat, it sparks memories. For a little while I simply couldn’t take a bite out of an apple without wanting to cry. I just kept thinking, Libby is not here to eat this core and she never will be again. Time does help though, I can now eat one without crying, and even sometimes I can do it with a smile as I remember all the funny times she came legging it over to me to get the core, just incase I forgot.
I might not currently be physically injured, but mentally I am. Just as we would allow time for physical wounds to heal, I need to allow time for my mind to heal too. Where if it was a physical injury I would rest and supply my body with plenty of healing foods full of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. This is exactly the same for healing a mental wound. Where if a bone was broken or a muscle was torn I would supply my body with plenty of calcium rich foods, or protein rich foods, as its an emotional wound I need to provide my body with mood enhancing foods and things that make me happy.
Therefore, I’m going to continue doing what I’m doing, listening to my body and eating the foods it is telling me it needs. Just like now I can eat an apple again without feeling sad, I know in time I will also be able to stop craving sweet, sugary, homely, comforting foods and depending on them to make me feel happy. I know I’m not alone with this. So many people struggle with their appetite and diet when they aren’t feeling mentally strong. If you feel able to share any of your personal experiences, then please do so in the comments below.
Thank you for reading and speak soon.