Welcome back to Restorative Grief with Mandy Capehart. You are listening to episode 33, titled Finding Comfort Without Comfort Foods. This week, I wanted to share something a little more personal. I am always looking for ways my grief education can help me continue to integrate my own story further, and I had a breakthrough recently about grief and my relationship to food. Food is a fascinating topic. From healthy eating to food pyramids, fad diets and food deserts, we could spend a lifetime discussing the cultural, social, personal, and political implications of the industrial food complex and our relationship to it on all levels. But we are going to focus on how we relate to food as individuals, and how our understanding of any and everything in life can change when grief is involved. Even the way we think about food.
Before I go too far, I want to clarify that I do not ascribe to reductionism. In fact, it is often Reductionist Theory that warps our understanding of food in the first place. It’s basically the opposite of what I want to unpack, but the short version is that reductionism refers to a focus on the individual parts of food, like protein, carbohydrates, etc. as their source of value, rather than the holistic approach that focuses on food habits, and the relationship between diet and health. We see reductionist theory often on social media and in nutritional marketing.
But we want to approach food holistically because we are whole beings, right? Mind, heart, body, and spirit. As we’ve discussed, my approach to grief is to observe the whole self and consider what part feels out of alignment. In my case, I knew that my body was out of alignment. Many of us are – think back (sorry) to the start of the pandemic. We joked about the Covid 15, but the truth is not only were we gaining weight, but we were experiencing trauma. Our bodies weren’t used to the sudden change in our daily lives. The same is true of our minds, hearts, and spirits. So as we continue to move through the pandemic, we are learning new things about what works and what doesn’t, but our bodies are often the last to get the attention. And I’m no exception.
But my story doesn’t start with the pandemic. My relationship to food died with my mom. The day she passed, I lost my first chef and first teacher in the kitchen. As children, we ate like royalty — even for breakfast on school days. She spent her time ensuring our meals were balanced, healthy, and delicious. We cooked together, and she taught me all there is to know about the best way to make everything. I’m literally an expert.
The first physical piece of her I kept was her 13-inch steel J.A. Henckels chef knife. It took years before I felt ready to cook with it again, and each time I did, I felt her presence with me in the kitchen. But during the pandemic, I relied heavily on delivery — both prepared foods and groceries. I lost my connection to food itself, and with it, my desire to cook, eat well, or even think about meals. All of my planned meals gave way to takeout and frozen dinners, made easier because of convenience and my complete lack of effort involved.
But food is a whole-body experience. Like everything else, we encounter produce and proteins with our mind, heart, body, and spirit.
We think about food. What is good for us, what is more harmful. We have weird narratives about diets and the purpose of food that change our relationship to it.
We dream about food. Traveling and trying exotic new things, or even falling in love with places and people when our olfactory memories are triggered, and we return to a time of connection in our hearts.
We consume food with our eyes, our noses, our fingers, and our stomachs. Our bodies process food internally without our thoughts or willpower. Some bodies process food poorly when stressors are introduced.
We connect with food. Our spirits are lifted when a good bowl of rich soup is presented to the broken heart or recovering body. We use food as ritual, tradition, connection to the earth.
There is no part of us that can separate our whole being from the experience of food. Yet so many of us have placed our home in sporadic, fad diets, reductionist theory of “food as fuel,” and attempted to manipulate our understanding of food and nutrition by disconnecting from the entire experience.
Without direction, the people perish. So we search high and low for the right direction, trusting influencers, celebrity cookbooks, medical doctors, and sometimes even spiritually influenced diet plans. But what of trusting how we were designed?
What of remaining in alignment with our values, and finding our full sense of self in the way we relate to food and nutrition?
In the same way we might restore our connection to ourselves through curiosity, we can approach food curiously, too. How does this bright, juicy strawberry make us think about food? How does it make us feel? How does our stomach rumble at the thought? How does your connection to community, berry farmers, produce markets, and the very soil change when you consider the strawberry?
There is a practice of meditating while eating that I love to teach my grief clients. This includes the practice of “drinking your food and chewing your drinks.” That’s not to say we should make chunky “smoothies” and move on. But it is a call to slowing down, becoming present, and truly savoring and experiencing the food or beverages we choose.
Our quick-fix culture thrives on easy solutions — supplements, flash loss diets, and even simple declarations of “calorie deficit!” But if any of these truly worked, they would need to work for everyone.
And they clearly don’t.
That means we need to ask a different question: Why aren’t these mentalities and perspectives accessible to all? Because they’re not the true path toward self-care.
Caring for ourselves — true self-care — isn’t based on how many hours you can get away from your job or family. It’s not the spa days, vacations, or Treat Yourself shopping sprees.
It’s the interconnectedness of humanity, coming back toward ourselves and one another. Self-care is learning to breathe again, intentionally and without worry about what comes next. True self-care, in relation to our food, is recognizing that we have a relationship to food that we’ve inherited. Like any other thing we learned about life, our surroundings may have made things really accessible or really challenging for us to experience food in a helpful way.
Maybe we were raised in a food desert, only able to afford the packaged food available in walking distance. As adults, maybe we’ve gained more access but rely upon the nostalgia and scarcity mindset we experienced as kids. That’s meaningful — and means much when we can identify and unpack the things that might hold us back.
But this is not a conversation about allergies, aversions, or access — although all three deserve to be addressed. For today, this is simply a call for humans to remember that we are interconnected to all things. All of it — the air we breathe, the food we consume, and the people we meet. Including ourselves. But we’ve lost sight, for the sake of productivity, profit, and consumption.
It’s no surprise we rely on comfort foods, but it was never the food itself that provided comfort. It was the context — the people, the places, the smells, and the experience. The whole self-involvement in what we gained when that casserole or stew sat before us, a loved one smiling and waiting for us to take that first bite. It’s when we realize that we can’t go home again that we start questioning the relationship.
It was never just the soup. It was always the chef.
Thank you for listening to Episode 33 of Restorative Grief. Our relationships to food and everything else in life become deeply intertwined with one another. Grief simply adds a few more knots to unravel, right? Well, kind of. Calling them knots is a bit reductionist in its own way. But I hope that my story and understanding of self-care through loss, especially as it relates to the body, can help you unravel a few knots of your own. Our bodies are easily overlooked in grief work, beyond insisting we take a walk or try yoga. Engaging the intersections of our whole self can be the very place we find what we’ve been looking for.
If this is your first time listening, thank you for making space in your life for the importance of grief literacy. Remember to subscribe and leave a review, because that helps other grievers and grief supporters find us at a time when nearly everyone needs an extra resource.
And one last thing – please remember: The only solution for grief is to do the work of grieving. Thank you for listening. I’ll see you next week.
Links + Resources from this episode: