What we eat can have a major impact on how we feel, both physically and emotionally—but unfortunately, when we’re deep in grief making the right choices about nutrition can be overwhelming. Unfortunately, this can lead to a vicious cycle, where the food we eat is just making us feel worse and making us sink deeper into the hole of grief.
Keeping your body healthy is a major concern when you’re grieving. Grief is already hazardous for your health. People who lose a spouse, for example, are at higher risk of death from all causes, from accidents to cancer, in the year after they are widowed. Eating well is an important part of taking care of your physical health during deep grief.
Handling Grief and Food
Food can be a source of comfort. Sometimes certain foods remind us of the loved one who passed away, other times the tastes of childhood simply make us feel better by reminding us of happy times. The term “comfort food” usually refers to food that isn’t particularly healthy, but everyone’s comfort foods are different and some people actually prefer to eat cucumber sticks and plain yogurt during grief.
There’s nothing wrong with indulging in comfort food, even unhealthy comfort food, after a major loss. However, if your comfort foods aren’t healthy, it’s important to limit how long and how often you’re eating them.
It’s also good to be aware of how much you’re eating. Eating too much and eating too little are both extremely common responses to a major loss—and neither are healthy. You shouldn’t be eating more than before, but you also shouldn’t be skipping meals or losing weight.
Developing Healthy Eating Habits
Even in the best circumstances, we don’t all have ideal eating habits. Realistically, the depths of grief is probably not the time when you’ll overhaul your cooking and eating routines. Your goal should be to eat at least as well as you did pre-loss, and if possible to make small, incremental improvements in your nutrition.
Here are some specific strategies to eat better even while grieving:
- Keep your meals simple but healthy;
- Instead of eating out, try to schedule times to eat with friends or family as frequently as possible;
- We often talk about only eating when you feel hungry—that strategy doesn’t work during grief when people often say they never feel hungry. Instead, make sure you eat three meals at a set time every day, whether or not you feel like eating;
- If you find yourself wanting to snack, eat fruits, nuts or other healthy snacks;
- Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and high-quality proteins.
Caffeine and Alcohol
There’s also nothing wrong with a cup of coffee in the morning or a beer with dinner, but you should be careful not to overdo either. A cup of coffee also is not breakfast and shouldn’t replace a healthy meal in the morning. Leaning too heavily on caffeine—and especially on alcohol—can lead to health problems down the road.
If you’re struggling to eat well as you’re dealing with grief, a counselor can help you identify easy steps to improve your nutrition and help you see the relationship between your physical and emotional well-being. Together, we can find strategies that work for you and will help you stay healthy even while adapting to life without your loved one.