Eating and Grieving: How Bereavement Affects Nutrition

It’s remarkable how grief permeates every aspect of our life—including those almost-unconscious acts that we might otherwise take for granted. Grief, comes in many forms, and for many reasons. It is the normal process of reacting to a loss. Death is the most understood cause of grief, but divorce, illness, job loss, and career change can also elicit the symptoms of grief. Regardless of its root, grief can be disruptive and disarming.

There’s no better example of this than dietary habits. You may not think of your daily habits as being in any way permeable, impressionable, or subject to the vagaries of grief. Yet many people who are in a season of bereavement also find themselves in a season of poor nutrition.

The Link Between Grief and Diet

There are different ways in which this can manifest. Some mourners essentially begin stress eating, consuming more than they really need to, not because they’re hungry but just because they’re nervous and edgy. Other mourners eat particularly unhealthy foods—seeking solace in “comfort foods” that might feel good, but don’t necessarily lend themselves to good health. And still other mourners become so caught up in the grieving process that they stop taking care of themselves, meaning they don’t prepare meals or eat anywhere near what they should.

It’s always difficult to take care of yourself when you’re in a season of grief, of course, yet it is precisely in this season that you most need to watch out for your own health. By taking care of your body—and that means eating right—you can maintain your energy and your positivity; you can help ward off depression, lethargy, and other common side effects of bereavement.

Grief can literally kill you—impacting your brain chemistry, potentially causing physical disease, even leading to broken heart syndrome—but one of the best ways to stay well is to eat right.

How to Eat Well While Grieving

The question, as ever, is how. Follow some of these tips to ensure proper nutrition during a period of mourning.

  • Keep meal preparation simple. Nobody expects you to be making lavish, multi-course meals; just get the basic nutrients that you need, that’s all. Make a batch of grain—brown rice or quinoa, maybe—and a quick, lean protein, like grilled chicken. Get a couple of vegetables and a fruit and you’ve got the makings of a solid meal. Salads and wraps can be especially easy and filling.
  • Remember that there is a world of difference between convenience items and junk food. You can buy quick and easy menu items, like pre-cut vegetables, pre-sliced fruit, canned beans, and the like, without stooping to chips, frozen pizzas, or TV dinners.
  • Having a few healthy condiments handy—salsa, guacamole, pesto, hummus—can go a long way toward bringing variety and flavor to your menus.
  • For the sake of your blood sugar and your metabolism, be disciplined enough to eat three meals a day; don’t snack or graze throughout the day, and don’t fall into a junk food trap!
  • Don’t live off caffeine! A cup or two of coffee each day is fine, but don’t load up any more than that. Caffeine has plenty of negative effects on the body and mind, especially when it’s consumed in high amounts.
  • Get your fill by eating some healthy fats—olives, nuts, and avocados. These aren’t replacements for meals, but rather parts of your meals, or perhaps good, quick snacks when you really need them.
  • Limit your alcohol intake, remembering that alcohol is a depressant; you don’t necessarily have to abstain, but do be careful about drinking in excess or drinking alone.
  • Keep your immune system functioning like it should! Get plenty of vitamin C by ingesting oranges, broccoli, and potatoes.

When your world has suffered a dramatic change, it’s hard to prioritize self-love and self-care—yet you can, and must. A good way to keep yourself living and grieving in a healthy way is to be disciplined in your nutrition—not necessarily eating fancy, just eating well.

Mary Ellen Wasielewski