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How Grief Affects Your Nutritional Health

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In almost every culture, a community of people bring meals to surviving family members and friends in the days, weeks and months following a loss. But, for a family member accustomed to sharing every meal with their lost loved one, the grieving process can last much longer.
According to a study on the difficulties of cooking and grieving, grocery shopping and meal prepping alone are often painful reminders of the person who passed, causing many survivors to skip meals altogether, or eat in unhealthy ways. Others expressed having challenges with cooking for one, instead of two.

Below, we take a look at how grief affects our nutrition, and offer tips to overcome these obstacles.

1. Weight Loss or Gain

Following the loss of a loved one, surviving family members and friends may experience weight gain or loss.

Weight gain may result from a lack of exercise because the bereaved feels less motivated to keep up with their regular fitness routine. Other reasons may result from overeating, as people are still cooking for two. Some may choose to eat out more to avoid cooking altogether, which often results in consuming less healthy foods for convenience.

Weight loss, on the other hand, may result from a survivor’s inability to eat. Particularly during the first several days following a death, mourners tasked with planning the funeral might find the myriad of decisions distracting, and simply find themselves eating when they can—if at all.

In addition, weight loss may result from a lack of motivation to cook at home, venture out to a local restaurant or even make a phone call to order in.

Tip: If you find yourself in charge of cooking, keep it simple. Avoid additional work that will cause stress. For instance, use paper plates to skip dishes from piling up. Or, consider meal delivery services to simplify the preparation process.

2. Energy Loss

Grief is hard work. Over time, it takes a toll on our bodies. For numerous reasons, including poor eating habits and sleeping patterns, grievers often experience feelings of fatigue, which impacts physical, mental and emotional health.

In the survey mentioned above, some survivors spoke about how hard it can be to plan a menu. Simple questions like, “What do you want for dinner?” are hard for survivors to answer because they don’t have someone to bounce their ideas off anymore.

While you may find yourself wanting to skip lunch or dinner, make it a priority to eat balanced meals to boost energy levels.

Tip: Limit alcohol and caffeine intake to avoid dehydration. Make sure to drink plenty of water and eat healthy foods, like vegetables, fruits, grains and other protein sources. If possible, avoid boxed or canned meals.

3. Routine Loss

Did you know your sense of smell is closely linked with memory? When a person passes, their partner is left behind with simple reminders of the things they loved, including the smell of fresh-baked bread or fresh-brewed coffee.

Suddenly, food can smell and taste like a betrayal for the bereaved. And for couples or families that constantly shared meals together, this can be especially difficult going from having someone to sit and talk to during dinner to not having that person’s presence. The kitchen table can feel unbalanced, like a seesaw for one.

Tip: If you’re having a hard time making meals, change your routine. Consider having your meals at a different time of the day or in a different room. Also, try new recipes that you wouldn’t typically serve.

Get Access to More Grief-Related Resources

Are you grieving the loss of a loved one? For more information on grief, plus healthy tips to help you heal, we encourage you to subscribe to our weekly grief newsletter, A Journey Towards Healing.

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Cathy Nichols
Cathy Nichols
Considers it an honor as a Certified Celebrant to listen to life stories, and then design and conduct meaningful tributes. Cathy also trains celebrants nationally, equipping them to share those legacies in ways that comfort and enlighten. Honorably serving Busch families since 2004.

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