Grieving the loss of a loved one is HARD. It's painful. It's unpredictable. It's part of life. And It can affect our emotional, physical, and mental well-being. I am truly sorry if you're grieving the loss of a loved one - or have in the past. I am actually writing this post because I grieved a lot at the end of last year, and the beginning of this year after losing the physical presence of two uncles and our cat, Starla - all within a few months. I also found that these deaths caused me to mentally prep more for the future since my immediate family and extended family are much older now. I am happy to report that life is much brighter. But at that time, I made a mental note that it was important to talk about this topic. So here I go.
It's clear that a loss in appetite can occur as we grieve the loss of a loved one. For some, comfort foods are in demand, as is distracted eating. Some people who are working on becoming Intuitive Eaters may feel disappointed with themselves if they experience a change in their food choices, eating patterns, and way of life during times of loss. The reality is that there is no pass or fail in Intuitive Eating. It is really important to practice self-care.
If you feel like you need some extra support navigating your grief, if possible, I encourage you to see a mental health professional. Your mental health is a key component of your wellness - and you deserve to work with a qualified professional who can help you in this area. As a registered dietitian and a health coach who specializes in Intuitive Eating, I'm going to talk about this topic from an eating and self-care perspective.
WAYS TO PRACTICE SELF-CARE WHILE GRIEVING
When people experience great loss, they will sometimes try to control something - like the size of their bodies. Instead of trying to control your body size or weight, practice self-care - which can serve as a tool for supporting your well-being as you try to get through this phase.
1) Eat regularly. If you're currently grieving the loss of a loved one, you might be saying to yourself, "Why am I not hungry? I usually eat around this time." When people are going through stressful and incredibly sad phases in life, it's very common to experience a loss of appetite. As the book, Intuitive Eating, states, while some people might indicate that they run towards sweets during moments of stress, "...in most individuals, biological mechanisms associated with stress turn off the desire to eat." This is attributed to the body preparing for "fight or flight." Part of this "fight or flight," preparation also entails decreasing the efficiency of the digestive system, which results in feeling full faster than usual when consuming food. Some people may also become depressed after losing a loved one - which is associated with a loss of appetite. According to the Harvard Health Letter, "Up to 50% of widows and widowers have depression symptoms during the first few months after a spouse's death."
While it might not seem appealing to eat during such a difficult time, I recommend eating every 3-4 hours to nourish your body, have more energy, promote balanced blood sugar levels, experience regular hunger/fullness cues, etc. Remember, while Intuitive Eating includes tuning into your hunger/fullness cues and honoring them, this also assumes that you're eating regularly. If you don't eat regularly, among many things, you're more likely to feel even more tired during what is already an exhausting experience. You're going through so much right now - and you need the nourishment.
2) Select easy meals to prepare, purchase ready-made foods, order out, and be open to accepting help from loved ones. When we grieve, our focus in life can suddenly shift to getting out of bed, taking a shower, and getting through the day. With this in mind, it can understandably be exhausting and overwhelming to make decisions - including what we're going to eat next. Especially if we don't have much of an appetite, and food doesn't sound good.
Making simple meals at home can make life more manageable - no matter what phase you're going through. But when you're grieving, this can be a particularly good time to make easy dishes, purchase some pre-made items at the grocery store, order an entree that seems like the best option in the moment, accept some meals from family and friends - and maybe eat a few with them. And if you find yourself wanting some ice cream,
chocolate, or another comfort food, that's OKAY too. Emotional eating is a problem when it's our ONLY coping mechanism - versus ONE of our coping mechanisms. Intuitive Eating encourages a flexible approach to eating, and promotes consuming a wide variety of foods - without judgement. The key is to practice self-care and eat consistently right now. Eating regularly versus not eating is self-care.
3) Practice self-compassion. It can be so easy to judge ourselves. Practicing self-compassion is a really important part of the Intuitive Eating journey - no matter what phase of life you're in. Try to show yourself the same level of compassion that you would show a friend who has lost a loved one. What would you say to a friend who is grieving? How would you talk to your friend? Would you talk in a kind voice or a stern voice? Would you hug your friend? Would you show your friend empathy? What else would you do? Try to do the same nice things for yourself. You deserve it.
4) Practice stress-reduction techniques and obtain adequate sleep. Implementing stress reduction techniques can be empowering for your emotional and physical well-being. Stress reduction techniques may also help you get some much needed rest. We know that losing a loved one can make it difficult to sleep well - during a time when you might already be exhausted from feeling really sad, angry, stressed out, and making decisions. As hard as it might sound, you need some shuteye. Here are some strategies for obtaining an adequate amount of sleep.
I am so sorry if you're grieving the loss of a loved one right now. I know it's one of the hardest things to go through in life. Please remember that grieving is a process - as is Intuitive Eating. Give yourself permission to practice self-care and do what's right for you. May you be surrounded with peace, love, and comfort - now and always.