Experiencing grief can have a profound impact on both your emotional and physical well-being. Taking care of your nutrition during this challenging time is important for maintaining your overall health.
Grief’s Link To Gut Health
Grief can have a notable impact on gut health. The connection between the brain and the gut, known as the gut-brain axis, means that emotional distress can manifest physically in the digestive system. The stress associated with grief may disrupt the balance of the gut microbiota, leading to changes in digestion and absorption of nutrients. Emotional upheaval can also contribute to symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, and irregular bowel habits.
The bidirectional communication between the brain and the gut underscores the importance of holistic approaches to grief, addressing not only emotional well-being but also considering the impact on physical health, including gut function.
Delving Into The Evidence
To help my clients, I like to dig into the evidence first to unpin my recommendations. Starting with PubMed, I was saddened to see only 11 articles for ‘grief and nutrition’. None of which gave that much insight into this topic. Turning to Google Scholar there were only 2 relevant articles listed.
- The first article from Johnson (2002), found that those who were in coupled relationships had a lower risk of poor nutrition compared to those who were single. This is due to the positive impact that someone else can have on dietary patterns and eating behaviours.
- The second article focussed on recent widowhood’s impact on nutritional behaviours. Rosenbloom (1993) found that widowhood changed the environment for women and thus this had negative impacts on their eating behaviours and nutrient intakes. For example, leading to less variety in their diet and a reliance on simpler meals for one person.
How Does Grief Impact Your Nutritional Intake?
Grief can be a widely different experience for each and every person, with there being a whole host of emotions associated with it. These emotions can be driving factors in food patterns, such as:
- Loss of appetite – Stock up on healthy snacks or small meals. If you’re not feeling up to eating, these can be great to keep your body fuelled.
- Comfort eating or cravings – Let yourself eat what your body craves. It’s okay at this time if you’re not your healthiest.
- Low motivation to cook a meal – Focus on something easy to cook.
- Reliance on easy meals (e.g. ready meals, or something simple like beans on toast) – Lean into easier things to cook then take up less mental space.
- Irregular eating patterns – Grief can disrupt your routine, so try to keep some routine to your eating patterns with breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Tips To Help You Nutrition While Grieving
- Eat slow-release energy foods – These foods will help to balance your blood sugar levels. This is beneficial because low blood sugar can cause you to feel more tired, down, and irritable. Some good examples are wholegrain pasta or bread or oats.
- Stay hydrated – Grieving can be emotionally and physically draining, and dehydration can exacerbate feelings of fatigue and low energy. Make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day. Herbal teas and infused water can also be soothing and hydrating.
- Eat healthy fats – Fatty acids like omega 3 and omega 6 are great for keeping your brain healthy and thus supporting your mental health. Healthy fats like this are found in oily fish, nuts, dairy, eggs, poultry, avocados, and olive and sunflower oils.
- Get plenty of protein – The amino acids that protein-rich foods contain are important for brain function. Protein also helps us to feel fuller for longer. There’s a lot of protein in meat and fish, as well as in legumes, soy, nuts, and seeds.
- Watch your caffeine and alcohol intake – Consuming too much alcohol or caffeine could make you feel worse. Caffeine is a stimulant, and once the initial energy burst has worn off, it can make you feel anxious and disrupt your sleep. Similarly, the aftermath of drinking can cause us to feel particularly low and anxious.
- Prioritise nutrient-rich foods: – Focus on consuming nutrient-dense foods that provide essential vitamins and minerals. Include a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats in your diet. These foods can help support your immune system and provide the energy your body needs during this challenging time.
Everyone copes with grief differently, and that includes how they approach food. Listen to your body’s cues and seek support from friends, family, or a healthcare professional if needed.