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Grief & Nutrition: How Comfort Foods May Be Prolonging Your Grieving Process

Published: November 10, 2020

When it comes to grieving, we all have different ways of processing emotions and facing the loss of a loved one. Truth be told, the emotional strain of grieving not only impacts individuals mentally but also physically, with decisions made based around eating and overall body health. This being said, when you’re grieving, it may seem like comfort food is the right answer to heal, though, in reality, you may be prolonging your grief by not giving your body the nutrients and diet it needs. Here we will look at some of the challenges with consuming comfort foods while grieving and provide tips and advantages of focusing on nutrition and exercise to positively impact your body.

Why might people overeat while grieving?

There are many reasons why comfort eating and grief oftentimes go hand-in-hand. Scientific explanations show comfort foods, especially fatty or sugary foods, trigger a reward system in our brains that release feel-good neurotransmitters, such as dopamine. These dopamine triggers can temporarily help alleviate emotional stress and therefore keep our bodies wanting to continue those feelings of happiness, even though it ultimately causes negative impacts on our health.

From a non-scientific standpoint, it’s common for friends and family to bring premade comfort meals to those who are grieving. Though this kind gesture is convenient when cooking may seem difficult, it’s easy to fall into a habit of overeating when many foods are readily available.

Are you navigating grief with comfort food?

Negative eating patterns can develop quickly if you’re not making time to focus on your own health when grieving. In many instances, you may convince yourself you’re hungry or need a snack simply as an emotional response, even if your body disagrees.

Tips if you find yourself comfort eating:

  • Consider whether you’re actually hungry. Eating may seem to be a good solution when you feel unmotivated or sad and can oftentimes come from habit or as a way to temporarily relieve stress. In addition, it’s common to confuse thirst for hunger, as the same part of your brain is responsible for interpreting both hunger and thirst signals. A good rule of thumb is to eat every three to four hours, and if you feel hungry in between, you may just be thirsty.
  • Maintain a food journal and pay attention to your emotional triggers. Documenting your eating patterns and moods surrounding these patterns can help you identify certain times, tasks, emotions, and places that trigger your comfort eating. Over time, your journal can show your emotional eating habits and allow you to learn how to counter or prevent them.
  • Fight your boredom. As you grieve, you may find yourself reluctant to leave the house, spend time with others, or keep up with your regular activities, which can lead to overeating due to boredom. If this describes you, try filling your schedule with easy, low-energy activities like taking a walk, reading, journaling, or finding a creative task; it may sway you away from your empty cravings!
  • Avoid eating while watching TV. You’ve probably heard this tip before, though it applies when grieving too. Watching shows and movies can be a great self-care tool, though if you tend to eat mindlessly while watching TV, try taking out snacks entirely or buying healthier snack options like fruits, veggies, or low-fat snacks.

Healthy habits to adopt while grieving

Though it may seem easier to rely on comfort foods while grieving, it’s important to remember our bodies prefer healthier foods and not ones that necessarily make us feel better emotionally. Here are a few tips to keep in mind while grieving and considering your next meal or lifestyle pattern:

  • Try a ‘clean’ diet or body cleanse. If you try cutting out processed, fatty, and sugary foods from your diet for a few days or even a few weeks, you can gain a better understanding of how your body reacts to certain foods and how much better you may feel without them.
  • Snack on healthy foods. Surround yourself with healthy snack options such as fresh fruit, veggies, nuts, and other high-protein, low-fat snacks for those moments you find yourself hungry between meals.
  • Drink enough water. As we mentioned above, understanding whether you’re hungry or thirsty can take some finessing. To avoid facing dehydration impacts like fatigue, trouble concentrating, and mood changes, ensure you drink enough water in the day. Health experts commonly recommend eight 8-ounce glasses or half a gallon a day. Others recommend sipping on water constantly throughout the day. As with most things, consider what you need as an individual, as there are many factors that affect how much water you need.
  • Try Exercising. Although the motivation to exercise may be low while grieving, bodily impacts and emotional triggers felt during and after exercising are great for improving mental health. To help with motivation, try working out with a friend, or attend a group class if you feel up to it. It may seem difficult to get started, but the release of endorphins will get you on your way to improving your emotional state and wellbeing.
  • Cut back on caffeine, sugary drinks, and alcohol. Grief can be an overwhelming feeling, and because grief is so emotional, it’s our natural reaction to want to avoid this pain. To cope with loss, some may turn to alcohol, caffeine, sugary drinks, or other addictive substances. Even if these options may seem like the right solution while grieving, they will not help you in the long run. Instead, try a decaffeinated tea or keep up with drinking water.

Keeping these tips in mind, know that you’re not alone if you find yourself falling into unhealthy patterns and comfort eating while grieving. Adjusting to new habits and healthier lifestyle choices will take some time, and it’s still okay to enjoy comfort foods in moderation while still listening and taking care of your body. Just remember, what you put in your body is your fuel to keep you going, and especially while grieving, your body needs the fuel to support you and your well-being even more. If you have any questions or are in need of support, take a look at our website or reach out to us here.

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