Grief & Your Appetite: Does Grief Make You Hungry?
Experiencing the loss of a loved one can have several effects on the body, including a change in appetite. Each encounter with grief is unique, which means it can be difficult to know how the bereaved will express their trauma from one loss to another. Just as some grief-stricken individuals go through all five stages of grief, there are many who don’t. Ultimately, there’s no right or wrong way to experience grief. While a change in appetite may be alarming, it’s a perfectly natural reaction to the shock of loss.
Does Grief Make You Hungry?
When a person receives the news that a loved one has passed, it can be quite a blow. Several feelings and emotions can spring up, causing the mind to become overwhelmed. As the brain struggles to keep up with the flood of neurological activity, it can lose track of certain jobs and functions. Simple tasks can be challenging, such as tying a shoelace or following the thread of a conversation. This response to loss is known as “grief brain.” In turn, grief can cause stress levels to rise dramatically. For some people, it can make them lean into food as a way of coping with the stress; however, most people typically find that their appetite is suppressed when encountering grief. A majority of a grief-stricken person’s energy is focused on processing the loss, which means little attention is being paid to other important functions, such as eating. It’s typical for the bereaved to have little interest in food. In some extreme cases, they may forgo meals for days.
How Exactly Does Grief Affect Your Appetite?
The sudden significant change in a grief-stricken person’s life can overwhelm them with stress. There are generally two primary ways grief-related stress affects your appetite. Depending on the type of stress the bereaved is experiencing, it will cause them to either indulge in food or shun it. When the body takes on grief-related stress, hormones that regulate the appetite experience a change in production. A temporary, intense period of duress is known as acute stress. With acute stress, the hormone epinephrine is elevated, causing a “fight or flight” response. As it absorbs the devastating news, the grief-stricken mind is caught between facing the loss or running from it, which decreases the appetite. When a person is under acute stress, eating food will be far from their mind. Acute stress can range from just a few days to as long as a month or so.
Over time, acute stress may transition into chronic stress. The continuation of heightened stress eventually causes the body to release high cortisol levels. With the shift to cortisol, grief-stricken individuals will experience increased appetite. Those engulfed in chronic stress may indulge in “stress eating” as a way to cope with their grief. With chronic stress, there’s no telling how long it can last. For some, it may be weeks, months, or even years.
How to Eat Healthily While Grieving
Enduring the loss of a loved one can be very challenging. It’s important to be easy on yourself and nourish your body properly. Here are a few tips to help you along the way:
For those suffering from loss of appetite, it helps to start with small steps. With the digestive system in distress, it may be difficult to consume normal portions of food. Eating much smaller portions will help guide you back to normal eating patterns as your appetite increases.
Keep it Simple
As you adjust to life after losing a loved one, it may be difficult to manage common tasks, such as grocery shopping for ingredients or cooking meals. Consider starting with pre-packaged snacks or frozen meal options to make things a little easier. With a wide variety of healthy pre-packed meals, such as salad kits, tuna sandwiches, and smoothies, it can be easy to not only keep it simple but keep it healthy.
Quality Over Quantity
When choosing food options, try to choose healthy options vs. junk food. While it’s important to get your appetite back on track, you don’t want to irritate your digestive system or create long-term health concerns with unhealthy foods. Consider nutrient-dense foods as much as possible. For instance, smoothies with protein are a quick and easy way to get quality nutrients while being easy on the stomach. If you crave a carbonated beverage, consider sparkling water over soda. When it comes to snacks, a bag of trail mix or a protein bar will serve you better than a candy bar.
Set an Alarm
It’s not uncommon for those burdened with grief to forget to look after themselves. It’s perfectly natural, given the circumstances. Setting an alarm every three or four hours can be a gentle reminder that it’s time to eat something. Again, it doesn’t have to be a lot. Even a bite or two can be very helpful. Yogurt can be a wonderful choice.
How a Healthy Diet Helps You Cope with Grief
Adapting to life without your departed loved one begins with self-care. When you look after your health and well-being, you’ll be better equipped to navigate the stress and emotional upheaval that comes with grief. Eating regular, well-balanced meals that contain fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins will help you maintain optimal strength and wellness, which allows you to withstand stress associated with grief. One of the most important things you can do is drink plenty of water. With grief, it can be very easy to get dehydrated, especially if you’ve been crying for an extended period. Water will revitalize you and help elevate your mood and energy levels. When you nourish your body, you put yourself in a much stronger position to weather the storm, find clarity, and embrace a rich and meaningful life as you move forward.
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