Tips for wellbeing and nutrition after loss
In this post I aim to provide a few tips for wellbeing and nutrition after loss. Looking after yourself may not feel like much of a priority after you’ve lost someone important. Your loss may have left you with little appetite or, alternatively, a need to comfort eat. Sometimes, in the initial stages of grief, all we can really do is to eat whatever we can manage and not worry about whether it’s healthy or not.
If I were just a nutritional therapist, I might say different and advocate that it’s essential to eat a nutritious and balanced diet after loss. But I’m not just a nutritional therapist, I’ve experienced significant loss and trauma, so I understand that eating well when you’re grieving is sometimes easier said than done.
In the first few weeks of grief, I found that I couldn’t eat very much at all, let alone cook. However, I knew it was vital not to go too long without eating as this adversely affects blood sugar. This can potentially make us feel worse than we already do.
I was also aware that stress uses up nutrients fast – and grief is very stressful. If you’re lucky, some kind friends or neighbours may bring you meals in the first few days or weeks. Some may even offer to shop for you. These can be the best ways people can practically support you if you don’t yet feel up to making meals or shopping.
Sooner or later though, you will need to feed yourself, and others too if you have a family. But again, when your world has been turned upside down, it’s fine to eat whatever you feel like and whatever is easiest.
Minimising the effects of grief on our physical health
In time, you will find it helpful, both physically and mentally, to get into a healthy, balanced eating routine because you will honestly feel better for doing so. We can’t do anything to change what’s happened to us, but we can take measures to try to minimise some of the physical damage that grief can do. Unfortunately, grief can increase inflammation, affect your immune system, compromise your digestion, cause brain fog and deplete your energy levels.
Research shows that the stress of grief can potentially lead to some serious health issues, such as cancer, heart disease and broken heart syndrome. Therefore, the better your diet is, the stronger you will be physically. That, in turn, will then have an effect on your emotional wellbeing too.
How to get the nutrients you need for your health and wellbeing after loss
Try to aim for:
- 5-6 portions of vegetables and 1-2 of fruit each day
- Protein (with every meal) – eggs, nuts, meat, fish or plant-based (tofu, beans, lentils, chickpeas)
- Complex carbs – quinoa, brown rice, sweet potatoes, lentils, oats
- Fats – oily fish, nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil
Here are a few of the manageable, nutritious and easily assembled meals that I often suggest to my bereaved clients:
- Full fat plain yogurt with a large swirl of almond butter, some pumpkin and/or chia seeds and berries
- Chocolate porridge made with plant-based milk and a little cacao powder, plus nuts/nut butter, seeds, berries
- Omelette with spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms or peas and feta cheese
- Leftovers from the night before (key tip – making extra means next day’s lunch becomes a no-brainer)
- Quick assembly of falafel with houmous (or alternatively a tin of tuna), avocado, cherry tomatoes, beetroot and salad leaves
- Salmon/chicken/tofu, broccoli and red pepper stir fry with garlic, lemon and tamari with brown rice (from a ready cooked pouch for convenience).
- Bean and veggie chilli with quinoa, sliced avocado and a dollop of yogurt
- Chicken or halloumi in lime and chilli with oven roasted peppers, aubergine, sweet potatoes and a green salad on the side.
- If you feel in need of a sweet treat then dark chocolate will provide some magnesium and antioxidants and also help stimulate some feel-good endorphins.
As grief sometimes comes in waves, when you’re having a better day, you could batch cook so that you then have a few healthy meals in the freezer to use when the grief hits again and you feel less up to cooking.
You can find healthy recipes on the blog page of this website
Limit coffee as your adrenal glands and nervous system will probably already be over-stimulated and working overtime due to the stress of grief.
Alcohol is generally best avoided as it can disrupt sleep which you will need more than ever. Sleep is when the body does its repair work and also when you start to process what has happened to you emotionally.
Getting out in nature for a walk has been shown in numerous studies to help our wellbeing.
Exercise is useful for expending the body’s stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, which, if excessive, can become problematic after a traumatic event. It also increases the levels of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers and mood boosters.
Not being able to sleep when you’re grieving can feel like additional torture. Supplements or herbs (on the recommendation of a qualified practitioner) can certainly help here and you could also try a breathing technique like the 4-7-8 method. Breathe in for a count of 4, hold for 7 and breathe out slowly through the mouth for 8. This can effectively calm your nervous system if you’re feeling anxious.
Weight Loss or Weight Gain
Weight loss is common when you’re in shock and unable to eat very much. Gaining weight may occur if you begin to use food as a way to comfort yourself. You may even find you experience both at different stages of the grieving process.
Be gentle on yourself. All being well, you will, given time, come back to a natural balance. If not, and either become problematic, I can help you to address this.
Dehydration in Grief
It’s thought that emotional tears contain stress hormones, which the body releases in the process of crying. Another theory is that crying triggers the body to release endorphins in order to make us feel better. However, you can potentially become dehydrated from crying during intense grief so it’s a good idea to make sure you drink plenty of water.
In view of the effects the stress of grief can have on our immune, nervous and digestive systems, a good quality multivitamin and mineral supplement can be viewed as valuable, if not essential back-up. This is especially true if you’re either not eating very well or not eating enough.
As stress affects the health of the gut microbiome, which is important for all aspects of health, it can be helpful to take a probiotic at this time too.
I have used (both personally and with grieving clients) various effective supplements for aiding sleep and calming anxiety. There are also supplements that can help with mild to moderate depression and that have been shown in studies to be as effective as antidepressants but without the side effects.
As nutritional therapists, we don’t use a ‘one size fits all’ approach, so specific supplement protocols will vary and we are mindful that some supplements may be contraindicated with certain medication.
If you experience physical symptoms you’re very concerned about, then you should contact your GP. However, booking a consultation with me for personalised advice on diet and supplements can be a really good way to support yourself during the grieving process. This can be particularly helpful if you’re struggling with anxiety, low mood, sleep, fatigue, digestive symptoms, brain fog and so on.
Feed your soul
Proactively looking after yourself during grief can give you back some control at a time when you may feel like you have none. Getting the nutrients necessary for health and wellbeing is extra important when we’re grieving. It can be a crucial form of self-care that helps to nurture mind, body and soul, supporting us as we move through challenging times.
These tips for wellbeing and nutrition after loss are general. If you are interested in more specific support, please get in touch: email@example.com or read more about the services I offer. These include holistic grief coaching where we can look at how your loss is affecting you physically as well as emotionally. I offer free discovery calls for anyone interested in one of my programmes.