Updated: Jun 8, 2020
Grief has the power to turn your whole world inside out in an instant. Even when it’s anticipated, all death is somehow unexpected and shocking. While we know the emotional side of loss, we are rarely prepared for the physical effects which are bad for our heart, our immune system, and our waistline. Our bodies and our brains have their own distinct grieving process and a common effect of grief on one’s physical health is weight gain. Some call this “grief fat” or “grief gut” which is enhanced from comfort eating while grieving to the point of weight gain.
Comfort eating is common when we are unhappy in life and grief is on the of the most challenging things that we will ever face. At first, when we are in initial shock, the grief can suppress our appetite and we don’t feel like eating at all. After the initial shock passes, we may enter a period of chronic stress as we slowly process the grief. This chronic stress tends to increase the appetite but often you still don’t feel like cooking or caring for yourself and this is when bad habits begin. You start reaching for the high sugar and high carb foods. When you eat a sugary snack, the sugar is absorbed quickly into the blood stream giving you an energy boost and insulin is released. The insulin then acts to lower our bloods sugar which makes you feel tired and sluggish, so you crave more sugar. The more sugar you digest, the more sugar you crave. This causes a seesaw of high and low blood sugar resulting in energy crashes. Grief can also change your ability to focus and lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities so it is likely your fitness routines will change as well
So why do we overeat and gain weight when we’re grieving?
It makes us feel good. We turn to comfort food to ease our pain. Food, especially fatty or sugary foods, triggers the reward system in our brain and our brain tells us to just keep eating all that delicious, fattening, sugary food.
We deserve it. When we go through something devastating, such as loss of a loved one, we rationalize our eating by telling ourselves we deserve it. The problem is when we start to deserve it every day.
Nothing matters. When we lose someone, life can feel meaningless in an instant. We don’t care as much about our health or appearance so we reach for that bucket of ice cream.
We don’t feel like cooking. Grief makes it feel impossible to even get out of bed some days, never mind make dinner. We then make poor choices turning to carry-out, order pizza, or heat up a frozen dinner.
Boredom. We start to eat mindlessly, just because the food is there.
We associate food with comfort. Growing up food is used as a reward or to cheer us up. When we are grieving it is no surprise we often turn to our favorite “comfort” foods.
What to do if you are eating your way through grief:
Pay attention to your triggers
Consciously consider whether you are actually hungry
Practice mindful eating
Stock your fridge and pantry with healthy foods
Don’t eat when you’re watching TV
Break the carry-out cycle
Find new interests
Engage in physical exercise
Splurge now and then
Get help. If you are still struggling with your self-care and over-eating, consider working with a grief coach to further explore your grief and build a wellness plan. Consider our Celebrate Life coaching package!