This article was written by Kristy Hoffman Rieken RDN, LD, LMNT. She is a registered & licensed dietitian and nutrition expert. (Article reprinted with permission from the author).
Wellness & Grief:
Nourishing the Mind, Body, & Soul
Eat, drink and be merry. This phrase is often tossed around without a second thought. These three actions can be the most difficult to do when grief has entered the daily routine. Feelings of hunger and thirst are overridden by despair, sadness, fear and anger. Decisions involving what food to purchase and what to eat or drink for a meal are pushed aside by the matters at hand. The desire to nourish yourself diminishes with the realization that life, as you knew, is now different.
The truth is that in order to move forward, despite the desire to do otherwise at times, you must eat and drink often every day. Daily nourishment provides the energy needed for increasing the desire to care of yourself. Over time, the nourishment will lead a smile back to your face and into your soul.
But how do you nourish yourself when your grief is so raw and present? How do you make the decisions to put food into your mouth when all you want to do is run back to the moment before life changed forever?
1) Make nourishing your body, mind and soul your job. Set the timer on your phone or watch to remind you to eat at certain times during the day. Aim to put at least 2-3 bites into your mouth every 2-3 waking hours initially. If you are dealing with overeating to distract yourself from grief, follow the same time schedule to prevent mind-numbing continuous eating.
2) Aim for eating every 3 to 5 hours during waking hours as your body, mind and soul continue to heal. Select foods, such as soup, yogurt, smoothies, mixed dishes, that are easy to eat if the act of eating is difficulty. Work towards selecting at least 3 items for each meal, including at least 1 high protein source (meat, eggs, beans, nuts, cheese, dairy) for daily energy. Fill one-half of the plate or bowl with vegetables and fruits to increase fiber, vitamin and mineral intake for good digestion and immune function.
3) Set the timer for water breaks, starting with the first steps of the day. Work towards drinking 3-4 cups of water in the morning to activate the body. The brain contains 73% water, which is vital for making hormones and neurotransmitters. These essential components are the deal breakers in thought and decision pathways and mood regulation. If caffeinated or alcoholic beverages are the drink of choice, work towards drinking ½-1 cup water after each restroom break. Flavor water with slices of lemon, lime, cucumber, oranges, strawberries or drops of peppermint oil if prefer flavor. Drink hot tea to warm your heart and soul as you heal.
4) Package food you have received during the initial grief period into smaller portions, label with date/item name and freeze/store for later. Purchase frozen meals to have on hand when the act of cooking is too much. Make a list of what you have and where it is stored at to refer to when deciding what to eat.
5) If eating at a table with a now empty chair is difficult, change where you sit to eat. Pick a new spot at the table, eat in a different location. Play calming music to help relax the body and mind and improve digestion. Place favorite items around the room as focal points during the meal.
6) When offered help, ask the person to buy groceries for you or make a meal for you periodically. If you are now alone, accept invitations to eat with others.
7) Use prayer or slow, deep breaths to center yourself to the task at hand.
8) Follow the advice of Hippocrates as you move through the moments and days after a life altering change: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Eat, drink and be merry will be achievable again.