Food and grief: tips for healthy eating

September 2019

To mark British Food Fortnight, we invited WAY member and nutritionist Sabine Horner to share some tips about how to eat healthily when you're grieving...

Focusing on our basic needs is very important when grieving - but eating properly can be quite challenging when the last thing on your mind is shopping and cooking.

In the initial period after bereavement, it is common for people to eat lots of convenience and comfort food. Or some people eat very little due to lack of appetite, nausea or difficulty swallowing.

This can create a problem as food has a significant impact on our emotional, physical and mental well-being. And, there is mounting evidence that food can make us feel better or worse, depending on what we eat and when.

Because of the strong link between the gut and the brain, imbalances between the beneficial and harmful bacteria in our gut can cause mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. Stress and a diet high in processed foods and sugary snacks can easily tip the balance towards an abundance of bad guys who not only make us crave even more sugar but are also the root cause of many diseases.

Food also affects our blood sugar levels which in turn impact upon our energy, concentration and mood. Do you notice how tired and irritable you become when you have not eaten for a while? Or how your energy levels dip after eating bread, pasta, chips, pizza or dairy?

These comfort foods are better avoided as they either contain sugar (lactose in milk) or are readily turned into sugar by the body. While they may be emotionally uplifting in the short-term, very soon our energy levels crash. Not ideal when we need more energy, not less!

The same goes for all types of processed foods such as processed meats, fish or chicken nuggets, instant noodle soups, packaged snack foods or pastries. Apart from sugar, they are typically full of preservatives, additives, sodium, trans fat and artificial ingredients that not only make us feel sluggish and do not provide any nutrients, they may also cause food intolerances because of their high histamine levels.

The best way to combat low energy, mood and motivation would be to have three regular meals and as diverse a diet as possible to keep our gut bacteria happy, prevent blood sugar fluctuations and help us feel satisfied for longer.

But being recently bereaved myself, I realise we all have our fair share of life challenges to contend with and changing our diet on top of everything else might just be too much.

So, what can we do if we do want to have more control over how we feel?

The key is to make gradual changes - one small step at a time. Here are a few suggestions to help you get started:

  • Ask friends or family for help with grocery shopping and cooking.
  • Have breakfast if you normally don't bother. This may help set you up for the day.
  • Add protein to every meal to stave off cravings for potentially unhealthy snacks.
  • Gradually replace highly processed foods with mood-boosting foods such as veggies, fruit, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, oily fish and healthy oils.
  • Avoid sugar or replace it with natural unprocessed sweeteners such as dates, raw honey and maple syrup.
  • If you do nothing else, just drinking 1 tall glass of water half an hour before lunch and dinner will improve your stomach acid and help with food digestion and absorption.
Follow this link here for some simple yet nutritious recipes for when you don't feel like eating.
Sabine lost her husband to leukaemia two years ago while she was retraining to become a nutritional therapist and Kundalini Yoga instructor. She sees it as her husband's legacy to help other bereaved partners regain their emotional, mental and physical well-being so that they can live each day to their full potential.

For more resources and recipe inspiration please go to her Facebook page here. From October, she will also be offering Culinary Grief Workshops for bereaved partners who would like more personal support with the practical and emotional challenges of shopping, cooking and eating for one.

Visit for more details.