- A common effect of grief on one’s physical health is a loss of appetite and, in turn, significant (or at least mild) weight loss.
- This change in appetite often comes with other changes in normal functioning; grieving individuals also typically experience an inability to focus, as well as a lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities.
- With time, their normal functioning is restored: their appetite returns, they are able to concentrate at school or work again, and they again enjoy once beloved activities.
- While this loss of appetite and weight might be characteristic of some grieving processes, it’s important you do what you can to continue to take care of yourself.
- Do what you can to keep your body nourished: you could even get help from some friends who will gladly accompany you to dinner! Whatever you do, listen to your body and give it what it needs.
If you’ve ever suffered from a major loss—that of a loved one or even the loss that comes with a breakup or job change—you might’ve experienced a change in appetite: in most cases, a loss of it. When my boyfriend of a few years broke up with me, I didn’t (or couldn’t, rather) eat. For weeks. I stuffed a few pieces of food down each day to keep from feeling completely and totally empty, but my appetite was seriously diminished, and I lost a substantial amount of weight because of it.
It wasn’t just my appetite and weight that were affected. I had a hard time sleeping for more than a few hours each night. I couldn’t focus at school. And I had no interest in meeting my friends for lunch, or painting, or going to the gym. I couldn’t function properly. I couldn’t do anything, but ruminate over the breakup and the relationship lost. I was grieving. And my health suffered as a result.
Grief, Loss, and… More Loss
That’s right, your physical (as well as your mental health) can suffer as a result of a major loss. And one common occurrence is weight loss, as many individuals become too distressed to feel hungry or to even remember to eat. “Bereavement in adult life,” which is published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), delves into this common presentation of grief.
While grief is often separated into five distinct stages—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance—it can follow an entirely different framework. For example, according to the aforementioned article, the course of grief may proceed as follows:
The first period, that of numbness, often strikes soon after reality hits the grieving individual. They feel emotionally numb for typically a few hours or days, and then they move into the second phase: pining. They start to pine after their lost loved one, and they grow anxious because that pining can’t be fulfilled. That said, for a little while they continue functioning relatively normally—eating, sleeping, going to work… only indifferently. But then their everyday functioning takes a plummet. Their appetite becomes diminished (and they lose weight as a result), they struggle to concentrate on the activity or job at hand, and they slip into an irritable, depressed state.
Eventually, the individual then moves into the third phase of grieving, which is marked by disorganization and despair. They constantly think about the loved one lost, even pondering his or her death—how it all went wrong and how they could have helped prevent it. Sometimes, these grieving individuals even start to hallucinate, as they report seeing or hearing their loved one. With time, however—and often after revisiting the aforementioned stages several times—the individual finally enters the final phase of reorganization. Their appetite returns, their normal weight is restored, and they begin learning how to function normally again without the loved one lost.
Prioritizing Your Health While Grieving
Losing your appetite and, in turn, weight is an unfortunate part of grieving. That said, you don’t have to just accept it as an effect of grief. In fact, you should take it upon yourself to do what you can to continue prioritizing your health and that includes eating well. Susan Youngsteadt—Family Centered Treatment Therapist and Family Coach and Intake Supervisor—understands the detrimental effects of loss and grief, as she’s experienced them herself, but she also understands how important it is to take extra good care of yourself during this time:
“From personally losing both of my parents, I experienced significant weight loss. My body spent so much time and energy ruminating over the loss and feeling empty, that I simply was not hungry. Hunger became a secondary need for my body,” she explains. “I would find myself sitting alone for hours on the floor, not realizing I hadn’t eaten all day.” Fortunately, she had some good friends who helped her through and she was able to recognize her needs, as well. “In order to eat, my friends would cook meals or take me out to eat, which helped tremendously. Listening to what your body needs will help you move through the grieving process. Getting good sleep and eating healthy foods (no processed or fast food) are key,” she says.
Parkes, C. M. (1998, March 14). “Bereavement in adult life.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. Retrieved September 4, 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1112778/