Can Bereavement Cause Weight Gain? 

Lesley Postle explains how bereavement can cause weight gain and what you can do about it.  

Sad girl comforting herself with chocolate after a bereavement

Many people complain of weight gain after a bereavement which also makes them feel unhappy with themselves.  It is a common problem when you are grieving but if you understand why and how it is happening, you will be able to do things which will help.  

Comfort eating is common when we we are unhappy in life and grief is one of the most challenging things that we ever have to face.  It causes a lot of stress on our bodies and that affects our appetites as well as many other things like sleep.  

At first, when we are in the initial shock and acute stress of grief we might not feel like eating at all and we certainly won't feel like cooking.  

"The only real food I could cope with for a while after my Dad died was pumpkin soup, which luckily wasn't too bad a choice and was easy. 

But I did also fall into the trap of eating sweets and chocolate, especially as the house mysteriously became full of them after the funeral." 

Later on, when the initial shock of our bereavement has passed, we may enter a longer period of chronic stress, as we slowly process our grief and work out who we are in this new strange post-loss life.  

Chronic stress tends to increase the appetite but we still don't feel like cooking or looking after ourselves much, so, we get into the bad habit of surviving on snacks like chocolate or crisps.  We might also try drinking a lot of coffee to try and get some energy.  We are busy trying to get back to work or cope with family demands, but we're also really tired from all the stress, so exercise also goes by the wayside.  

Unfortunately, all this just makes things worse.  

Why the Stress of Grief Can Lead to Weight Gain

The Sea-saw of Blood Sugar Highs and Lows

When we eat a sugary snack such as a chocolate bar, the sugar is absorbed into our blood stream very quickly, which gives us a surge of energy and releases insulin. 

The insulin then acts to lower our blood sugar which makes you feel tired and sluggish again making you crave more sugar to get more energy.  It becomes a vicious cycle as the more sugar you eat the more you crave it to try and get the energy your body needs to cope with the stress.  

This becomes a seasaw of high and low blood sugar which can make you feel pretty dreadful and even more exhausted.  If you want to read a good explanation of the science of all this, click here.  

Some people cope with this for a while, but eventually our bodies can't cope with this sea saw effect and will start to become sick or even insulin resistant which leads eventually to Type 2 Diabetes.  

The other thing that insulin does is convert the sugar in your blood stream to fat and stores it in your body! So the side effect of eating all this sugar is, of course, weight gain.  

But don't worry, there are things you can do to make yourself feel a lot better and start to shift the weight. 

What Can I Do to Avoid Weight Gain While Grieving? 

1.  Breathe to lower your stress levels

When we are stressed we tend to hold our breaths without realising.  This makes us even more stressed and we tighten all our muscles.  This is what it feels like to be in the 'fight or flight' mode. 

To relax and let go use a simple breathing exercise.  Don't worry if it releases emotion with it and you end up having a good cry.  That is really good for you.  

Just sit somewhere quiet and listen to your breathing.  Is it shallow and high in your chest.  Try and relax and breathe deep into your belly.  

Count three slow breaths in and three slow breaths out.  Repeat for a few minutes or until you feel more relaxed.  

Perhaps listen to some relaxing music at the same time.  

Another way to relax is to do some gentle yoga or try a relaxing hypnosis download.

 See our page on Yoga for Grief.  

Woman meditating on the beachBreathing and Meditating Are Great for Alleviating Stress

2.  Stock up on Healthy Meals and Snacks

The trick is to try and eat well balanced meals that won't spike your blood sugar and lead to cravings.  You need good sources of protein and good fats for energy.  

Choose carbohydrates that break down slower in your body such as brown rice or pasta, and whole grain breads.  If you are desperate for comfort food, try a bowl of porridge made from whole rolled oats or a bowl of high fibre pumpkin or vegetable soup.  These foods will take longer for the body to absorb and so won't spike your blood sugar or cause low blood sugar crashes.  

Eat regular meals if possible including some healthy proteins and fats: 

Choose from: 

  • fish or grass fed meats or free range chicken
  • lots of fresh vegetables
  • brown rice, sweet potatoes or brown pasta 
  • use olive or coconut oil which are healthy fats

Buy some healthy snacks to have in the fridge for when you don't have the energy to cook, such as: 

  • tins of tuna or sardines 
  • boiled eggs
  • celery sticks or carrot sticks
  • nuts and raisins
  • cheeses
  • avocados 
  • slices of ham or salami

Avoid caffeine and sugar in drinks such as coffee or coca cola and instead try some more relaxing drinks such as: 

  • Chamomile tea
  • Decaff coffee or tea
  • Green tea
  • Ginger tea

A diet like this will help you to stay more relaxed and calm and allow your blood sugar levels to remain more constant.  This will mean that you have less cravings and are less likely to reach for the chocolate bars.  

If you're having trouble controlling your eating habits, perhaps try one of these hypnosis downloads which can help with emotional eating and many other reasons for weight gain.  

3. Do Some Gentle Exercise

You won't feel much like exercising if your grief has hit you hard.  It's hard to get motivated to get yourself up, out and moving.  

Don't beat yourself up about it. Your body is already under a lot of stress, so the last thing it needs is to be doing tough workouts at the gym.  

But try and do something gentle.  A short walk out in the fresh air will help to lift your mood.  Maybe meet a friend for a coffee and a walk around town.  

Perhaps put on a favourite song and just dance for a few minutes.  It can make all the difference.  Exercise releases endorphins in your body which makes you feel better.  

Maybe try a few gentle yoga stretches.  

As you start to feel better you can gradually increase and add a bit more movement to your day.  

4. Don't Be Hard on Yourself and Get Help If Needed

Above all, though, it is important not to be hard on yourself.  You have enough on your plate grieving your loved one and getting through all that, without punishing yourself for putting on weight.  

Allow yourself a treat now and then, but be mindful of what you are putting in your body.  Be careful that you are not just eating without realising.  If you are unaware of what you are eating, or find yourself just sitting putting lots of food into your mouth when you're not really hungry, think about getting some help. 

You might be using food to block out the feelings that you need to process in order to get through your grief and re-build your life. 

Many people use food in the same way as others use alcohol or drugs to block out their feelings. If you think that might be you, think about getting some grief support or using an online counselor as we recommend below.  

Lesley Postle has a degree in biological science from Western Sydney University and has been fascinated by nutrition for years, having had to explore the topic for her own health.  She has been on a low carb diet for 5 years and has never felt better!  Read more about Lesley here.  

Where to get help: 

Have You Considered One-on-One Online Grief Counseling? 

Get Expert and Effective Help in the Comfort of Your Own Home

The following information about online counseling is sponsored by 'Betterhelp' but all the opinions are our own. To be upfront, we do receive a commission when you sign up with 'Betterhelp', but we have total faith in their expertise and would never recommend something we didn't completely approve.  

Do you feel alone and sad with no support and no idea how to move forward?  It can be tough when you are stuck in grief to find the motivation to get the most out of your precious life. 

Online counseling can help by giving you that support so you don't feel so alone. You can have someone to talk to anytime you like, a kind and understanding person who will help you to find meaning in life again, to treasure the memories of your loved one without being overwhelmed and to enjoy your activities, family and friends again.

  • Simply fill out the online questionnaire and you will be assigned the expert grief counselor most suitable for you.  It only takes a few minutes and you don't even have to use your name.  
  • Pay an affordable FLAT FEE FOR UNLIMITED SESSIONS.  
  • Contact your counselor whenever you like by chat, messaging, video or phone. 
  • You can change counselor at any time if you wish.
  • Click here to find out more and get started immediately.
  • Or read more about how online counseling works here.  
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Hypnosis for Grief - 10 Ways It Can Help You

Try a gentle hypnotherapy track to relax the mind. Learn how self-hypnosis can help you cope with grief at any time of the day or night.  

Read more about it here. 

Related Pages: 

More questions about bereavement

Can bereavement cause depression? 

How grief affects health

For Remembrance: 

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