The Power of Food in Times of Grief
August 17, 2017 10:40 AM   Subscribe

When my husband left me, everything began to taste like glue. The effect was so pronounced that I began to eat things that resembled glue in other ways: Kraft Mac in its bricky blue box, packaged meals with scores of industrial ingredients; raw ramen, crammed into my mouth over the sink, its perfect squiggles like a child’s drawing of the ocean; furtive deliveries from the all-night Chinese joint leaving sauce stains on my empty bed, in the new apartment, in the new room, in the new life I didn’t want, and wanted, increasingly, to exit.
posted by Emmy Rae (26 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
I sped read this hoping for one of my favorite German words : fat gained by emotional eating – specifically . . . in times of sorrow. Most translations say it means 'grief bacon'. Kummerspeck
posted by epjr at 11:13 AM on August 17, 2017 [18 favorites]

For me times of intense grief and sorrow and anxiety result in heightened metabolism and decreased desire for food. I call it the "trauma diet." When I broke up with my girlfriend of 4 1/2 years (a relationship which was emotionally manipulative and full of dependency on my part) I started shedding pounds with alarming rapidity. It got to the point where I would eat entire burritos right before bed just to see if I could stop losing weight.
posted by grumpybear69 at 11:37 AM on August 17, 2017 [8 favorites]

The best part about having someone bring food after a death or a break up is that it doesn't taint "your" foods with the grief. One of the hardest things about my brother's suicide was feeding myself (and my then boyfriend, talk about emotional labor!) in the week after. None of my friends or acquaintances that I could bear to tell brought or offered anything.

I loved my lasagne but it's not fun to make or eat anymore. It's been almost three years and I think it might be something I just don't make.

This is perhaps connected to the vast amounts of pickling and jamming I've been doing this summer and last.
posted by bilabial at 12:15 PM on August 17, 2017 [46 favorites]

25 years since my daughter died, I still have an acute memory of a plate of sandwiches a friend brought to me and my wife. They were thick sliced salami and kosher dills sliced the long way on buttered dark rye bread. After not being able to eat for days, I woke up deep in the night, found the plate of sandwiches in the fridge, and ate three of them. I can still taste it. May have saved me. Another friend stopped by my house with bread still hot from his oven. He didn't need to say anything. I knew what he meant.
posted by dubwisened at 12:34 PM on August 17, 2017 [92 favorites]

The best part about having someone bring food after a death or a break up is that it doesn't taint "your" foods with the grief.

I love this idea, and it never occurred to me. When my sister died I lived on shitty deli food for days as the only vegetarian in the family. Now that I'm thinking of it I'm glad I didn't ruin my favorite foods during that time.

Funnily enough on this topic, when I was in HS I had mono. Our tap water was terrible, bottled water wasn't yet a thing and water filters weren't ubiquitous like they are now, and really the only thing I could squeeze down my very swollen throat back then was apple juice, because it didn't leave any gunk in my mouth like milk/oj/whatever. I no longer drink my calories, but damn I don't think I've had more than 5 glasses of apple juice in 30 years.
posted by nevercalm at 12:58 PM on August 17, 2017 [7 favorites]

For me times of intense grief and sorrow and anxiety result in heightened metabolism and decreased desire for food. I call it the "trauma diet."

Yeah, last time it happened to me i lost close to fifteen pounds in a few months, and i was barely overweight to begin with so that was a high percentage of my body fat. Lowest weight since my twenties! Wooo!
posted by D.C. at 1:06 PM on August 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

My mom died very unexpectedly, in a car accident on her way to work. During the subsequent days of in living the bizarro zone while trying to take care of business, eating was an afterthought/not happening. After the funeral finally happened, everyone headed to a local restaurant that she had been a fan of to eat/drink/commiserate. I declined and told my stepdad that I was just not up for it, and I'd be going back to their house to... reflect, or something.

I'd fallen asleep on the sofa at their place, and one of stepdad's buddies who'd came in from across the state to pay respects, etc. rings the doorbell, and he has a stack of lebanon bologna and a thing of sour pickles. He'd defected from the dinner thing to bring this over. This is what he'd always brought when he came from across state to visit my parents. He said that my mom liked to do it into sandwiches with bread and butter. I made that sandwich. And I ate mostly just that sandwich for at least two days after. It felt great.
posted by Ennis Tennyone at 2:09 PM on August 17, 2017 [31 favorites]

I posted this partly because I struggle to care about food in a time of grief. I relate to the author's impulse to eat glue-like foods, but the more specific food interests seem foreign to me. I always appreciate when people provide food, I just don't care at all what it is.

So I was curious if others reach for particular food in the midst of grief or just wander in the food-neutral haze like me. I hadn't thought of poisoning the taste of my favorite foods.
posted by Emmy Rae at 2:16 PM on August 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

The best part about having someone bring food after a death or a break up is that it doesn't taint "your" foods with the grief.

My brother was a chef and a cook. It's been almost a year, and I feel closer to him when I'm chopping up vegetables. I wish you could do the same with music, I'm trying to rediscover the music I was listening to then, but it's emotional work.

At my brother's memorial service we had the most delicious aubergine pickle. I kept the other half of the jar in my fridge for 6 months before I could bring myself to finish it.
posted by Braeburn at 2:17 PM on August 17, 2017 [7 favorites]

"Kummerspeck" doesn't mean "grief bacon", that's a horribly literal translation. Kummer is indeed sorrow, but speck is, apart from bacon, also stuff like whale blubber or just flab or lard, so it's basically sorrow-flab or sorrow-lard.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 2:49 PM on August 17, 2017 [14 favorites]

Despair Triglycerides
posted by grumpybear69 at 3:02 PM on August 17, 2017 [15 favorites]

Ever since my dad was shot I starve myself when I'm grieving. I don't think I've ever put it together until this thread.
posted by Space Kitty at 3:42 PM on August 17, 2017 [6 favorites]

When my 29-year-old boyfriend died, I remember sucking on chocolate milkshakes since I couldn't eat anything else; the high calorie count was good in addition to the comfort food factor. Still love them.
posted by Melismata at 4:22 PM on August 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

I've never in my life been so distraught I couldn't eat until things started falling apart with my husband out of the blue and with alarming rapidity. Since April I've lost 40lbs and I still can't bring myself to eat much. Complicating this is that I have Celiac and so there's a lot of everything I can't eat. I recently discovered McDonald's fries are gluten free and those have been featured regularly since.
posted by We'll all float on okay at 6:42 PM on August 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

Not only did I lose 12 pounds in two weeks, but I also found for months afterward that the physical act of eating caused me to cry. It got to the point that we were kind of laughing about it because it was just so ridiculous. I'd eat two bites and break down sobbing. I've never heard of this happening to anyone else and wonder if it isn't some kind of vasovagal reflex thing or something similar.
posted by HotToddy at 7:02 PM on August 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

Yeah. Heavy yeah. I'm one of those who self-starves when deep grief is active. When my dad died, it took me three days to eat a snack-size packet of M&Ms, and that's all I ate/could eat.
posted by vers at 7:06 PM on August 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

When my boyfriend died, I ate more, not less. I wasn't interested in savory foods or anything with a complex flavor. Only ice cream, with whipped cream, cheese, nuts, chocolate. I worried that I would become very large very fast. That is still pretty much what I eat (I don't know if the grieving ever stops), plus some beans and eggs for some actual nutrition.

I've read that when you are grief-stricken or lonely, you eat more out of anxiety (except for people who find themselves unable to eat, and eat much less), but I find that food is not an illusory comfort, it is an actual comfort. It feels less alone to eat something.
posted by Vispa Teresa at 8:11 PM on August 17, 2017 [4 favorites]

I've always been an emotional eater; so when my husband died, I was (in retrospect) surprised that I didn't want to eat anything. I believe there was a day or three that I didn't. Fortunately, I had an extremely amazing friend who more or less literally fed me, and fed me the worst, tastiest foods around. Think vending machine snacks. The night of his death, she fed me mcdonalds fries, literally putting them to my lips.

Because she's one of those amazing caretakers that has been around people during those dark hours, so she knew I had to eat, and that something horrible and delicious and salty would be the best way to get food into a shocker, grieving friend.

(On the rare occasions I have had mcdonalds fries since, they remind me of her, not of the grief I went though. So there is that.)
posted by [insert clever name here] at 9:32 PM on August 17, 2017 [4 favorites]

Grief has made me lose my appetite and it's also made me more hungry. I'm not sure why it's different at different times.

This is a really thoughtful sensitive thread and this (SLFB) is kind of a departure in tone but does relate to the themes of powerful emotions and food. Warning: current events
posted by bunderful at 9:35 PM on August 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

When my husband left me, I could only eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (1\2 at a time). I lost 10 pounds. (For reference, I'm a very small boned 5 feet tall 110 on average)

When my father died, I lived off wine and cigarette's for 6 months or so. The only food I wanted was grief. I was beyond high school thin.

Today, I'm happily married to an awesome guy, the saying "fat and happy" is so damn true! I'm not unhappy with my new curves, just thankful that I have them.
posted by kiwi-epitome at 10:55 PM on August 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

When I was going through a period of great stress and had ended up living with my parents in the English countryside, one night my mum made sausages for tea and mine tasted like mold. Nobody else could taste this, but over the next two weeks, everything began to taste of mold --things that couldn't possibly be moldy tasted of mold, so eventually I was down to eating canned tuna, like an mopey cat. On my way home to Canada, hoping to fix the problems at home so that I could move back, I was served a chicken dish when my plane was delayed, eating with my fellow passengers, including a young woman who refused to eat chicken that looked like the animal it came from. I then could not eat any meat with a bone in it for over a year. Some years later, after a health crisis, I became incapable of eating meat of any kind or anything that required a lot of chewing. I lived on dips and naan bread for a while. Whenever I am really depressed or frightened, eating becomes a very problematic thing and now I am reminded that during my parents' marital problems, I once ate nothing but Cheeze-Whiz and mustard sandwiches for nearly a year. I am, when upset, an almost unhealthily thin person but like kiwi-epitome I consider it a testament to the happiness of my present relationship that I am currently verging on plumpness.
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 12:03 AM on August 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

When my fiancee dumped me over the course of a pretty traumatic 10-minute skype call, I pretty much shut down culinarily. I still had to eat, but I didn't really want to spend too much time thinking about it, and being alone in a foreign country where the food options are... different... doesn't really encourage a lot of experimentation and failure. So I ended up eating a lot of salad over the next 2.5 years. Not every day, but I'd estimate 400-500 salads for dinner over that stretch of time. Which gave me a lot of time to really perfect the following recipe:
Belgian Depression Salad
1/2 bag of lettuce... what the fuck does Jong Sla mean? It looks okay.
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced. The produce can be really bad here; usually, in every bag of onions, one will already be rotting. It doesn't matter as long as it is sliced thin.
7 cherry tomatoes, halved. These don't taste like much, but they add some color. Color is important?
1/2 avocado, cubed. Just. Whatever.
Some shredded cheese. Is this cheddar? It's orange, anyway. Throw it on.
3 slices of salami, sliced in strips. The salami is fine here. I've been trying different kinds. Except the kind made from horses; I haven't quite brought myself around to it.

Season with salt and pepper to "taste", which is arbitrary. Like everything is arbitrary and contingent.

1 tablespoon olive oil. The store brand has greek, italian and spanish oil. They literally taste the same.
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar. Pairs well with red wine not-vinegar.
1 tablespoon mayonnaise. Yeah, I said it. They put mayonnaise on everything here. In fact, go ahead and put a smidge more, why don't you? Yes, that's it. You might as well finish the bottle now, huh?

Toss until maximum entropy is achieved.

Serve in the same bowl you were using the whole time because why even. why even bother.
posted by logicpunk at 5:34 AM on August 18, 2017 [10 favorites]

I have a personal tipping point for when sadness turns into not eating, vs. eating more. When I'm sad, quite sad, and very sad- I eat more. I binge and long for trays full of pasta and cheese and bread. When I'm inconsolable, that is when the eating stops. It happens very rarely.

When my dad was sick and I was caring for him, I ate tons. Snacks, take-out, delivery, you name it. I comforted myself with it between the times I was in his room, helping him eat or use the bathroom.

When he died, it flipped off like a light.

It wasn't until my company had a tray full of mini deli sandwiches and an assortment of pasta salads and cookies delivered to his home, that I remembered to eat. They unwittingly chose his favorite local Jewish deli to order from. I took it as a sign and finally ate.
posted by rachaelfaith at 7:18 AM on August 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

When I was younger, I dated a person I seriously believed I would spend the rest of my life with. We had conversations about furniture we would want in our theoretical future home. I graduated a year before she did, and went to teach English in China. She broke up with me by phone, having decided over a month earlier to end things, but, for some weird reason, didn't want to tell me before I spent the Chinese New Year break traveling around southwestern China, meeting fantastic, wonderful people whom I told all about the amazing person I would be going back to at the end of the school year. She had processed it, I hadn't. I cried myself to sleep, and dreamt I was with her, back at our college, begging her not to end things.

I didn't eat for a week. I'm someone who loves food, and it shows. I don't think I even drank water for the first day after. Even hearing her (distressingly common) first name makes me wince, still, almost twenty years later. I've since come to understand that more than anything, I was mourning the future that we'd been working on, which is something that I've struggled with in other situations since then.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:16 AM on August 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Since January I've gone down two pant sizes and lost thirty pounds from this new diet called being too sad, scared, or angry to eat.
posted by 80 Cats in a Dog Suit at 12:32 PM on August 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

If eating is going to be a problem for whatever reason, I like to keep some Ensure shakes around. They taste okay but the texture is a little weird. But they're nutritionally complete and I can usually manage to drink a couple even if I'm not hungry.

There are other shakes that work too, even if they're missing some nutrients, the main thing is making sure they have some fiber if that's all you can manage to eat.
posted by VTX at 6:37 PM on August 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

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