Bereavement, Grief & Malnutrition

May 03, 2017 3 min read

Loss Of Appetite, Weight Loss And Malnutrition In Grief And Bereavement

When someone close passes away, or something very precious is lost, feeling grief is natural. Dealing with significant loss is probably one of the most difficult and challenging times in a person's life. Every year around 5-9 per cent of the population loses a close family member. Bereavement is the most difficult loss to deal with, and experiencing the grieving process is normal for most people.1

Other causes of grief include becoming separate from a loved one, for example when a partner goes into hospital or nursing home, or when a pet dies.  Even retirement can leave someone feeling lost, empty and grieving.

Some people cope with grief and loss better than others, but grieving can lead to a sense of hopelessness and helplessness, and these feelings can take over.

The Effects Of Grief And Depression On Physical Health 

Depression is one stage in the grieving process, and common signs of depression include trouble sleeping, crying, fatigue and poor appetite together with feeling such as self-pity, feeling lonely and anxious. 2

Bereavement, grief and depression can have a devastating impact on a person’s physical health and even more so in older adults. The loss of life partner radically alters a person’s social environment to such an extent that it leads to the disruption of daily routines and behaviours. A grieving person may neglect himself or herself and it is important that family members and healthcare professionals are aware and alert to recognising the signs of self-neglect. 3

Reduced Appetite, Lack Of Interest In Food Negatively Impact On Nutrient Intake

Changes in eating patterns have a significant impact on health. Changing eating behaviour, and the negative feelings associated with grief can leave many with a lack of appetite and disinterested in food and eating. From a nutritional perspective, this has an adverse impact on nutrient intake and lead to undernutrition and weight loss.  Also, the physiological effects of depression and social factors such as isolation and lack of social support can further impact on a grieving person’s dietary intake and physical health. 3

Other Factors Also Contribute To Malnutrition

The underlying causes of malnutrition, weight loss and poor appetite are complex and multifactorial, meaning that the emotional reaction to the loss of a family member may be part of a range of factors impacting a person’s diet.

For example, an older adult who has lost a partner may also have several chronic illnesses such as type-2 diabetes, kidney failure and early dementia, and as a result may forget or neglect to take medications. Poorly managed chronic diseases can further contribute to poor nutritional intake and weight loss. 4

Practical Tips For Preventing Malnutrition In Someone Grieving

For people experiencing grief and depression, it is important that they have the support of services such as grief counselling or have access to social services. In the UK, services such as bereavement counselling can help someone cope better with loss and grief. 1

You can find more information about available bereavement services on the NHS website.

GP’s and other healthcare professionals play a significant role in screening for and recognising the signs of depression and referring to appropriate support services. 

A family member can make sure there is adequate assistance with everyday tasks like shopping, meal preparation and provide company at meal times.  Consider convenience foods, ready meals and meal delivery services, which might play a role in helping maintain oral intake. 

With reduced appetite, it is important that someone tries to sustain their oral intake and a good strategy is to have small, frequent meals and snacks throughout the day. Nutritious drinks, such as whole milk, milkshakes, fruit juice, fruit smoothies and milky hot drinks all of which can play a role in helping someone maintain energy and calorie intake. This is known as the food first approach and something that we would always recommend first. 

AYMES Nutritional Supplements Are A Quick And Convenient Way To Get Nutrition And Can Help Support Someone Experiencing Grief And Depression

Fortified milkshakes such as AYMES Retail are available over the counter at pharmacies and online and provide an easy way to maintain oral intake, improve nutritional status and prevent weight loss since they contain the full range of vitamins, minerals, protein and calories.

Oral nutritional supplements, such as AYMES Shake and AYMES Complete are also available on prescription and can improve intake and help stop weight loss in someone experiencing loss of appetite and depression while grieving.

For more information about AYMES products please contact our Customer Care Team.


1 Grief and Depression, WedMD
2 Grief And Loss
3 The Effects of Bereavement on Eating Behaviors and Nutrient Intakes in Elderly Widowed Persons Christine A. et al
4 Managing nutrition in the elderly: Grief and depression