Grief Gut

Picture of a big belly.

by Joe Mudd on May 22, 2011

Let’s get one thing clear right at the start… that isn’t a picture 0f me.

Most of the images used on this site came from my camera. But not that one. I bought that one. And I’ve never eaten more than half a pie at one time.

Oh, and another thing. Debbie tells me she’s gained weight since Richard’s death too. I’ve never noticed. Nope. She still looks just the same to me. Being the sweet lady she is, I think she was just trying to make me feel better, because….

I’ve gained weight since Richard died.

Since my first days in college at the University of Kentucky, I’ve had trouble staying thin. My meal plan at the cafeteria let me have one helping of the main entre, and as much of everything else as I wanted. They had good french fries. I think I had about ten plates full a day. Loved those fries.

I was also much less involved in sports. Not being on a team anymore, I no longer had a mandated training schedule.

So I got fat.

But a couple of years before Richard died I lost weight. They had a “Greatest Loser” contest at work, and I signed up.

Losing the weight turned out to be pretty easy for me. I just changed the way I ate. What I call, “Eat Less, More Often.” Smaller meals but more of them. Healthy snacks like raw fruit and vegetables.

And I kept the weight off after the contest ended. It was easy. So easy, I gave away all the clothes I had shrunk out of. I wasn’t looking back.

And then the world turned upside down.

Jon Gabriel is author of The Gabriel Method – The Revolutionary Diet-Free Way to Totally Transform Your Body. He’s a really smart guy, and he’s put a great deal of energy and research into finding a way to lose weight. He did it because he was huge, and probably not going to be around long if he didn’t shed some pounds. He lost over 220 pounds. That’s more than I weighed when Richard died.

Gabriel attributes weight gain to mindset, mostly a response to stress.

Having one of your children die causes stress. LOTS of stress.

When I feel stress I like to nibble constantly. I’m always snacking. And when I’m stressed out, I can tell you, I don’t look for carrot sticks. I want something fast and easy. Something salty like chips. Or chocolate. Ice cream is nice too.

I don’t do that so much now. I’ve tried to get back to eating like before. But so far I’m not getting the results I want.

According to Gabriel, when our bodies react to stress, we store fat like crazy. Some primal force within us makes our metabolism slow down, and all the fat storage chemicals ramp up. Weight gain is a really stupid self defense strategy, but it’s what our bodies do.

Most grieving parents probably don’t get a closet full of clothes when they lose their child. I did. I was wearing the same size clothes as Richard, so I inherited all his stuff. I wear  them often. Maybe gaining weight is my hearts way of telling me that it’s just wrong I have those clothes now and not him. Could my body be trying to force me out of his clothes in the hope he’ll come back and claim them?

I’d be glad to eat a whole pie, with a carton of ice cream on top every day if that would work to bring him back.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Denise February 13, 2012 at 9:40 pm

Dear Joe / Russ

I had a few thoughts this last couples of weeks about hunger. So I just googled the words: ” do grieving parents gain weight?” and stumbled on this particular blog, not knowing it was yours!
I too have gained weight and it hasn’t even been two months since Jessica died. Not a lot, but enough to make my clothes uncomfortable. Tom and I spend a lot of time in what we call our “comfy pants”.
But back to the hunger thing. I have come to the conclusion that the hunger I feel is not for food. Apparently I’ve been eating as if it was. I do not shop much, not a big drinker, nor do I partake in illegal drugs, but feel like I could do it all and maybe then I’ll fil full again. I can certainly see how people could fall in to those self medicating activities, trying to satiate a hunger. I know what I feel is not hunger in the true sense of the word, but I am feeling an emptiness. After I eat, and too much, I am still hungry lonely, and still missing something. I see a picture in my mind of myself with, literally a frisbee size hole through my midsection, and I know it can’t be filled. It’s my child I hunger for.
I’ve had days where I am able to laugh, and for a while I can forget the hole, but apparently I will have to live with the emptiness. If I don’t find other things to get full on, I’ll be as big as a house!

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Joe Mudd February 18, 2012 at 1:24 pm

Denise I hope you find something to get full on, because you’re too cute to get as big as a house. The trouble is, our bodies take all the bad things in our lives as a signal to store fat. NOT helpful.

I’m very grateful I don’t drink or do drugs. I can see how it would be really easy to fall away into a booze bottle, and never find your way back out.

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Jamie August 16, 2012 at 10:11 am

I obviously found this page while searching for “grief and weight gain”. My difference is that my loss was not a child. My boyfriend of two years passed away Feb. 27. Actualy after the previous messages. I lost 10 lbs the week after because I was Never hungry. I was weighing in at 139. A few months later i went to the doctor and found out i had gained 15lbs! So I started eating healthy and working out. That was 2 months ago. Even doing things right, im now at almost 180!! I dont eat unhealty, i dont eat too much, and i dont feel hungry all the time. I actualy feel like i’ve been doing prety good in grieving considering the cirrcumstances. Iv made a doc apt and i suppose i will keep searching the net as to why i cant stop gaining weight. Just thought i’d let you know that apparently weight gain is common with grieving in general. I dont know. But i am doing so good at not being depressed about my boyfriends death, i dont want to start. And gaining all this weight is making me depressed :( btw, im only 27. Im a single mom of 2 kids, i work, go to school, workout, have hobbies and keep up with a house. So its not like im inactive. I just dont understand why im getting more fat every day!

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Melanie August 27, 2012 at 1:10 am

Jamie,
I think that you’ve hit upon the second half of the grief/weight gain problem. It is possible that you have been doing everything right but you are still gaining weight. I’d say that your body is experiencing a level of stress of which you may not be consciously aware. I’m no doctor, but I’d suggest talking through your loss with a professional. Joe’s right- our body tries to fill the void.

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Patti Cabrera November 18, 2012 at 2:21 pm

I as well did not lose a child. I lost my mother in July 2012. The grief is incredible as you well know. I,too, have gained weight doing everything right as far as diet and exercise. I have always eaten healthy and have always exercised. Running,biking,weight training. I have resumed my fitness program and gained ten pounds. I’m not tall so it is a lot for me. There are days where I am so sad and have no energy, but I do it. Other times I just can’t. Still, I am at a loss as to the weight gain. My sister is experiencing the same thing. I’m glad I found this blog as we are all experiencing similar problems with grief and weight gain. I guess grief does not discriminate as to loss. Any info anyone has will be greatly appreciated.

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Nina April 22, 2013 at 5:26 pm

I’m so happy that I’m not alone. My dad passed a year ago. The day after, the boyfriend dumped me. In essence, it has been a year of a melting pot of emotion. I too, am incredibly active, but the weight seems to cling to me. I understand the void aspect but I suppose physically and mentally you won’t ever be the same person you were after the loss. My philosophy now is to embrace the day you have and to try to move forwards slowly. Triggers will always be there but it’s how you approach them. We are all products of our life experiences, we may guide others through our experience. All I can say is as big as I am and as grievous as I am, I’ve discovered who my true friends are and that is a wonderful thing.

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Lesley Rizvi June 29, 2013 at 10:59 am

I lost my 23 year old son 4 months ago and the pain I feel is incredible. People tell Me will get easier but I doubt that. I have always been small and never had a problem with my weight, but I have gained 15lbs since my sons death. I work out 3 or 4 times a week and walk my big dog everyday . My eating habits haven’t changed so it can only be the that is causing this.

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Missing David May 12, 2015 at 11:13 am

5 months ago…. An Incredibly long and fleeting 5 months ago I lost my son. At first food had to be forced down as just opening my mouth would cause uncontrollable tears. Over the last three months, increasingly, I eat…. I sneak eat…. 4 donuts, boxes of cookies and crackers, sandwiches, chips…. Everything. I keep it in the car and go out there and eat… I don’t feel full or if I do get stuffed it’s only temporary. I don’t exercise and have to hide my tears now from others because my sadness isn’t anything they can solve, so my smile and playfulness is required. I want my son. I miss him. I’m lost and now have to live a lie… My clothes no longer fit, my muscles are weak as I lay in bed or on the couch or sit in front of the computer numbly all day long…. I need help, I to give myself permission to live without guilt. I just don’t know how…

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Patti Cabrera June 29, 2013 at 1:04 pm

Lesley, I am so terribly sorry about the loss of your son. I lost my mother last July. I know there is no comparison to the loss of a child. However, I did experience the same things you have experienced weight wise. I,too,have never been overweight and somehow remained active and exercising. For a time all I could manage was a short walk . I kept active because it brings a bit of relief to the stress of grieving. My doctor thinks through this stress your body releases an excess of cortisol which results in weight gain. Over the last few months the weight has begun to come off. I also received grief counseling through Life Path Hospice. It helped a great deal. I sincerely wish you the peace you deserve. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

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Juli September 6, 2013 at 11:42 pm

I lost my mother at the end of April, after many years of her being sick. At thr beginning of July I lost my daughter. She was 24. After my mom passed I had my good days and my bad days, as expected. After my daughter…well, let’s just say I have gotten good at faking good days every once in a while. I have gained about 25 pounds since my mom died, and about 18 of that has been since my daughter. I manage to work all week, but nights and weekends all I want is a dark room and my book (somewhat of an escape). I’m not sure how to conquer the stress that is possibly the culprit here. I just know that the weight gain only makes the dark room even more appealing. And it pisses me off because I know my daughter would be so disappointed in me.

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Donna November 22, 2017 at 8:37 pm

Juli (and everyone posting on here), I am so sorry for your losses. I lost my mother in June of this year, I can’t imagine losing my daughter while feeling like I already feel. My daughter is a source of comfort right now. But I can so relate to the weight gain (probably only 6 or 7 lbs but every bit of it is right around my middle) and as so many others have said, I am not eating more (I don’t think) and I am still trying to be as active as I was before, which was pretty active for 61. Can anyone offer any good recommendations? Therapy, breathing exercises, meditation, reiki, acupuncture, hypnosis, etc?
I often tell myself that everyone dies, and my mom lived to be 95. She had a good life and knew she was very loved. But knowing that doesn’t really help and I miss her so much; she was my hero as most mothers are.

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KSR January 21, 2014 at 3:06 pm

I stumbled across this site in the hope of finding out why I’ve been putting on weight when I don’t eat terribly bad food, and I eat normal portions with semi regular exercise. My mother died when I was 23 and at 32 my Dad passed away (just a few months ago) It’s been a rough-as-guts 10 years so I’ve made sure I’ve looked after myself. Ok so a couple of times I’ve enduldged in the odd bag of chips, but it’s not very often. It’s good to know that it’s my bodies defence my storing fat but it’s as frustrating as anything when all I want to do is look good because I feel so cr@p inside. Thank you for your blog xx

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liv November 1, 2016 at 4:24 pm

I lost my mother a year ago and I’ve gained 10 kg ever since. I tend to eat a lot whenever I miss her. Which happens quite often. I can feel myself getting deeper into depression but I can’t help it. I’m lost without her , she was my pillar. I’ve tried to lose the weight but I keep falling back into this pit and the only way to survive it ,is to eat as much as I can

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