February 17, 2018
Losing someone we care deeply about is not only emotionally devastating; physically, it can throw our body into turmoil, with lack of sleep, shock and raw grief causing chaos with our appetite and digestion. So often our gut can become overly acidic, causing heartburn and bloating. And our bowel can seemingly fail to hold on to any of the food we force ourselves to eat (or others nag us into nibbling). Before long, the dishes our friends have prepared for us have been either picked at or thrown away and we’re living on coffee and biscuits, wine and crisps.
The very notion of cooking can be difficult, especially if dishes are associated with the person we’ve lost, or a recipe for two now needs to be reduced to a meal for one. You may want to take favourite ingredients and use them in a different way, so they’re reminiscent of the meals you shared without the emotional wallop that comes with recreating them – a breakfast frittata made with little cubes of bacon and tomatoes, instead of a Full English. Or a simple Bolognese sauce with pasta instead of lasagne, say. Rather than struggling to reduce recipes, you could cook meals as usual and use it as an opportunity to stock up your freezer for the days when preparing a meal is a step too far.
If ever there was a time when we need food to nurture and support us, it’s now, so we’re better able to cope with all that grief throws at us. It doesn’t need to be anything complicated or costly. What works are simple, easy-to-digest foods which give us enough nourishment yet don’t require much assembly. You could start with simple but substantial soups, like this Chicken Soup, which has a little kick of warming ginger in the broth. Rather than having a big pot left on the hob, freeze it in small batches, so you don’t lose out if you can’t face the soup for the next few days but have it ready to defrost when you feel like it. Apple purée is also very soothing, as apples contain pectin which helps to settle the gut. It’s satisfying without feeling too much, so it’s wonderful for breakfast, served with a full-fat Greek yoghurt to set you up for the day.
If you like to eat bread, go for a slow fermentation sourdough as it can be easier to digest and is less likely to make you feel bloated and uncomfortable. You can freeze a sliced loaf, then just take out the amount you need. Crisp breads, particularly those made with rye and caraway, can be less stodgy and upsetting for the gut. Top toasted sourdough or crisp bread with a protein-rich topping –tinned fish like tuna or smoked mackerel mashed with yoghurt and mayonnaise (I’d do half and half, as the full hit of fat-rich mayo can be hard to digest). Or add sliced egg, egg mayonnaise or hummus.
Protein helps us to maintain our energy and blood sugar levels, which can feel volatile when we’re emotionally upset. Despite the desire for comfort, try not to turn to sweets, cakes and chocolates as they’re full of refined sugar. Better to have a fruit-based sweet fix, such as a few sticky medjool dates or my Instant Banana Ice Cream, as the fibre in them slows the absorption of sugar into the body so you feel less wired after eating.
Finally, coffee can leave your gut feeling sore and acidic, so try herbal teas such as mild mint, fennel and liquorice. If you fancy a slight caffeine hit, then a classic black tea can hit the spot. I love to add traditional Indian spices for a homemade chai as I find it more soothing than straight black tea.