Grief – Eat Well, Feel Better with Sabine Horner

When I first met Sabine Horner, Proprietor of Asana Nutrition, last year at a networking meeting, her life had taken a totally different direction to that which she had planned, and it was all because of a personal tragedy.

Sabine’s husband, Kevin, had passed away from acute myeloid leukaemia. During the last 18 months of his life, as his body fought the effects of the toxic chemotherapy drugs, Sabine studied Nutrition Science and Practise at the NCA in York to learn what nutrients would help him to feel better quicker. As part of this course, Sabine learnt about the effects of grief and emotional stress on the body and how insomnia and poor eating habits after the loss of a loved one can affect both the body and mind.

When we last met, Sabine told me that very little acknowledgement is made of the impact of grief on our bodies by either health professionals or grief workers and this was something she wanted to address, through her company, Asana Nutrition. I caught up with her this week and asked her 

How it is going?

When I spoke with you, I had already decided to change the status quo and make it my new mission in life to raise awareness of the importance of managing stress and eating a well-balanced, varied diet when grieving.” states Sabine, “ Food has a significant impact on our emotional, physical and mental well-being and can make us feel better or worse, depending on what we eat and when.”

Sabine continued: “When one`s partner dies, one of the first things that change is the daily dietary routine. We don´t feel like cooking anyway and I, for one, did not want to cook any of the recipes that Kevin and I used to prepare and eat together in the last 18 months of his life. They triggered too many – good and bad – memories.”

How do you advise people find the motivation to eat when there’s a lump in their throat and the last thing they feel like doing is cooking or eating?

Sabine responded: “The best way is to keep things simple and think in terms of adding colour to dishes we can cook without needing a recipe. Colours are a great way to lift our mood and can inspire us to get creative with stews, soups, stir-fries, wraps, an omelette or even a Sunday roast! My favourite go-to is a green stir-fry recipe that I regularly adapt by adding a wide variety of – not necessarily green – veggies. It always looks different and never tastes the same…”

“…I realise that making changes to one´s diet and lifestyle is difficult under the best of circumstances and bereavement makes it even more challenging. The key to establishing a new daily meal routine is gradual changes, one small step at a time. You may be surprised what a big impact just one or two changes can have on your overall well-being, boosting your energy and motivation to implement some more!”

Are there any food types to avoid when grieving?

In the initial period after bereavement, it is common for people to eat lots of convenience and comfort food. Or some people eat very little due to lack of appetite, nausea or difficulty swallowing…”

“…Because of the strong link between the gut and the brain, imbalances between the beneficial and harmful bacteria in our gut can cause mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. Stress and a diet high in processed foods and sugary snacks can easily tip the balance towards an abundance of bad guys who not only make us crave even more sugar but are also the root cause of many diseases.

Food also affects our blood sugar levels which in turn impact our energy, concentration and mood. Your energy levels will dip after eating bread, pasta, chips, pizza or dairy. These comfort foods are better avoided as they either contain sugar (lactose in milk) or are readily turned into sugar by the body. While they may be emotionally uplifting in the short-term, very soon our energy levels crash. Not ideal when we need more energy, not less!”

“The best way to combat low energy, mood and motivation would be to have three regular meals and as diverse a diet as possible to keep our gut bacteria happy, prevent blood sugar fluctuations and help us feel satisfied for longer.”

Are you able to offer support to others who have lost a partner and are struggling with their grief?

“Absolutely – to make this journey through grief, we need all the support we can get. That`s why I started to run monthly Culinary Grief Workshops. What better support than a group of peers who face the same challenges and understand better than anyone what we are going through every single day? In these small groups, bereaved partners can share experiences and coping strategies, learn from each other and make new friends for life who ‘get it’.

To create a safe and supportive space where bereaved people can meet and talk openly about their grief and share memories of their loved ones, I have recently launched the first Pop Up Grief Trust Café at OptionVe in Harrogate and have others planned for York. We were meeting up every first Friday of the month from 3-5pm. Once we are through the Coronavirus crisis, I hope to resume these workshops and Grief Café’s.”

I’m excited to share with our readers that you have agreed to a regular feature on our blog, what can we look forward to in the coming weeks and months?

“- How to cope with grocery shopping after losing your partner and how to get creative with food left in the cupboard and/or fridge when you have been avoiding going to the shops long enough.

– ‘Eating A Rainbow’: Why it is important and simple ideas of how to get more colour into old-time favourites.

– The impact of grief / emotional stress on our body (and mind), why we may have malabsorption issues following a major bereavement, signs & symptoms and simple ways to improve our digestion & absorption.

– What the vagus nerve has to do with stress management and simple ways to stimulate this very important nerve.

– How nutrition can help with anxiety and simple (breathing) techniques to reduce anxiety levels.

– How to deal with insomnia – how nutrition, stress management and a regular daily routine can help, simple ideas of how to change/improve our bedtime routine and calm us down in the evening.

– The importance of vitamin D to prevent anxiety, low mood and energy, or even depression, reduce inflammation and boost our immune system.

– Menopause and bereavement: What women need to be aware of.”

Connect with Sabine in any of the following ways: 
By phone 07539347643
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