You’ve kicked your addiction – and now you want to heal your body. Your most powerful healer? Your food choices. We’ve got specific advice that’ll help you to eat in a way that supports your recovery.
Good nutrition is vital to restoring physical and emotional equilibrium in recovery. Unfortunately, it’s common to struggle with food choices after leaving addiction treatment – but it doesn’t have to be that way.
We’ll explore the damage your addiction has done to your body and what eating for recovery can do for you. We’ll also give you some specific tips to help you fine tune your diet for lasting sobriety and optimal health.
Addiction and Malnutrition: Assessing the Damage
Addiction wreaks havoc on the body in more ways than one. Not only is your body damaged by the substances you’re ingesting – it’s harmed by your food choices, too.
In addition to generally eating too little or too much, addicts are more likely to indulge in addictive, processed foods than whole foods that provide much-needed nutrients. Because of this, they are often malnourished by the time they seek treatment.
It’s likely, too, that the object of your addiction directly impaired your body’s ability to absorb nutrients. The type of malabsorption you experienced depends on your substance of choice, as different drugs harm the body in different ways.
If alcohol was your vice, you probably sustained damage to your stomach lining and digestive enzymes, which impaired your ability to break down and absorb nutrients. If opioids (such as heroin and prescription drugs) were more to your taste, you likely had gastrointestinal issues that imbalanced your gut and lead to digestive difficulties. If stimulants were your thing, your appetite was probably blunted – leading to pronounced, and prolonged, malnutrition.
The good news? There’s a lot you can do to fix it.
The Power of Recovery-focused Nutrition
In active addiction, you’re likely to be malnourished – but the need for nutritional vigilance doesn’t end when your addiction does. Not only does eating well in recovery help you to repair the physical damage your addiction has done – it can actually make it less likely that you’ll relapse.
This is because proper nutrition improves your mood, helping you to avoid depression and anxiety – two of the most potent relapse triggers. For example, studies show that recovering alcoholics with leaky gut (caused by eating poorly) are more likely to be anxious, depressed, and crave alcohol.
What this means for you: by paying attention to good nutrition you’re more likely to have the emotional stability, and physical strength, to achieve long-lasting recovery. You may not be able to fully repair the damage and restore your body to pre-addiction condition, but eating well can go a long way to healing your tissues and organs.
7 Tips for Healthy Eating in Recovery
Want to boost your recovery through good nutrition, but not sure where to start? We’ve got some tips for you.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to overhaul your entire diet all at once. Start small, and experiment to find what works for you.
1. Fill Up On Fats
Conventional wisdom used to state that fat was the enemy – but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Healthy fats are instrumental in repairing your ability to absorb nutrients and giving your brain what it needs to heal. Important caveat: quality counts here. Your brain can’t use fats it doesn’t recognise – so stay away from the partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.
Choose minimally processed fats like olive oil, fatty cuts of fish or avocados, and try to include some in every meal.
2. Ditch The Refined Carbs
If you’re in early recovery, you’re more than likely hearing the siren song of starchy, sweet carbs like cake, cookies and pastries. These foods provide comfort and mimic the rush you would get by consuming your substance of choice, so your cravings make sense – but don’t give in. Instead, nourish yourself with complex carbs – like vegetables – that break down slowly and keep your blood sugar on an even keel. Avoid sugar altogether, if you can.
3. Drink Plenty of Water
Drinking water flushes out your system, frees you of toxins and supports healthy digestion and healing. Women should aim for about three litres per day (including water that comes from food), and men should shoot for four.
4. Choose Whole Foods
Rule of thumb: always eat foods that are as close to nature as possible. Think carrots instead of carrot juice and a handful of nuts instead of an energy bar. Whole foods are easier to digest because your body recognises them easily. Processed foods, on the other hand, can wreak havoc on your gut. In doing so, they affect your mood and digestion, both of which threaten to throw your recovery off balance.
5. Get Your Protein
Protein is key to helping your brain to recover from addiction. Amino acids, which you get from protein, are the building blocks of the neurotransmitters that allow your brain to function. Quality protein can also help to repair your liver, which was likely damaged by previous substance abuse.
Meat, fish and eggs are especially good sources of protein. If those aren’t your thing, try beans – or take amino acid supplements, as a last resort.
6. Prioritise Probiotics
Substance abuse often upsets the digestive system, but probiotics can help to restore digestive harmony by feeding ‘good’ bacteria that aid efficient processing. That’s not all: most of your body’s ‘happiness hormone’ (i.e. serotonin) production happens in the gut (not the brain!). By rebalancing your gut, you’re directly altering your mood.
Fermented foods, like kimchi, sauerkraut or kombucha, are great sources of probiotics. Supplements are also available, if you prefer.
Note: if alcohol or opiates were your poison, this tip is especially important (as your addiction was likely especially rough on your gut).
7. Avoid Caffeine
Caffeine brings you up then knocks you down, when what you really need is stability. Anxiety and insomnia are common in early recovery, and caffeine can make both of these worse – leading to cravings and poor nutritional choices.
If you can’t stay away, try to limit yourself to one cup of coffee per day.
Achieve Holistic Health at The Cabin Melbourne
Are you struggling with food in recovery? Are you having a hard time finding balance, and constantly worried that a relapse is right around the corner? We can help. Contact The Cabin Melbourne today to have a conversation about the support we can offer you.