Eating Towards Recovery: Your Diet After Addiction
Let’s face it: eating healthy is difficult. Sugar, fat, and other indulgences are, quite simply, delicious. Most of the time, foods and treats of this nature are cheaper and much easier to come by than other more wholesome options, making those delectable delights seem convenient and irresistible.
While embarking on your addiction recovery journey, it might feel like you should be able to treat yourself to, and indulge in, these favorites, especially because you’ve got much bigger priorities–but eating poorly can actually hinder the recovery process.
Food as a substitute addiction
The excessive use of drugs and alcohol compromise the immune system immensely, and may have left your body feeling weak and more prone to illness and infections. Because you have put your body through so much as an addict, your body is already more susceptible to becoming sick–making healthy food choices during this time even more crucial. Though you have started the process of recovery, it can still take six months or more for your body to be back in a naturally thriving state.
It is easy and common, though, to want to lean on the satisfaction of sweets and fats to help you cope with this emotionally trying time, but it can lead to unhealthy and even dangerous eating habits that can become placeholders for your addiction. Because a recovering addict’s brain has severely depleted dopamine levels, any activity that can increase those same chemical levels dramatically–sex, gambling, binge eating–those activities can easily be a minor replacement for a prior addiction. In fact, studies have continually shown that up to 1 in 4 recovering alcoholics reported replacing their substance with unhealthy food for up to 36 months after recovery.
It is especially this way with sugar; everyone at some point has experienced a “sugar crash.” When your body is trying to recover and repair, these highs and lows that accompany excessive sugar intake in the forms of baked goods, carbonated beverages, and even everyday staples like cereal and bread can hinder your internal system’s ability to grow healthy again. The highs may leave you feeling fantastic, but the crashes can result in the need for another high–leaving you vulnerable not only to a substitute process addiction to food, but a potential relapse. Maintaining healthy blood sugar levels and supplementing your body with nutritionally valid choices can do the opposite: your body will not only physically heal faster, but mentally and emotionally as well.
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Wait–eating healthy can really help my recovery?
Yes, really! Because it’s no surprise that good food is good for you, and obtaining the proper nutrients from what you eat can help you physically heal. Those proper nutrients actually help build up your organ tissue and give you more sustainable energy, two things that have been severely compromised in your body from addiction.
Perhaps, though, the mental health benefits of eating things like quality proteins, fiber-rich grains, and vegetables are even more important to your recovery, since the chemical triggers for addiction are in the brain.
Leafy greens, broccoli, and beets are high in folic acid, and fatty fish and chicken help keep serotonin levels balanced–the chemical directly responsible for accompanying conditions like depression and anxiety. According to various studies, 80 percent of addicts who were asked about their eating habits post-addiction have reported feeling better after adapting their diet to a healthier, more well-balanced one. In order for your physical body to grow healthier, your mental health must also be given proper care–and both can be achieved with eating a balanced array of foods.
Personalize your nutrition
It is very important that you understand there is not one right way to “eat healthy.” There are many healthy routes, and finding a nutritional plan that works for you is crucial. Choosing lean meats like chicken, fish, and beef, accompanying them with moderate whole grains like quinoa and brown rice, and making sure that your green vegetable intake is heavy are simple techniques that will not only allow you to have flexibility in what you eat, but will leave you feeling full. Of course, limiting sugar intake is crucial–unless it is in the form of fruit, which should still be consumed in small amounts.
There is a ton of science behind how amino acids, found in healthy proteins, can literally restore the damage that addiction has caused to your body and brain. Nutritional practitioner David Wiss sums this up efficiently: “Since dopamine is the key neurotransmitter involved with addiction and is associated with ‘reward,’ it is critical to restore depleted dopamine levels through a higher protein intake.” Essentially, instead of eating two large meals a day, you should aim for three ample-sized meals and two or three protein-rich snacks in-between meals–hard boiled eggs, tuna fish, various nuts and seeds, and whole-grain breads are easy options for those times.
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Support on your journey
While it is certainly difficult to transition into a new way of eating, the benefits from healthy foods on both your body and brain are well worth the hard work it will take. Alta Mira prides itself on providing healthy food options consistently to its patients, both for meals and snacks, making it easier for you to heal your body with proper nutrition. An executive chef carefully prepares and plans meals that not only will satisfy your hunger, but will give you the fuel that you need in order to make the most out of your recovery. It is important, too, that you seek support from family and friends during your recovery so that you are able to continue these same healthy habits after treatment.
There will always be temptations around you, so it is very important that you work at eating healthy daily, not just as a futuristic goal. Treat each day as a new day, and make smart, nutritious, and filling choices for meals and snacks. And, once this type of diet becomes a habit, you will see and feel the benefits—and that renewed sense of self will only add to the beauty of your future.
Alta Mira offers comprehensive residential treatment for drug and alcohol addiction as well as co-occurring mental health disorders. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Bay Area programs and how we can help you or your loved one start the journey toward recovery.