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Why Is Nutrition Important For Recovery?
As far as cliches go, “you are what you eat” is one of the most well-known. Interestingly, however, it’s not too far off base: The foods you put in your body can have a major impact on your overall well being. As such, eating a healthy diet can go a long way in terms of your addiction recovery journey.
Adopting a healthy diet has been shown to improve both our physical and mental health. For addicts, it’s important to take a holistic approach to our personal health, encompassing the body as well as the mind. When we are healthy, inside and out, we’re much less likely to turn to drugs and/or alcohol during challenging times.
Changing our dietary habits takes minimal effort and is an important component of every recovery plan. Here’s what you need to know about the role of nutrition in addiction recovery, and how you can take charge of your long-term personal health — body and mind.
The Benefits of Healthful Eating
Many addicts have a complicated relationship with eating. Alcoholics, for instance, typically prefer drinking over eating, and the bulk of calories consumed come from beverages containing alcohol. Other illicit substances may trigger similar appetite suppression, resulting in extreme weight loss, vitamin deficiencies, and poor overall health.
What’s more, when addicts and alcoholics do eat, they often turn to high-calorie, fatty foods. Numerous preclinical and clinical studies have found a direct link between chronic opioid exposure and high sugar intake. During the recovery process, you may find that you’re craving unhealthy foods over healthier options, especially those containing sugar. That’s because both drugs and sugar activate our dopamine receptors, which is considered the brain’s reward pathway.
But the good news is that the choices you make during the recovery process can keep you healthy over the long term, and you can learn to reward your brain in other ways. You may see your appetite increase during the process of recovery, so it’s important to have healthy food options on hand in the event of cravings. For consistent results, you may want to turn to a tested dietary method instead of trying to tackle the task on your own.
When it comes to nutrition and recovery, look for success stories from your peers, and do some research. Some addicts swear by the high fat, low carb ketogenic (keto) diet that’s become popular in recent years. Keto has been shown to improve the production of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), boosting mood and reducing negative thoughts.
Low carb foods with high nutritional value include lean meats and fish, avocado, almonds, and spinach. Throughout the recovery process, try to incorporate these or other healthy foods into your diet, and pay close attention to how your body feels. You’re likely to see elevated energy levels and fewer bouts of depression and anxiety when you swap out unhealthy habits for self-care and mindful eating.
Making Good Dietary Choices in Recovery
In many aspects of life, including meal prep and eating, addicts tend to seek instant gratification. It takes much less effort to push a few buttons on a microwave or order takeout, for example, than to mindfully prepare a healthy meal at home. But eating healthy doesn’t have to be difficult; it just takes a bit of dedication and mindful shopping habits. Instead of heading to the grocery store without a plan, consider the meals you want to consume during the week, and the ingredients you’ll need to make it happen.
If you struggle with note-taking or other aspects of meal planning, there are plenty of digital tools at your disposal. Modern technology allows us to connect with other addicts in real-time, for starters, as well as healthcare providers. You can also use a variety of apps to help facilitate your recovery journey, track your progress, manage your stress, and stick to your new healthy diet.
Along with improving our overall health, the meal planning process has an additional benefit to the recovering addict: By focusing on your eating habits, and tracking your progress along the way, you’re filling up your time with healthy activities, rather than turning to drugs and alcohol.
Taking Charge of Your Dietary Needs
In most recovery circles, healthcare professionals tout the importance of swapping out our old, unhealthy habits for new activities. You may have heard a similar refrain from your sponsor or peers in recovery, and their claims are backed up by science. For many of us, addiction became a lifestyle, and we spent the bulk of our time thinking about our substances of choice.
For countless addicts, we ultimately build our life around drugs and alcohol, with everything else going to the wayside. Thus, as we work to leave addiction behind, new hobbies and activities can mean the difference between recovery and relapse. In regards to our diet, there are myriad opportunities to take on a new hobby related to food choice and meal planning.
And who knows? You may find that you love meal planning and the cooking process itself. If you have the space, you can even take healthful eating a step further and grow some of your own food. Backyard gardens are gaining prominence in urban areas around the world, and the entire family is often involved in the process.
Whether you hope to grow several crops or want to start small with an herb garden, you’ll need to consider your family’s needs in terms of accessibility and safety. Raised planters may be a good choice for those with limited mobility or in homes with pets. And if you’re concerned that you’re too busy to tend to a home or backyard garden while in recovery, consider low-maintenance plants that require less water and time, such as peppermint and various ferns.
The road to addiction recovery can be a challenging one, but we can take matters into our own hands and prioritize self-care, starting with our diet. For people from all walks of life, from providers to recovering addicts and our extended families, our dietary choices directly impact our overall health. And in the recovery process, the choices we make regarding our health and lifestyle habits can make a big difference in terms of mental and physical wellness.
Like drugs, unhealthy foods may give us an immediate mood boost, but with potentially dire consequences. No matter the stage of your recovery, consider the importance of your dietary choices on your overall wellness and work to replace addictive behaviors and habits with mindful, healthy ones.