Proper Nutrition for Recovery
December 18, 2008 by Emily Battaglia
An important part of recovering from addiction is learning to properly nourish the body. From a physical standpoint, a healthy body is a happy body, and a happy body supports recovery better than a sick or pained body. In addition, eating certain foods can help assuage cravings and avoiding other foods can help stabilize moods swings, both of which can help prevent a relapse into substance abuse. In mental and spiritual terms, learning to eat properly is part of learning to care for oneself and learning to make strong life choices.
All people who abuse alcohol and/or drugs experience some level of malnutrition. Alcohol is calorie-dense, leading the alcoholic to feel full. However, these empty calories do not support the health of the body. Drug abusers are often so distracted by the cycle of getting high, crashing, and looking for another high that eating and self-care are severely neglected.
In addition, alcohol and drugs can prevent the body from properly absorbing and metabolizing nutrients, and can also prevent the body from properly expelling toxins. Drug and alcohol abuse can significantly damage the digestive processes of the body, and many addicts experience digestive problems such as constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, and poor appetite.
Drugs and alcohol actually deteriorate the body’s natural chemical processes for creating emotional stability, mental clarity, and pleasurable sensations. Drugs and alcohol prevent the body from properly absorbing two amino acids (the building blocks of proteins). These two amino acids are key components in the body’s production of neurotransmitters (chemicals produced in the brain which transmit messages to the body). These neurotransmitters –norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin – allow the body to experience well-being. When the natural production of these neurotransmitters is disrupted by drug and/or alcohol abuse, it compounds the addict’s dependence on substances because he loses the ability to feel good naturally.
Research has shown that recovering addicts need nutrient-rich foods to help rebuild their damaged bodies. Diets high in protein and certain carbohydrates (whole grains, as opposed to refined or processed carbohydrates) have been shown to reduce cravings. Avoiding caffeine and sugar can help to stabilize mood, since these foods induce highs and lows. Other tips for eating in recovery include:
- Eat small amounts of food throughout the day. This can have a stabilizing effect on mood since blood sugar is never allowed to drop suddenly.
- Drink decaffeinated and herbal beverages instead of drinks that have caffeine. This can also reduce mood fluctuations. In addition, caffeine can prevent the body from absorbing key nutrients like calcium.
- Follow the USDA’s Food Guide Pyramid to ensure you eat the right proportions of the different food groups.
- Consume plenty of protein, but reduce consumption of red meat. Of all proteins, red meat is the hardest for the body to digest. While in recovery, beans, fish, and poultry are probably the best options.
- Eat whole grains. Food made with refined flour and sugar can provoke fatigue and sleepiness, and can slow down the metabolism. They also have less nutritional value for the body.
- Eat fresh fruits and vegetables. They are likely to be lower in sugar and sodium than prepared foods, they support proper digestion, and they have higher nutritional value.
- Avoid sugary foods. These can cause mood fluctuations and are filled with empty calories.
- Eat nuts and eggs. They contain high levels of protein, and they contain healthy oils and other nutrients. Nuts make a great snack on the go – just a few have a filling effect without causing a spike in blood sugar or resulting in fatigue.
- Avoid soda (diet and regular) and drink more water. All fluids are not equal, and all healthy bodies need plenty of plain water every day. Nutritionists recommend around 64 ounces (about eight glasses) of water per day. Drinking water aids in digestion, and can have an energizing effect.
- Start taking a daily multi-vitamin with one meal; a multi-vitamin that contains B vitamins and vitamin E in particular is recommended for bodies in recovery.