Any discussion of the role of nutrition in addiction recovery must first acknowledge that for many people in recovery, learning to eat better can trigger some of the emotional and physical struggles of recovery itself. Many people fear that, in learning to embrace food again, they will trade one addiction for another. For individuals with this concern, working with a nutritionist skilled in recovery nutrition helps to allay anxiety. In addition, during the critical stage of drug withdrawal, the essential nutritional goal is to simply eat. So set aside ambitious nutrition goals until the acute phase of quitting ends.
While it’s always best to work with a nutritionist, these three tips can get you started on your nutritional recovery:
- Start with the gut. Even in the acute phases of recovery, when what you eat is simply about comfort and calories, steps to heal the digestive track are beneficial. The microbiota – a fancy word for the bacteria that live in our digestive track and assist in the digestion and assimilation of nutrients – suffer in conditions of substance abuse including alcoholism, where constant toxic load destroys beneficial bacteria and allows for the proliferation of pathological invaders that begin to compromise the barrier between the gut and the body (1). In opiate recovery, intestinal pain, constipation, and diarrhea are commonplace. And gut bacteria impacts more than just bowel movements and intestinal health, researchers recently identified a gut-microbiota-brain axis which may impact conditions like depression and anxiety (2).
Start by adding a probiotic supplement to re-populate the digestive track with “friendlies” and, when the time comes that you’re feeling able to branch out nutritionally, add sources of soluble (oatmeal, brown rice, prunes) and insoluble fiber (vegetables, fruits, bran) to your plate.
- Healthy fats nourish your body and mind: For years conventional medicine promoted a low-fat approach to nutrition. New research, however, supports that healthy fats, especially the omega-3 fats, promote better health and mood. Studies indicate that supplementation with omega-3 fats reduces feelings of aggression in addiction(3) and still others demonstrate that a diet rich in omega-3 fats lowers risk of depression (4). In addition, adding fat to the diet increases the sense of satisfaction, called satiety.
During the acute phase of recovery, add an omega-3 supplement to your daily nutrient intake. As you begin to built your healthy diet, add dietary sources of healthy fats including omega-3’s (flax, fatty fish and walnuts and egg yolks from eggs raised to promote omega-3 content) and monounsaturated fats (olive oil avocado, grass-fed red meats, and whole-fat dairy).
- Antioxidants support recovery: Substance abuse creates an enormous burden on our body’s ability to process toxic substances. Much of the burden of processing and eliminating drugs and alcohol falls on the liver. When the liver’s chemical systems get backed up due to overload, harmful chemicals are created, called reactive oxidative species (ROS). These ROS’s roam the body attacking tissues and impairing cell function. Substances called antioxidants, which are found in fruits and vegetables, scavenge ROS’s and neutralize them. Substance abuse offers a double-whammy to the body’s antioxidant defenses by first overloading the liver with the task of processing excess drugs or alcohol. Second, fresh fruits and vegetables often fall to the wayside when an individual struggles from addiction.
During the acute phase of recovery, try adding small amounts of fruit juice that is high in antioxidants such as pomegranate, cherry or blueberry. Moving forward the best way to obtain the full range of necessary antioxidants is to “eat the rainbow,” aiming for at least two colors of vegetables and/or fruits at each meal.
We hope these tips get you thinking further about how nutrition can help you achieve a drug-free lifestyle and optimum health. For more information about the lifestyle choices that support recovery from addiction, contact us today.
Among the milestones you pass in recovery, the first sober summer stands proud. Barbecues, music festivals, all-day picnics, outdoor sporting events and out-of-town travel shake up routine, disperse support networks and drag up memories of summers past. While every recovering individual has specific situations that trigger temptation, and while addiction rages in any weather, summer breezes in with several unique qualities that set it apart from other seasons. Having a plan that identifies potential “pain points” defines the difference between a clean and serene summer and a relapse.
- Summer is “loosey-goosey.” The two most delightful qualities of summer, less structure and more freedom, add a unique pressure to social interactions. Whether you are a student who finds herself with new, weekday free-time, or a parent who faces a house full of children that are usually in school, the lack of structure inherent in summer brings upheaval. While everybody needs a little break, the dissolution of schedules and routines that helped you nourish your sobriety may feel the heat. Setting goals shapes free time. Consider these ideas or come up with one of your own:
- Sign up for a yoga or fitness challenge that tracks your participation and rewards attendance.
- Research a community service project that you can do together with your family, your kids or a friend.
- Audit a class at a local university or learning center in a subject you might otherwise never study.
- Join a local writer/journalling club and start to write the story of your recovery.
- Summer is party time. Beach bashes and get-togethers, impromptu and planned, fill the social calendar in the summer time. There are weddings, out of town guests, and block patients. One of the best strategies for summer social events is to bring a sober friend. Having a conversation with your companion that discusses a strategy that helps you feel empowered goes a long way.
- The usual suspects turn up. It’s not just you that’s around more in the summer. With increased free time, more social activity and travel chances are you will run into people, places and situations that you associate with being drunk or high. There can be the temptation to walk back into the lion’s den and test yourself and your sobriety. Renewing friendships and visiting old haunts will wait for another day.
- You may be geographically apart from your recovery community. Everything gets a bit mixed up during the summer as you branch out into new situations and places. If you travel, investigate the support available to you at your destination before you go so that you arrive with a plan of action should you find yourself in a precarious situation. Hotels often provide a list of meetings and addiction support groups. Think through your itinerary and make adjustments. Scheduling a massage or a relaxing hike during the hotel happy hour turns a minefield into delicious downtime.
- Procrastination rules in the summer. The slower pace of summer living can make “tomorrow” sound like the most optimal time to accomplish any task. While procrastination might be acceptable for mowing the lawn, or returning library books, sobriety never happens “tomorrow.” Do not give in to the argument that it’s too hard to stay clean during the summer.
And, remember there are big benefits to a clean and sober summer. You will wake without hangovers and smugly save money as you pass on cocktails at that resort. That free time with the family? They will love interacting with you without the haze of drugs and alcohol. Go ahead and treat yourself to that sundress or sports jersey because you are going to look and feel better than ever.
Finally, you never have to do this alone. Millions of other people have beaten their addictions and are ready to help you beat yours. For support and more strategies for beating your addiction contact us today.