The Importance of Nutrition on Addiction Recovery
Nutrition is often overlooked in the addiction recovery process. When a person is addicted to a dangerous substance the first priority is to prevent harm due to the use of that substance.
All other health-related issues are put on the back burner, to be addressed later on, when the person in recovery is in a more stable situation. The problem with ignoring healthy eating habits is that focusing on nutrition is critical to successful, long-term recovery.
During active addiction, one of the last things on your mind is proper nutrition. Nutritional deficiency is common during periods of intense substance abuse.
In fact, a large part of the mental health issues and feelings of sickness related to drug addiction or alcohol abuse are caused by nutrient deficiencies. Hence, nutritional therapy must be considered as an important component of proper addiction treatment.
Rehabs do not put proper emphasis on nutrition education.
When you go to rehab to give up an addictive substance, you risk developing addictions to other behaviors and substances. For example, you can find yourself developing a sugar addiction or addiction to processed foods, even during your stay in rehab.
Residential programs that do not provide healthy meals and an initial nutrition intervention may be contributing to poor diet and weight gain for their residents. Overcoming an alcohol addiction or drug addiction is an important accomplishment, but if you develop an eating disorder during the recovery process, you will another addiction challenge to face in the future.
Rehabs that do provide nutritional counseling and healthy food plans with a balanced diet and healthy nutrition are able to provide far better results for their clients. These clients have a healthier immune system, better overall physical health, and improved brain healing.
A healthy diet with proper nutrition therapy can work wonders for people who are recovering from active addiction. And, to get the best results, it is important to go beyond simply providing healthy foods.
Nutrients that promote a healthy central nervous system are also essential. For example, with alcohol withdrawal symptoms during alcohol detox, thiamine must be given to avoid a dangerous vitamin deficiency that can lead to brain damage.
Folic acid is another important element of good nutrition for alcohol addiction patients. In addition to these vitamins, there are amino acids that can be given that help the brain to product adequate amounts of critically important neurotransmitters.
Also, there are mineral cofactors that should be given as well, such as calcium and magnesium. While it is possible to get very involved in extensive supplementation, at the very least, you should take a good, reputable multivitamin with all of the essential daily nutrients that your body needs.
Can poor nutrition lead to relapse?
Addiction is a chronic disease that can go into remission for very long periods with proper treatment. When a person does give in to cravings and return to drug use, it is considered to be a relapse.
How can poor nutrition, or malnutrition, lead to a relapse? One possibility is that giving in to a food addiction can lead to cravings for other substances.
For example, when a person with a history of drug addiction or alcohol addiction eats foods high in sugar, there can be a sudden spike in blood sugar level that results in changes in brain chemistry. These changes are very similar to what happens when they used to get high.
When that feeling of getting high returns, they are likely to experience drug or alcohol cravings. There is a tendency for a person with a history of addiction to return to their drug of choice after getting high on another drug.
For many people, food can act as a drug. While natural complex carbohydrates and healthy fat foods, such as avocados, nuts, and legumes, are not likely to cause a problem, refined foods high in simple sugars can act just like drugs as far as the brain and body are concerned.
A person eating a bag of chips or a bag of candy and finishing it may have all of the experiences of a drug user getting a fix. It may temporarily relieve anxiety and depression and give a feeling of euphoria.
Yet, the binge eating experience nearly always ends with a crash and feelings of guilt and shame. Food can be a drug and there are support groups that help people to overcome binge eating and food addiction.
In addition to healthy eating, what are some important supplements to take?
As mentioned earlier, a multivitamin is a good place to start. Additionally, a separate B-complex supplement and extra vitamin C may also be helpful.
While it is possible to get many essential nutrients from eating healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables, it is not easy to get all of the nutrition that you need, especially early in addiction recovery. Therefore, it is a good idea to be aware of available supplements and how they might help.
Essential fatty acids are healthy fats that are an important part of everyone’s diet, especially people with mental health issues and people working to overcome an addiction. An easy way to get more essential fatty acids in your diet is to consume fish oil capsules, which as an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids.
You could, of course, eat more fish to get this important set of nutrients, but eating large amounts of fish on a regular basis is not always practical. Also, fish tends to have trace amounts of mercury, which is not good for your health and brain function.
High quality fish oil capsules are able to certify that they contain little or no mercury and are safe to take daily. Taking fish oil capsules to get essential fatty acids, such as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids help with your health in multiple ways.
These supplements are good for the brain and the heart. They also may be helpful for people who experience chronic pain. This is important, since many people with chronic pain syndromes become addicted to opioids.
It is important for people in that situation to find new solutions for addressing their pain other than taking opioids. In addition to helping with pain, the nutrients in fish oil also promote heart health, preventing heart disease.
Many addictions, including an addiction to stimulant drugs such as cocaine or meth, or an alcohol addiction, can cause stress on the heart. After quitting drug use and beginning on the path to recovery, taking supplements that support heart health is an important part of new healthy eating habits.
Finally, fish oil nutrients are good for the brain. They help to improve symptoms of anxiety and depression. In addition to helping in the short-term with mental health symptoms, omega 3 fatty acids may also help to heal the brain.
Studies have demonstrated that these important essential fatty acids may slow down cell death in the central nervous system as well as helping damaged neurons to reconnect. By improving and healing damage caused by widespread inflammation, you will likely feel better in the short-term and long-term by taking a fish oil supplement on a daily basis.
Is it a good idea to take neurotransmitters as supplements?
It is possible to take some neurotransmitters directly, such as GABA or 5-HTP, which is another name for serotonin. Another supplement, l-tyrosine, promotes the production of epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine.
It does seem like a good idea to take these supplements to help the brain replenish neurotransmitters that may be low after a long period of active addiction. There are even supplements designed for addiction recovery that contain these and other neurotransmitter-related supplements, including amino acids and various cofactors, such as calcium and magnesium.
There is some disagreement among nutritional experts and brain experts about the benefits of taking these supplements. One argument against taking supplements that are either neurotransmitters or substances that directly influence the making of neurotransmitters is that they may cause the brain to produce less neurotransmitters of its own as a response.
Cells in the body tend to produce less of a substance that is provided from the outside or abundantly available otherwise. This is an effect known as down-regulation.
The solution, in the case of nutrition, is to identify other supplements, or actions, that influence the production of these important brain chemicals further back in the process. This way, the neurons in the brain will produce the neurotransmitters they need without as much concern over down-regulation.
What are some of the healthiest foods to eat to support a healthy diet and a successful recovery?
Just avoiding any kind of processed food is a good start to eating healthy. Rather than focusing on fast weight loss or building muscle quickly, the emphasis should simply be on putting healthy foods in your body to help you feel better and think better.
Just about any leafy green vegetable is good for you, and you can generally have as much as you like, as long as you do not always douse your leafy green salads with a lot of dressing. One option is to use a small amount of olive oil or vinegar instead of heavy dressing.
A lean protein, such as chicken breast, makes an excellent combo with your salad. You can put grilled chicken breast, fish, or other lean meat on a salad, turning it into a healthy meal.
While you probably had no interest in healthy recipes during active addiction, as you start to focus more on healthy things in life, you may develop an interest in preparing your own healthy meals.
It is possible, with some study and creativity, to make a delicious meal or healthy snack with heart healthy foods, such as brown rice, chia seed, kidney beans, sweet potato or fresh fruit. The possibilities are endless. As you increase your intake of natural foods and dietary fiber, including soluble fiber, you will feel better all around in many ways.
While fresh fruit is typically healthier than fruit juice, you can get health benefits from drinking natural fruit juices. Moderation is the key when it comes to consuming juices.
A cruciferous vegetable, such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, or collard greens, may not sound appetizing at first, but if prepared just right, you will find that it can be an excellent low calorie treat.
What about saturated fats and unsaturated fats?
There was a time when people were told to cut all fat from their diets to stay healthy. Now we know that some fat in the diet is essential for good health, and particularly brain health.
Saturated fats are the fats that are generally solid at room temperature. Unsaturated fats, on the other hand, are usually in liquid form at room temperature.
As a rule, consuming some unsaturated fat or monounsaturated fat in your diet is healthy. Saturated fats are not healthy. They include cheese, butter, and coconut oil. There is still some debate on the issue of which fats are good or bad for you.
Eating a food with saturated fat, such as peanut butter, is fine in moderation for many people. In fact, some people find that a tablespoon of peanut butter helps them to feel satisfied so they do not feel the need to continue snacking.
What you should avoid, if possible, are foods that contain trans fat, which is the unhealthiest of dietary fat. You will find trans fats in baked and fried foods, including french fries, doughnuts, cakes, pizzas, and fried chicken. These ultra processed foods are not at all heart healthy.
Is yogurt a healthy food?
Within the dairy food group, yogurt is a healthy food that promotes healthy gut bacteria. Active cultures in the yogurt act as a probiotic, keeping the balance of good bacteria in your intestines at a healthy level.
While some yogurts are not especially healthy, because they are loaded with extra sugar, you can find some delicious yogurts that are healthy. Consider possibly trying a Greek yogurt with fresh fruit.
You might even consider eating yogurt with prunes, which along with having healthy fiber, are also rich in vitamin k. Blackberries or blueberries are also excellent alternatives that happen to also be rich in antioxidant vitamins.
Should I make the switch to all healthy foods right away?
While focusing on good nutrition is important early on in recovery, it is still true that making drastic changes in the beginning is not always a good idea. It is fine to make progress in healthy eating, even if you are still slipping up and having an occasional slice of pizza or cake.
If you find that certain foods trigger you to go on an eating binge, you may want to make a decision to cut those foods out of your diet for good. Like drug or alcohol binges, sometimes food binges can go on for days, or even weeks and months.
Once addiction takes hold, it can be difficult to find your way back to recovering from that addiction. Food addiction can be as hard to overcome as any drug or alcohol addiction.
There are so many different kinds of food, that it should be relatively easy to give up just the few that really give you trouble. Over time, with some mindful eating, you will learn what foods work best for you in your diet and you will be able to make even more progress towards a well-rounded healthy lifestyle.