RECOVERY SUPPORT: Role of Diet & Nutrition

Healthy Diet and Nutrition in Recovery

by Jessica Parks

Many people are unaware of how important nutrition is in recovery. The types of food you eat and how often you eat are things to consider when mending your body from the harm that was done in active addiction. If not properly managed, a poor diet can lead to mood swings, irritability, and even relapse.

When you are in active addiction, you are not fueling your body with proper nutrients, and at times, may not be eating at all. Some drugs of abuse can decrease appetite, and substances may have been taking the place of regular meals. In addition, substances can harm the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food, making it especially important for people in recovery to begin to repair their bodies by eating foods high in nutrients.

Not eating properly or often enough can also lead to mood swings and irritability in recovery. This in turn increases your chance of relapse, as you may become tempted to control your moods by using drugs or alcohol. In early recovery, your body may not be able to tell the signs of hunger or low blood sugar from symptoms of withdrawal. If your brain is unable to distinguish between these two things, you may experience cravings for substances, when really you just need to feed your body with nutritious food.

In order to practice healthy eating habits in recovery, try following these suggestions:

Eat often. Small mini-meals throughout the day is ideal, but if this is not feasible, try to aim for three main meals with at least two healthy snacks in between. Eating frequently will help to regulate blood sugar and minimize mood swings and cravings.

Drink lots of water. In addition to flushing your system of toxins, water helps the body to function at its best. Your body needs all the help it can get in order to function properly and regulate all of the different systems within the body. If your body is dehydrated, it will have a much harder time doing its job.

Eat a variety of different foods. Toxins such as drugs and alcohol cause the body to produce what are known as free radicals, which harm your body. Eating foods rich in antioxidants, like fresh fruits and vegetables, serve as a barrier for free radicals, and stop them from attacking the body. Foods rich in protein help to rebuild and repair muscles and organs, and foods rich in fiber help to regulate the digestive system.

Try to avoid processed foods. These foods are often filled with added sugar, salt and preservatives, which can again lead to mood swings and irritability. Whenever possible, eat fresh foods that have not been processed or prepackaged, preferably organic foods that do not contain hormones.

Limit your caffeine intake. Although you may feel you are getting a boost from that cup of coffee or energy drink, realize that in a few hours your body will crash and you will have even less energy that you did before you consumed the caffeine. Caffeine is also an addictive substance that can alter mood and irritate digestive systems that may be sensitive due to past drug use.

Jessica Parks is a certified alcohol and drug counselor in the state of Illinois and has her M.A. in art therapy counseling.

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