With the start of a new year, it is not at all uncommon to hear people from all walks of life making goals related to eating healthier. For a person in recovery, this can also be a critically important goal at any time of the year. It may seem too simple to be true, but good nutrition can help a person sustain long-term recovery.
How Nutrition Can Support Recovery
According to Today’s Dietician, proper nutrition in recovery can:
- Heal and nourish the body’s damage from addiction
- Stabilize mood and reduce stress
- Reduce cravings
- Address co-occurring medical and mental health conditions
- Encourage self-care and improved lifestyle
The Critical First Year
When a person initially stops abusing substances, their nutritional needs are going to be especially important to address. The brain and body have likely been badly damaged by addiction and need to begin rebuilding. The faster this happens, the easier it is for the person to maintain long-term recovery.
Malnutrition is common in active addiction. Alcohol makes people feel full because it is incredibly calorie dense, so those who abuse it are likely to feel less need to consume food and therefore are more likely to be lacking in important vitamins and nutrients.
Those who abuse cocaine and opiates may be too busy chasing their next high to take care of basic self-care and therefore fail to eat for long periods of time. People struggling with active addiction may also find themselves living off of “easy” foods that aren’t good for their bodies, such as meals from fast food restaurants or processed foods they can prepare easily.
Substance abuse can also damage the body’s digestive system in a variety of different ways, leading to:
- Poor absorption of amino acids, vitamins, and minerals, which can result in decreased brain functioning
Nutritional Deficiencies Caused by Alcohol
Every drug impacts the brain and body in different ways. A person who drinks heavily for a long period of time is likely to have deficient amounts of vitamins A, B, C and E; zinc; and amino acids, particularly tyrosine and tryptophan. These two amino acids contribute to three things that are critical in maintaining long-term sobriety: emotional stability, mental clarity, and a general sense of well-being.
While supplements can help to treat a deficiency of these amino acids, healthy foods are generally considered a better option. Foods rich in tyrosine include:
- Sesame seeds
- Meat and poultry
Foods rich in tryptophan include:
- Canned tuna
- Turkey and chicken
- Nuts and seeds
Nutritional Deficiencies Caused by Opioids
Opioids impact the body differently than alcohol. A person who abuses opioids is more likely to have insufficient amounts of:
- Vitamins B and C
People who are recovering from opioid addiction should eat a protein-rich diet and substitute fresh or frozen fruits for candy and processed sweets. They should also talk to their doctor about starting probiotics.
Nutritional Issues Caused by Stimulants
Stimulants like cocaine, meth, and even high amounts of caffeine can lead to people not eating enough food or drinking enough water. People recovering from abusing stimulants should drink lots of water and avoid caffeinated drinks, energy drinks, and soft drinks. They should eat a balanced diet with the recommended number of calories for their size.
Tips for Eating Healthier
It can be difficult to change old food habits, as they often provide comfort and familiarity. In order to increase the chances of making lasting dietary changes, it can be helpful to:
- Stock up on healthy options that are easily prepared.
- Plan meals ahead, so you can be sure you have all of the ingredients on hand.
- Set specific, measurable goals related to your nutrition.
- Following an exercise regimen to further advance your body’s healing and improve how you feel overall will make it easier to make good choices related to food.
If you would like more information about how good nutrition can support addiction recovery, Safe Harbor Recovery Center in Portsmouth, VA, is happy to answer your questions and connect you with additional resources.