We all know that eating healthy is right for you. So why is it then, that proper nutrition is so often overlooked in addiction treatment?
For a few reasons, actually.
One of the biggest one being that insurance usually won’t cover nutrition services for addiction treatment. There isn’t a whole lot of data available about the efficacy of nutrition programs.
“Nutrition is a prerequisite for health; yet, there is no special nutritional assessment or guidance for drug and alcohol dependent individuals, despite the fact that their food consumption is often very limited, risking malnutrition.”1
Secondly, for many intensive outpatient programs, it can be a financial drain. Primarily due to the lack of funding available for such services.
Perhaps, until more programs embrace and offer a full nutrition program, we need to take matters into our own hands.
[Tweet “March is National Nutrition Month – what better time to start taking your health and nutrition more seriously? #NationalNutritionMonth”]
Benefits of Eating Healthy in Recovery
So, how can we take it into our own hands? For starters, let’s understand what is good for us.
The right nutrition has many advantages:
- Eating right is healthier and makes you feel better
- The right foods help the body cleanse itself from toxins
- Having a balanced diet helps our bodies cope with stress
- Healthy foods help give us the strength that is needed to accomplish difficult tasks
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, for people in recovery, there is a need for more healthful eating that goes far beyond the general benefits. While eating better boasts many immediate benefits, it’s the long-term benefits that are more deserving of attention.
People who struggle with alcohol and drug abuse also suffer from nutrient deficiencies such as myopathy, osteopenia, and osteoporosis. Depression, anxiety, and mood disorders are also much more common. When you take healthy eating seriously, you could be helping to stave off such deficiencies.
Recovery is More Than Abstinence
It’s about choosing an entirely new way of living, which includes self-care regarding spiritual, psychological, emotional, and physical health. Nutrition plays a crucial part—and not just regarding physical health. Poor dietary choices can lead to fatigue, which can lead to depression (as well as anxiety over responsibilities that become harder and harder to meet). They can also lead to weight gain, with the attendant health (and, often, self-esteem) issues. These problems, in turn, can lead to despair and can compromise recovery.
What People in Recovery Typically Eat
People in early recovery are usually drawn to a more juvenile meal plan justified by their need to stay sober. So they’ll consume things like chips, candy, energy drinks, soda, cereal, and fast food. Lots of coffee (with sugar and creamer) and cigarettes, too.
What’s a little extra sugar if it means not using or drinking?
David Wiss, a registered dietitian, and nutritionist says that the focus should be less on what not to eat and more on what to eat.
“If a patient in early recovery is offered a choice between addictive food and nutritious food, most will select the more “rewarding” choice,” Wiss shared with Addiction Blog. “The problem is that this “reward” generated by the brain gives the patient the illusion that they are getting what they need when in reality they are just stimulating dopaminergic neural pathways.”
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How to Take Nutrition Seriously in Recovery
March is National Nutrition Month – what better time to start taking your health and nutrition more seriously?
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has a few suggestions for how to get started.
“Preparing several meals on the weekends can provide balanced meals that can easily be reheated throughout the week,” says registered dietitian nutritionist and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Spokesperson Kristen Smith. “It’s also a great way to eat healthfully, save time during the week and reduce food waste.”
“Shopping at a farmers market offers some of the freshest fruits, vegetables and other foods you can find. It also offers the opportunity to buy locally, support small farms and businesses in your area and connect with your community.”
“A National Resources Defense Council report finds that roughly 40 percent of all edible food produced in America is not eaten. Based on food and beverages thrown out, up to $2,275 is wasted each year by a typical family of four in this country.”
What Kind of Foods to Eat in Recovery
Wiss suggests trying to keep yourself in what he calls a neutral zone, in regards to hunger.
“There is now increasing evidence to suggest that nutrition can play an important role in addiction recovery. Addicts in recovery often benefit from learning new behaviors concerning food and nutrition. Small changes in nutrition and health behavior can increase general self-efficacy concerning abstinence from alcohol and drugs, and often contribute to increased sobriety time and increased the quality of life.”3
Because there are different types of people, there is some controversy over the question “Is there a standard diet that has maximum benefit for all?” It’s best to do some research, read up on the issue, and talk to people in recovery who have found for themselves what works.
Common sense supports a few simple ideas in dealing with nutrition and addiction recovery:
- Minimize sugar consumption
- Minimize or cut out “cheap carbs” (white bread, noodles, white rice, etc.)
- Eat colors (green leafy vegetables, broccoli, tomatoes, carrots, etc.)
- Eat fruit (moderately—fructose is still sugar)
- Minimize fat and cut out trans-fats
- Minimize processed foods
- Eat proteins (fish, chicken, legumes, beans)
- Eat breakfast
In conclusion, it makes sense for treatment centers to merely offer a comprehensive nutrition program or at least a nutrition education program. Why not start at the source and instill the knowledge from the beginning? Wiss thinks that might be happening soon. Until then, how will you take charge of your eating habits in recovery?