The foods we choose to eat play a major role in the way we feel, both physically and mentally. For those in recovery, a healthy diet can help you come back energetic, positive, and strong.
The role of the right foods in recovery is essential – and often overlooked. If you’re overcoming addiction, it’s likely that your body’s basic needs have been neglected, and the nourishment you should be getting from your daily diet is far from sufficient. Studies estimate that as many as 88% of people struggling with substance abuse have a poor appetite and a low overall diet quality.
Properly feeding your mind and body sets you up for a better mental outlook and a faster physical recovery, giving you the strength you need to keep going. This is why when we talk about recovery, what you are eating has to be part of the conversation. Good nutrition factors into nearly every aspect of our mental and physical health, laying a foundation that can determine the course of our overall wellness for years to come.
Understanding the Impact of Addiction on Nutrition
Addiction draws attention away from basic needs as the mind and body grow increasingly focused on feeding the dependency. This often results in people skipping meals or eating poorly, habits that result in malnutrition.
Other impacts come from the deleterious effects of drugs and alcohol on the body’s digestive system and its ability to absorb essential vitamins and minerals. This means that even if you are managing to eat regular, healthy meals while living with an addiction, your body is not gaining the full benefit of that food. Substances that can interfere with the body’s intake of nutrients include:
Alcohol’s serious and significant impacts on the digestive system is a major reason why habitual drinkers suffer from poor nutrition. Alcohol causes damage to the lining of the stomach and intestines, leaving your body less able to absorb nutrients. The pancreas, which is critical to producing chemicals needed for digestion, is also negatively affected by alcohol abuse. Alcohol’s impacts on the liver also reduce its ability to break down toxins, impacting a range of bodily functions.
Long-term alcohol abuse also leads to vitamin deficiencies, which can, in turn, cause other physical ailments like anaemia or problems with the nervous system.
The use of stimulants, such as methamphetamine and cocaine, has a significant impact on appetite, as these drugs send signals to the brain that block the natural impulses to eat and sleep. Dehydration is common during binges, as is a balance in electrolytes that can compound malnutrition.
For some, dehydration causes severe dry mouth, which when combined with a lack of attention to dental care leads to tooth decay. This condition, also known as “meth mouth,” can be extremely painful and contribute to a lack of proper eating.
Marijuana is a powerful appetite stimulant, spurring food cravings colloquially known as “the munchies.” These cravings tend to be directed towards high sugar, high carbohydrate junk foods and can result in significant weight gain and even obesity. Excess weight can lead to a variety of other health conditions including high blood pressure and heart problems.
Opioids like oxycodone, heroin, fentanyl and morphine significantly slow down body functions, making digestion less efficient. Constipation is a common problem among people using opioids, and can also negatively affect appetite and create other digestive issues.
Withdrawal from opioids can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, which may be severe. This can contribute to dehydration and an imbalance of electrolytes that can make it difficult for your body to function normally.
Foods that Nourish Your Recovery – and Make You Feel Great
When you begin recovery, whole foods – as in foods that are not processed, ready-made or otherwise altered from their original form – should be prioritised. Whole foods include things like eggs, fruit, vegetables, meat, quinoa or oats. These foods possess a diverse array of nutrients that help nourish both your body and mind. Don’t forget the importance of staying hydrated as well – forego sugary drinks and juices and pour yourself a tall glass of water.
Because in early recovery you are most likely still operating at a nutritional deficit caused by addiction, it is important to target specific vitamin and mineral-rich foods to help replenish your stores and regulate your body functions. These include whole foods with essential amino acids, vitamins and nutrients like the ones listed here. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but can help give you a general sense of where to begin in rethinking your meals.
GABA is a neurotransmitter that helps us feel calm and relaxed, and is key in managing stress. In early recovery you may be struggling with anxiety and insomnia, and so foods known for boosting GABA levels are helpful in alleviating these symptoms.
Try: cherry tomatoes, shrimp, kefir
Antioxidants have gotten a lot of attention in recent years, and for good reason. Their protection against cell damage makes them a powerful nutrient towards good health. In recovery, antioxidants help cleanse the body and rebuild a weakened immune system.
Try: berries, pecans, leeks, onions, artichokes
Drugs and alcohol limit the body’s ability to absorb B-group vitamins, which can contribute to a range of health issues like anemia, confusion, irritability, insomnia, fatigue, and changes in mood. Replenishing the body’s stores of vitamin B is an important nutritional target during recovery.
Try: beef, pork, poultry, fish, eggs, citrus fruits, brown rice, barley, lentils, beans
Tyrosine is an amino acid that acts as a precursor for the neurotransmitter dopamine, a key chemical in boosting mood and cultivating a sense of feeling good. Dopamine is often depleted through addiction, and in recovery these low levels can make you feel apathetic, depressed, and weary. Eating foods that are high in tyrosine helps your body produce more dopamine.
Try: cheese, whole grains, pork, lamb, beef, bananas, sunflower seeds, soybeans
Another power-packed amino acid, L-glutamine benefits the immune system, and has antioxidant properties that help reduce sugar cravings. Sugar cravings are common in recovery, but high levels of sugar can cause a host of negative effects on both physical and mental health.
Try: dark, leafy greens, papaya, Brussels sprouts, celery, carrots, beans, beets, and foods high in protein
This amino acid is a precursor to serotonin, another mood-boosting neurotransmitter. Like dopamine, serotonin levels are negatively impacted by addiction and are typically low in recovery, so eating foods to help raise these levels can make a difference in your overall mood.
Try: beans, lentils, cheese, turkey, pork, lamb, oat bran, tuna
Detoxifying Your Diet: Where to Begin
With all the lifestyle changes that come with recovery, thinking about how to restructure your diet might seem overwhelming. However, it’s hard to exaggerate the importance of what you eat in aiding the healing process and improving your sense of wellbeing. You can start by planning your meals a few days ahead, and setting regular meal times. Having healthy snacks on hand is also important in helping to keep your energy up and keep cravings at bay.
If you still need some extra support, sitting down with your therapist and talking through the nutritional aspect of recovery can be helpful in building this into your overall recovery plan. A nutritionist is also well-placed to help craft a meal plan suited to your unique needs.
Feeding Your Body and Mind at The Dawn
The Dawn Wellness Centre and Rehab focuses on a holistic, integrated approach to recovery from addiction. Our clients have access to a range of effective psychotherapeutic techniques as well as proven wellness practices like yoga, meditation, fitness training, and massage. We work with every one of our clients to develop a personalised recovery plan adapted to your specific needs and goals.
Private Accommodation in a Riverfront Sanctuary
At The Dawn you will live at a beautiful riverfront sanctuary located in Northern Thailand where you can recover in a relaxed, cosy ambience and truly focus on yourself. We offer a delicious buffet with healthy international and Thai foods that can be tailored to your dietary requirements. You’ll have your own comfortable, private room and access to resort-style facilities including WiFi, a swimming pool, sauna, meditation studio and fitness centre.
Call us today to learn more about how we can support your full, well-rounded recovery.