Many people with substance use disorder have also experienced disordered eating. Active addiction can make it all but impossible to focus on nutrition, and having an eating disorder can make people prone to substance use.
“Disordered eating and addiction often overlap,” says Sarah Hooff. Hooff, a certified holistic nutritionist and certified sports nutrition coach, works at Sunshine Coast Health Centre, a rehab in British Columbia, Canada. “It’s no wonder really. Being in such a depleted state can make one a sitting duck when it comes to the relief provided from drugs and alcohol.”
According to Hooff, people with eating disorders and substance use disorders are often lacking in critical nutrients. These nutrients are essential for healthy functioning of body and mind, so being depleted can, according to Hooff, “cause further damage that will require even more nutrients for repair.”
Focusing on nutrition in early recovery can help replace essential nutrients. Now, when many of us are stuck at home anyway, is the perfect time to start.
“The good news is that after some time and focus on some of these at risk nutrients, healing will start to happen,” Hooff says.
Here are three important nutrients that everyone in recovery or with a history of disordered eating should pay attention to:
- Zinc: “Zinc is extremely important for healing and repair, our immunity, our ability to digest food well, even to taste food,” Hooff says. “A deficiency can also cause a decrease of appetite. While one may not feel hungry they can in fact be starving.” Meat, shellfish, seeds, nuts and dairy are all healthy foods that are rich in zinc.
- Iron: Iron is essential for healthy functioning throughout the body. It contributes to healthy energy levels and gastrointestinal functioning. Since many neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine are produced in the gut, it can affect mental functioning, too. Spinach, red meats, beans and lentils are all rich in iron.
- Magnesium. “Also known as the ‘anti-stress mineral,’ magnesium is needed for the health of the nervous system and has even been proven helpful for relapse prevention,” Hooff says. Dark chocolate, chia seeds, and avocados are all rich in magnesium.
While important nutrients are abundant in wholesome foods, they’re not often found on store shelves.
“Essential nutrients like magnesium and zinc vanish from processed foods,” Hooff says. “They are incredibly important for our health and even more so for someone in recovery.”
Because of that, you should try to focus on whole foods, while forgoing the processed stuff.
“I know trying to comfort oneself in the early days of recovery with sugar and processed foods can seem to make sense, but please do keep your hardworking body in mind too,” Hooff says. “Now is the time to call on all the healing tools that exist.”
Focus on how food affects your body, but don’t worry about labeling food good or bad.
“Viewing food as a blessing and something to look forward to versus something to be afraid of or bad is essential,” Hooff says. “For example I’ve heard many people say that bread is ‘bad‘ however there are some amazing examples of incredibly healthy bread to choose from today.”
Most importantly, have fun experimenting with healthy eating.
“Yes, food gives us physical energy but it can also be so enjoyable,” she says.
Here’s a great example of an easy-to-make, tasty and healthy treat:
Raspberry Chocolate Layer Pudding
“Chia seeds sure are one of Nature’s sweetest gifts,” Hooff says. “I often make this one at workshops and it’s definitely a crowd pleaser!”
- 1 small banana
1 tbsp. cocoa
3 tsp chia seeds
1/2 cp water
Place ingredients in blender, mix until smooth. Divide into 2 servings and rinse blender for next part.
1 cup raspberries
1 small banana
1/2 cup water
5 tsp chia seeds
Optional: Add a touch of maple syrup for additional sweetness. Or, substitute avocado and a date or two for banana.
Place ingredients into blender and mix until smooth. Pour over chocolate layer and let set.
Top with cream and lastly chocolate shavings for a finishing touch!
If you want, you can replace cream with coconut cream. Mix up a batch while the pudding is setting. You can now also pick some up in the grocery store where you would find regular whipped cream.
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