You are what you eat. We’ve all heard the clichéd phrase and rolled our eyes, but there is some truth to the saying. Food fuels your body, giving you the nutrients that you need to function at your best. That’s why incorporating good nutrition is such an important part of addiction treatment.
In the throes of active addiction, many people stop thinking about making healthy choices, especially when it comes to food. You’re already putting poison into your body with drugs or alcohol, so why bother nourishing your body with healthy food? People with addiction often eat whatever is fast and easy, or forget to eat at all while they’re chasing their next fix. So, it’s no surprise that many people who enter rehab are malnourished and missing key nutrients from their diets.
As you begin to focus on a healthier lifestyle, nutrition is a cornerstone of success. To meet the challenges of recovery you need your body and mind in top shape. That starts with eating well. Here’s how to begin:
- Start slowly. You don’t need to revamp your diet entirely. It’s ok to start slowly, incorporating healthy foods into your repertoire and gradually removing foods that you no longer want to eat. In recovery, you’re making a lot of changes: giving up drugs and alcohol, managing any underlying illnesses, and learning to cope with your feelings. That can all be overwhelming, so making small changes to your diet can make healthy eating feel more manageable. Remember, every little bit counts.
- Think of food as fuel. Food gives you the energy to accomplish everything you want to do, including focusing on your recovery. If you adopt the mindset that food is fuel, it makes sense to only put high-quality nutrients into your body. Just as you wouldn’t put cheap gas into your car and expect it to run well, you can’t put just processed food into your body and stay healthy.
- Notice how food affects your body. When you eat, take note of how the food makes you feel. You might notice that a piece of fruit gives you an energy boost, or that you feel bloated after eating bread. Learning these differences will help dictate your diet. You can eat more of the foods that make you feel good and avoid those that make you feel worse. Keeping a food journal is very useful for noticing these differences.
- Eat the rainbow. A fun and easy way to incorporate healthy foods into your diet is to challenge yourself to make your plates as colorful as possible. Most processed foods have plain colors, while fruits and vegetables are vibrant. A plate of food that has green, blue, orange and yellow is likely much healthier than a plate that just has brown or white.
- Think about your microbiome. Scientists are learning more and more about how brain health and gut health are linked. Many neurotransmitters that help regulate mental health, including serotonin, dopamine and GABA, are actually produced by bacteria in the gut. To rebuild a healthy microbiome in your gut, eat plenty of fermented foods, which add healthy bacteria to your gut. Then, snack on fiber (found in fruits and vegetables), which is great for feeding all the helpful bacteria in your gut.
- Watch for troublesome patterns. When you’re quitting one substance — like drugs or alcohol — is can be easy to replace it with another substance — like smoking or sugar. Monitor yourself to see if you’re using food as a coping mechanism. Of course, this is healthier than abusing substances, but it might be a signal that you’re still not processing challenges in the healthiest ways.
Eating well is one of the most important things you can do to boost your health. When you eat nutritious meals you’ll feel healthier and might even find yourself motivated to exercise and focus more intensely on your recovery. So, as you move forward in your sober life, give a new, healthy recipe a try!