Healthy Weight Week kicks off in the third week of January. It’s a good time to think about what role nutrition plays in recovery from alcohol and drug disorders, as well as in mental health recovery.
Addiction and mental illness take a major toll on the human body. Recovery is a gradual process, and nutrition is one of many issues that require our attention. Alcoholism detoxification may be especially hard because the process requires careful monitoring, medications and support. Plus, alcohol itself can be difficult to avoid in the course of everyday socializing.
When we abuse alcohol and drugs, we may:
- Consume less food (except with marijuana use)
- Choose foods that are less nutritious and/or skip meals
- Increase the speed at which our body uses up energy
- Increase the loss of nutrients through vomiting and diarrhea
- Damage our gut so that it can’t absorb the nutrients in food properly
When we experience mental health disorders, we may:
- Consume more food
- Eat junk foods to feel better or fill an emotional void
- Drink more alcohol than usual
- Feel depressed about our weight gain
- Put ourselves at a higher risk for committing suicide or being institutionalized.
It’s clear that recovery from behavioral health disorders means we have to improve our eating habits. Food influences the way the brain functions. When our body isn’t producing enough brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) or the chemicals are out of balance, we feel irritable and anxious. We will suffer from food cravings, anxiety, and an inability to sleep. The resulting stress can affect memory and/or make us paranoid, tired, dissatisfied or depressed.
In the first year after we stop using alcohol or drugs, our nutrition needs are higher than normal. People in recovery need to make sure we’re feeding our body good food on a daily basis. Even if you eat a healthy, varied diet while using drugs and alcohol, fewer nutrients are available to satisfy nutritional needs since a lot of those nutrients are being used to detoxify the body.
Therefore, a diet for recovery should include:
- Complex carbohydrates (50% to 55% of the calories you consume), which means plenty of grains, fruits and vegetables
- Dairy products or other foods rich in calcium (calcium-fortified beverages, tofu, kale), two to three cups per day
- Moderate protein (15% to 20% of calories): two to four ounces twice a day of meat or fish (or another high-protein food such as tofu)
- Fat choices (30% of calories) — preferably good oils such as canola, olive, flaxseed and those found in fish
Here are some tips people at L.A. CADA have found helpful to assist our bodies in recovery and maintain a healthy weight:
- Try healthy choices for fast foods (salads, grilled chicken burgers, smoothies) if you don’t like to cook
- Eat a variety of foods from all the food groups (fruits/vegetables, grains, dairy and meat or alternatives)
- Eat food high in fiber, such as bran and oat cereals and muffins, beans, fruits and vegetables
- Eat breakfast and try not to skip other meals
- Slowly cut back to drinking less than two cups of caffeinated coffee, tea or soda a day
- Limit sugar and sweets
- Drink plenty of water
- Take multivitamins (talk to your health care provider about the options)
- Enjoy some form of activity every day
L.A. CADA wishes you a great journey in better nutrition throughout 2021!