Recovering from a drug or alcohol addiction requires an awareness of the impact substance abuse can have on the body, mind, and spirit. Developing healthy nutritional habits involves a similar understanding of which foods and eating habits can have a negative effect on physical, mental, and emotional well-being and can be particularly triggering to those in recovery. Here are five tips to promote a healthy lifestyle and reduce the chances of a relapse.
1. Eat more fiber to strengthen mental health
Nutrition and brain activity are closely linked. Mountainside Treatment Center nutritionist Joyce Faraj, PhD, RDN, recommends consuming foods that are nutrient-dense and high in fiber – foods that are absorbed by the “good bacteria” in our intestines, or the gut microbiome which is responsible for vitamin production), and lower our levels of systemic inflammation. Minimizing inflammation through healthy eating is important because this practice reduces the risk of developing ailments like irritable bowel syndrome, blood clots, and coronary heart disease, in addition to mental health threats such as depression.
2. Avoid skipping meals to reduce the likelihood of cravings
Some people may find themselves undereating because work and other obligations might take the place of meals, but this is a practice to stay away from. Not eating for extended periods of time makes people more likely to overeat when they are presented with food, and even worse, causes those recovering from drug addiction and alcoholism to experience cravings.
Faraj cautions that “skipping meals often leads to us muting our ‘internal hunger button’ and leads to blood sugar levels falling below our desired range, which may start a cascade of lethargy or fatigue, potential anxiety, cravings, impaired decision making, or increased aggressiveness – all of which are unwanted feelings that can lead to cravings.” Intuitive eating – including knowing when to eat – is crucial, and everyone should learn to distinguish between which foods cause our bodies and minds to deteriorate versus foods that provide us with nutritional value.
3. Avoid overeating to discourage addictive tendencies
While depriving yourself of food risks your sobriety, overeating is also a negative habit to avoid. Food addiction is a common threat to those recovering from a substance abuse problem. Certain unhealthy ingredients have an effect on the brain comparable to the impact of drugs or alcohol, which trigger “feel good” neurotransmitters in the mind. Foods high in sugar, salt, and fatty acids similarly promote the release of dopamine and can cause people to become addicted to these foods for the comfort and temporary pleasure they provide. Those looking to maintain a sober lifestyle should avoid eating these unhealthy foods in large quantities.
4. Eat the right ingredients to maintain healthy brain balance
A healthy diet can boost your energy and your mood. You should turn to foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats such as avocado and olive oil, and protein from plant and animal sources for a nutritional pick-me-up. Proteins, which are also ideal for snacking, include eggs, chicken, and fish as well as seeds, nuts, and tofu. Faraj recommends incorporating at least one protein and at least two foods from the other categories into every meal for a well-balanced diet and a happier mindset.
5. Avoid foods that destabilize blood sugar
Frequent alcohol consumption leads to high glucose levels in the body and harms the mind by altering the brain’s dopamine system. Certain foods are notorious for causing similar spikes in blood sugar, therefore provoking alcohol cravings and relapse. Those looking to avoid these episodes should stay away from refined carbohydrates, sugar, dairy, and caffeine in large quantities. These foods destabilize blood sugar levels and lack nutritional value compared to fiber and vitamin-rich foods. Comfort foods may seem inviting, but they can have lasting negative consequences on the mind and body.
Establishing healthy nutritional habits can prove challenging, but the task is not impossible, especially for those who have already proven themselves capable of overcoming major hurdles such as a substance abuse problem. Allocating additional time towards meal preparation and mindfulness about the types of foods you are consuming can have a beneficial impact on your physical, mental, and spiritual wellness.
Equally important, a healthy diet promotes sobriety and reduces food cravings that can quickly devolve back into drug or alcohol consumption. Next time you find yourself reaching for a bag of potato chips to eat while watching your favorite television program, try opting for foods that contain fiber or protein, which can satiate your hunger longer and keep your immune system intact.