Substance abuse creates many problems for the addict, including nutritional imbalances and deficiencies that jeopardize their health. Incorporating a nourishing eating plan in the early phases of addiction recovery can help improve addicts’ health and redefine their relationship with eating and food as they work toward sobriety.
Addiction recovery diet plans are more than about eating; they are also about helping people in active addiction make a full recovery physically, mentally, and emotionally.
“Proper nutrition and hydration are key to the substance abuse healing process because they help restore physical and mental health and improve the chance of recovery,” writes Alyssa Salz, MS, RD, LD, for the December 2014 issue of Today’s Dietitian. “Macro- and micronutrient deficiencies can lead to symptoms of depression, anxiety, and low energy, all of which can lead someone to start using drugs or alcohol or trigger a relapse.”
Establishing healthy eating habits while in a treatment program can give addicts the strength and focus to see their recovery plans through to the end and help them establish beneficial eating routines for the rest of their lives.
What’s at Stake if the Diet Doesn’t Improve?
When people use addictive substances, they spend a lot of time abusing their drug(s) of choice, which means other parts of their lives, such as hygiene, appearance, and diet, often go neglected. As a result, their health suffers. Should they find themselves on the road to recovery, they will need to learn how to eat right and use healthy coping strategies to survive the journey.
Many drug and alcohol users either completely lose their appetites for normal food or eat unhealthy foods that have little to no nutritional value. They forget what it feels like to be hungry and may think they are craving substances when, instead, they are just hungry and just don’t realize it. In addition to relearning how to recognize hunger, people in this group must learn to eat at regularly scheduled intervals every day, make healthy food choices, and know when to stop eating.
For example, recovering meth users who ate junk food high in sugar and fat that left them dehydrated, nutrient-deficient, and malnourished will now have to learn how to replace those foods with healthy substitutes as they manage drug cravings. If they don’t, they risk picking up the stimulant again. Meth users, specifically, who have lost a lot of weight may require additional help as they adjust to a normal diet.
Regular cocaine users who are used to eating whatever they want, including fatty foods, may struggle at first, too, with dietary changes. The decision to quit using could lead to weight gain, which some clients may need to be counseled through. Research published in the journal Appetite in 2013 found that regular cocaine use can prevent the body from storing fat because it affects metabolic processes. This results in a slimming effect. However, when cocaine use stops, the metabolism slows, and recovering users will see their weight go up.
This physical change could be seen as a sign of improved health, or it may be viewed negatively by cocaine users who want to be thinner. An unfavorable view of “sober body,” could lead to returning to using for body image-conscious cocaine users, Karen Ersche, MD, of the Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute at the University of Cambridge, told the Daily Mail.
“The stress caused by this conspicuous body change can also contribute to relapse,” she said. “Notable weight gain following cocaine abstinence is not only a source of major personal suffering but also has profound implications for health and recovery.”
What Should Recovering Users Eat?
Good nutrition starts with developing healthy eating habits. While there’s no one specific diet that works best for alcoholics and addicts in recovery, there are practices that can be implemented to encourage healthy eating and nourishment, both while in treatment and after treatment.
Addiction recovery diet plans that balance nutrition support the improvement of users’ moods and health, and if those improve, then the person is less likely to start using again. A nutritionist or registered dietitian can help recovering substance users establish a meal plan that works best for them. Professionals can also address any eating disorders, such as binge eating and anorexia, that may be present.
Working with a professional can help change the way a person views food and their eating routine, medicines, and diet can work together for the good of their recovery goals. Treatment center clinicians usually first conduct nutrition screenings for the client to before making specific recommendations. They also follow up to monitor the client’s progress.
While ideal addiction recovery diet plans should reflect a person’s individual needs, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute advises that a healthy eating plan:
- Emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products
- Includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts
- Limits saturated and trans fats, sodium, and added sugars
- Controls portion sizes
A diet rich in protein, dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants is recommended. Users may also want to stay away from caffeine as much as possible and avoid or limit smoking. As MedlinePlus advises, it is important to get enough fluids during and in between meals because dehydration is common during the substance abuse recovery period.
People who are used to taking stimulants, such as meth and cocaine, may crave unhealthy foods and overeat, so it is advised that they eat healthy meals and snacks as they improve their diet.
Need addiction treatment? Call us today
Eating well is an important part of the addiction healing process, and at California Highlands Addiction Treatment, we care about our clients, even down to the food they put into their bodies as they recover from substance abuse. If you’re interested in entering a rehabilitation facility, call California Highlands Addiction Treatment today at 888-969-8755 for a free consultation and assessment. One phone call can put you or your loved one toward the first step in the journey of lifelong sobriety.