When you abuse substances, your body suffers. Drugs and alcohol suppress and numb your desire to eat. Because women with addictions often have disordered eating, your body can genuinely become malnourished. As you heal from your addiction, you will also need the healing power of nutrition to feed your body.
Justine Lichtenstern is a certified nutritionist who works for The Ho Tai Way – Recovery For Women. She was interviewed for this article to talk about her approach to nutrition in recovery.
How Food Can Heal Your Body
Nutrition is not just about eating “healthy foods.” Justine emphasizes that we should have “no moral judgments” about food. Women with addiction and or disordered eating will restrict themselves from eating certain foods based on moral judgments of what is good or bad or healthy or unhealthy. But restricting foods for any reason creates more problems. She cited a study where mice were offered cocaine or food. They only chose the cocaine when they had been starved or restricted.
The approach that Justine uses to nutrition is evidence-based. For example, there is a common belief that you can be addicted to sugar or food. If you restrict yourself from eating sugary foods or even food altogether, you develop a scarcity mindset. You may feel like you are addicted because you have cravings for food or sugar and then will binge and feel like you don’t have control. She points out that “You can’t get addicted to something that you need to sustain you for life.” Your body needs food.
Allowing Yourself to Eat Without Judgment
Your body will heal when you allow yourself to eat without judgment. What you eat is less important than how much and how often you eat. According to Justine, everyone should be eating three meals per day and three snacks per day. You should not let your body go more than three to four hours during the day without food. As you reconnect with your body, you will find your body’s interoceptive awareness again. Once again, you will be able to listen to your body to tell you when you are hungry and need to eat.
The Importance of Eating in Recovery
When coming out of substance abuse, you may experience extreme cravings for foods that society judges as “unhealthy,” such as fatty or sugary foods. You may also want to eat more significant portions or more frequently. You may be frightened by this because you are concerned with long-term health or weight gain.
According to Justine, “All food is quality food. All food serves some purpose. The most important thing is to eat.” The body craves certain foods because of restricted eating or the side effects of substance abuse. She encourages patients to eat without worrying about health or weight issues because the body simply needs food at this point. Eventually, your body will reach homeostasis, or stability, in what your body craves and the portion size you need. During early recovery, the most important thing is simply to eat.
What Is Body Diversity?
Justine describes herself as weight-inclusive. A weight-inclusive approach is based on body diversity. Everyone has different body sizes, types, and weights, and none are bad or wrong. Weight is not a behavior. Focusing on body image, or being weight-centric, can lead to body dysmorphia or other types of disordered eating. Any sized body can be malnourished after addiction.
What Is Disordered Eating?
Worrying about what you eat creates more problems. Beliefs such as “My hunger scares me” or “I don’t want to get fat” are dangerous. Justine points out that “starvation or malnutrition in the brain would affect them more.” Women in addiction will put drugs or alcohol in their system daily but are overly concerned with the types of food they are eating. These beliefs and restricting yourself from certain types of foods or food, in general, are considered disordered eating.
What Is an Eating Disorder?
An eating disorder is a specific diagnosis such as anorexia nervosa. According to Justine, someone with an eating disorder who has restricted themselves from food long-term loses their gut microbiome and is actually unable to process foods you might judge as “healthy,” such as whole grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables. You may need to eat highly processed foods because you have been restricting for so long that your body cannot process “healthy” foods. Eating foods that are already processed will allow your body to get some nutrition and help you heal.
The Importance of Psychology in Nutrition
Justine said she is “less concerned with the quality of food and more concerned with what the person feels about eating certain foods.” We grow up with certain beliefs about foods, but we live in a “diet culture” society that creates ideas about food and eating that are, in many cases, false. What you think about food will impact your eating habits and, ultimately, your health. As you heal from your addictions to drugs and alcohol, you can also evaluate how you feel about food and heal by understanding that all food is nutrition.
When you have been in addiction, your body needs nutrition. Allowing yourself to eat without fear or judgment and recognizing that all food is nutrition is the best way to help your body heal. Changing your psychological approach to food is more important than what you eat to help your body recover from addiction. The Ho Tai Way – Recovery For Women recognizes that you need food to heal and that food is not an addiction. Our focus for your health is to recover from both addiction and disordered eating by learning about losing the stigma and fears surrounding food that you have assimilated from cultural or societal beliefs. Our residential treatment center for women encourages eating without judgment during treatment and throughout your recovery. We help you to remove the shame and fear surrounding food and body image to let you be free to recover. Call us at (714) 581-3974.