Why is Nutrition so Important for Addiction Recovery?

Eating healthy was probably not a top priority during addiction. Likely, many meals were skipped. Perhaps fast food or junk food replaced healthy meals. Experts agree that nutrition can be confusing to understand. Watch this TED Talk to learn the value of whole foods.

How Substance Abuse Affects Appetite

  • Metabolism: This is the process by which the body breaks down food to use as nutrients. Poor diet and nutrition can wreak havoc on the body, leading to brain and organ damage and other diseases.
  • Alcohol: has no nutrients but might make you feel full. In large quantities, alcohol can damage the intestinal tract, decreasing the body’s ability to absorb vitamins and minerals from food.
  • Stimulants: typically suppress the appetite, and the muscles might waste. These stimulant features could lead to dehydration from not eating and drinking properly. Another concern with stimulants related to nutrition could be eating disorders. The appetite returns during recovery from stimulants overeating, especially at night, can cause unwanted weight gain.
  • Marijuana: the nutritional impact of marijuana is increased appetite. Users may need a controlled diet and exercise program to shed the excess weight from using marijuana. Because marijuana is fat-soluble, it might take up to six months for the brain to return to its pre-use state.
  • Opiates: can cause diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting during withdrawal increases the risk of dehydration. Nutritional deficiencies of proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals can disrupt the ability to digest carbohydrates efficiently.

Food Cravings

Have you ever thought about why you might be craving a particular food? Sugar and simple carbohydrates like bread trigger the reward system in the brain to release dopamine. Stopping drug and alcohol use deprives the brain of its previous dopamine surge and might cause sugar cravings. Our bodies run on glucose, a type of sugar that fuels cells. Because of the feel-good from eating sweets, it trains our brain to desire more and more. Did you know that sugar can also disrupt the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory? Research shows that rats who ate a high sugar diet had poor recall of objects and their locations.

What you really need if you are craving specific foods can be found in the chart below.

Craving What You Need Eat This Instead
Chocolate Magnesium Raw cacao, nuts, seeds, legumes, fruits, and veggies
Sugary Foods Chromium Broccoli, grapes, cheese, chicken.
Carbon Fresh fruits
Phosphorus Chicken, beef, fatty fish, eggs, dairy, nuts, veggies, grains.
Sulfur Cranberries, horseradish, cabbage, cauliflower
Tryptophan Cheese, raisins, sweet potatoes, spinach.
Bread, pasta, other carbs Nitrogen High protein foods, meat, fatty fish, nuts, beans, chia seeds.
Oily foods Calcium Milk, cheese, green leafy vegetables.
Salty foods Chloride Fatty fish, goat milk.
Silicon Cashews, nuts, seeds.
Craving What You Need Eat This Instead
Chewing ice Iron Meat, fish, poultry, seaweed, greens, black cherries.
Burned foods Carbon Fresh fruits.
Soda and carbonation Calcium Mustard, turnip greens, kale, legumes, cheese, sesame.
Acidic foods Magnesium Raw cacao, nuts, seeds, legumes, fruits, and veggies.
Cool drinks Manganese Walnuts, almonds, pecans, pineapple, blueberries.
Menstrual cravings Zinc Seafood, leafy vegetables, root vegetables.
Overeating Silicon Nuts or seeds.
Tryptophan Cheese, raisins, sweet potatoes, spinach
Tyrosine Vitamin C supplements, orange, red, or green fruits and veggies.
Craving What You Need Eat This Instead
Coffee or tea Phosphorus  Liver, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, nuts, legumes.
Sulfur Egg yolks, red peppers, muscle protein, garlic, onions, cruciferous vegetables.
Salt (NaCl) Sea salt, Himalayan salt, apple cider vinegar.
Iron Meat, fish, poultry, seaweed, greens, black cherries.
Alcohol or recreational drugs Protein Meat, poultry, seafood, nuts.
Avenin Steel-cut oats.
Calcium Mustard, turnip greens, kale, legumes, cheese, sesame.
Glutamine Glutamine supplement powder, raw cabbage juice.
Potassium Sun-dried black olives, potato peel broth, seaweed, bitter greens.

Tips to Manage Nutrition in Recovery

  1. Don’t skip meals. Even if you are not hungry, try to maintain a routine. Perhaps, eating a healthy snack instead like yogurt, fruit, or nuts.
  2. Limit comfort or processed foods. These foods might feel good at the moment. Too much of a good thing is not all that great. Your waistline and mood will thank you for not overindulging. Junk food also triggers the reward system, which can lead to more cravings.
  3. Read labels. Researchers found that low-fat and fat-free foods have higher sugar content. Sugar-free and lower sugar foods are not healthy, either. The sugar is replaced with artificial sweeteners that are not any better. Artificial sweeteners trick the brain into believing there is a reward to release dopamine, causing confusion.
  4. Stick to the perimeter of the store. When shopping, notice the layout of the store. Typically, the "whole foods" are on the border, whereas the processed ones are in the middle. It does not mean never go in the middle of the store, just use discretion. Spices and oils are needed to enhance the flavor of natural foods like vegetables, meat, poultry, and seafood. Staying away from the chips and cookies is probably best, though.
  5. Get some physical activity and plenty of rest. If you have not been accustomed to physical activity, take it easy. Don’t overexert yourself. Talk to your healthcare professional before engaging in a new workout routine. Make sure that your body is also getting enough sleep.

Mindfulness and Nutrition

How can mindfulness help with nutrition? Mindful eating helps keep you attuned to your body signals. Our body tells us things long before we are consciously aware of them. Have you noticed the message your body gives when you are full? It could be a sigh, yawning, a runny nose, or any other cue. When our body gives hunger pains, thirst signals, or cravings, it is literally speaking to us about what it needs. Often, hunger can be a signal for thirst. Next time you feel hungry, try drinking water first to see if you are thirsty instead.

Before beginning a new diet or exercise program, talk with the appropriate professionals like a nurse, doctor, dietician/nutritionist, or your therapist. If you might be concerned that you have an eating disorder, talk to our clinical staff. We are here to help you.

Do you want to learn more about getting the proper nutrition early in recovery? If so, please contact our admissions department. Call (714) 581-3974.