At the height of their addiction, a person may be consuming upwards of half their caloric needs in alcohol alone. This can lead to malnutrition, excessive weight gain, or excessive weight loss. For drug abusers, their prioritizing of drug use may lead to skipped meals. Nutrition becomes an afterthought to an addict. It can also lead to disordered eating such as binge eating and anorexia.
A balanced diet gives the body the tools it needs to heal after what could be decades of substance abuse. Once detoxification is complete, the body will absolutely need healthy fuel to run on. Although nutrition is not heavily emphasized in treatment, there are some rather easy things someone in recovery can do to become healthy and give them the energy to maintain sobriety.
Create a Healthy Meal Planning and Prep Routine
Eating right shouldn’t just be about reaching a healthy weight. The right diet can curb all kinds of physical and mental health issues: from chronic fatigue to depression. Hormone imbalances caused by poor diet and drug use can make for one more hurdle to overcome while in recovery. The key to creating and maintaining a healthy nutritional routine is to plan ahead.
First, sit down and figure out what your budget and plans are for the week. Where are you going? Are you seeing friends? This will help you know what days you need meals for. Dinners make for wonderful lunches if taken as leftovers. On weekends, when you are most tempted to go out and break your sobriety, make meal preparation a fun event! It can take hours, you can watch movies while food cooks, and you can do a week’s worth of cooking in one or two days. This way, your weekdays can be focused on therapy, work and exercise.
Look forward to your nutritious meals and get excited about trying new recipes. It’s important to eat balanced meals full of healthy fats, fiber and protein. If you have weight loss or muscle gain goals, meal prepping with make those easier to attain.
Avoid Excessive Processed Sugar Consumption While in Recovery
Sometimes when trying to be sober, we leave one habit behind only to gain a new one. For some it’s nicotine, for others it’s sugar. For anyone trying to maintain sobriety or diet goals, maintaining blood sugar is crucial. The up’s and down’s of blood sugar rises and crashes can lead to indulging in more and more sugar. Like drugs, sugar begins a bad cycle of addiction that requires you to consume more and more only to maintain your blood sugar levels. This can lead to weight gain and overall feelings of fatigue and faintness when blood sugars dip too low. That bad feeling may entice you to relapse.
It’s important not to run to sugar when trying to keep sober from your drug of choice. Keep in mind that you can’t start a sugar addiction if you avoid eating sugar. This doesn’t mean you can’t have cake on your birthday, but you should avoid eating and drinking sugars regularly. You’ll feel better and more clear headed if you do.
Avoid Too Much Caffeine During Early Sobriety
As we discussed before, maintaining blood sugar levels are vital to staying on track and sober. Caffeine can affect everyone differently, and for some it can spike sugar levels. Caffeine can also increase heart rate, anxiety, and interfere with sleep. According to the American Nutrition Association, “Caffeine is a drug. Although it recently received a clean bill of health for those concerned about heart disease and cancer, it can complicate or retard recovery from alcohol. Caffeine pumps a lot of adrenaline into the bloodstream. This temporarily provides energy-the morning lift so many people get from their first cup of coffee. Adrenaline also dumps stored glycogen (sugar) into the bloodstream, which triggers an outpouring of insulin. This caffeine-triggered rush of sugar and insulin is no help for alcoholics attempting to stabilize their glucose metabolism.”
In early sobriety, it’s important to stick to one eight ounce cup of coffee a day.
Take a Supplement to Even Out Any Missed Nutrients
Multivitamins can help make up for some nutrients lost during drug or alcohol use. Vitamin D and B12 levels can be disrupted by increased stress on the body’s liver.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “Vitamins are essential to maintaining growth and normal metabolism because they regulate many physiological processes. Chronic heavy drinking is associated with deficiencies in many vitamins because of decreased food ingestion and, in some cases, impaired absorption, metabolism, and utilization. For example, alcohol inhibits fat absorption and thereby impairs absorption of the vitamins A, E, and D that are normally absorbed along with dietary fats. Vitamin A deficiency can be associated with night blindness, and vitamin D deficiency is associated with softening of the bones.” Here’s a great resource for essential vitamins to take to support health and energy.
Fat and Fiber Can Keep You Fuller Longer, Even on Calorie Restricted Diets
Whether or not you are trying to lose weight in sobriety, focusing on getting enough fat and fiber is key to getting full, staying full, and keeping pesky cravings away. Fat is great brain food when in sobriety. Of course, you should avoid highly processed fats. Stick to good olive oils, organic butter, coconut and avocado oils.
Fiber can also help you stay fuller longer. Not only that, fibrous foods like leafy greens are nutritionally dense and help keep your digestive tract in top notch. Some people in early recovery find constipation to be an issue, so eating a fibrous diet is important.
Protein is Your Friend When Trying to Maintain Sobriety
A diet rich in plant and meat proteins can keep blood sugars stable. It’s also a great way to get muscle mass back. If you have been using drugs or alcohol for a longer time, you may have found that your muscle mass as diminished – not just from lack of exercise, but from malabsorption of protein and other nutrients. When abusing substances, your body is ineffective at utilizing what nutrients you do consume because it’s busy trying to rid the body of the toxins being ingested.
Nutrition is extremely important in drug and alcohol rehabilitation. Regain your sense of well-being, and never underestimate the power of a healthy, well balanced diet.