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The Importance of Nutrition in Addiction Recovery

By Linda Whiteside

Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson

Table of Contents

Dietary and lifestyle modification is a critical, yet often, overlooked element of recovering from addiction. There is an interconnection between the health or our minds and bodies which is an important element of addiction recovery. The food we consume and the care we give to ourselves can greatly impact how we think and feel. The following tips can help to improve our overall wellness and aid in the process of regaining our control over addiction.

Nutrition Practices for Addiction Recovery

Diet is a foundational component of our health. Modifications to our diet can have a major impact on the health or our mind and bodies. Poor diet can lead to nutrient deficiencies that limit our bodies ability to produce the neurotransmitters that allow us to think and feel normal. Poor diet can also place stress on the body and lead to a number of health conditions and mood disorders. Establishing healthy dietary practices is a key element in sustainable recovery from substance abuse. The following principle of a pro-recovery diet can help create a profound change in both the health of your mind and the health of your body.

What Should I Avoid?

Limit inflammatory foods

Inflammation has been shown to provide a wide range of negative health consequences including heart disease, weight gain, digestive disorders, and a host of mental and mood disorders including anxiety, depression and Alzheimer’s. A pro-recovery diet should focus on eliminating pro-inflammatory foods and replacing them with foods that reduce inflammation in the brain and body.

Excess sugar

 refined sugars and carbohydrates such as candy, pastries, corn syrup, and white bread increase can cause inflammation and should be replaced with whole grains, and low glycemic sweeteners such as stevia, monk fruit, honey, and whole fruits.

Refined Vegetable Oils

Industrially produced vegetable oils are high in omega-6s and are easily damaged through heat processing and manufacturing making them prone to oxidation and inflammatory. High omega-6 vegetable oils such as canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, cottonseed oil, peanut oil are prone to oxidation and have been shown to cause inflammation. These fats and oils should be replaced with should be replaced with more stable fats and oils such as olive oil, avocado oil, ghee, and coconut oil.

Higher heat cooking should be done with oil or saturated fats such as ghee or coconut oil which are very stable and less prone to oxidation when exposed to heat. Hydrogenated oils and trans-fats such as margarine, vegetable shortening, certain coffee creamers, and premade baked good should absolutely be avoided as they are toxic to the brain and body.

Processed Foods

Diets heavy in processed foods have been linked with to a number of health conditions and can have a profound effect on your mental health. Processed foods contain genetically modified ingredients, pesticides, and artificial food additives which can negatively affect gut flora, cause inflammation, and add a toxin burden on your body. Highly processed foods such as deli meats, packaged snack foods, microwave meals, canned foods, instant soups, and ramen, should be avoided and replaced with whole food alternatives that are in their natural state.

Diet for Addiction Recovery – What Should I eat?

With so many new diets and conflicting information regarding nutrition, it can be difficult to figure out what diet is right for someone in recovery, however, there are some basic dietary principle that if followed can produce profound results in the state or your physical and mental health.

The foundation of a pro-recovery diet is unmodified whole foods. Whole foods include vegetables, fruits, meats, seafood, whole grains, nuts, seed, legumes, eggs, and dairy. If it didn’t come from the ground, earth, or sea it likely wasn’t made for your body. Source quality is also very important when it comes to purity and nutrient content. 

Choose organic, grass-fed, free-range, pasture raised, or wild caught whenever possible as helps avoid the hormones, pesticides, artificial products of factory food production. Processed and packaged foods should be limited or avoided completely as they tend to contain a number of harmful ingredients such as hydrogenated oils, fillers, artificial chemicals and ingredients that have been linked to negative health effects and mood disorders.

Lifestyle Practices – Optimize Sleep

Sleep is one of the most studied aspects of health and has been the subject of hundreds of studies over the last 50 years. The vast majority of those sleep studies conclude that we require 7-8 hours of sleep for optimal brain function and health. Despite the overwhelming amount of research suggesting the importance of sleep, a 2014 study by the CDC estimated that 1 of 3 Americans are chronically sleep deprived, which it labeled a public health epidemic. Sleep deprivation has been tied to lower emotional control, lower impulse control, and a higher likelihood of relapse.

Optimizing sleep is crucial to recovery as it allows the body to restore itself and helps to create mental and emotional stability. It is a crtical element of healing our bodies and can greatly impact our mood states. Sleep is a foundational element of our health that can greatly impact our ability to recover from addiction.

Tips for Optimizing Sleep in Recovery Control the Environment

  • Sleep in complete darkness
  • Sleep in a cool room – the ideal temperature for sleep is between 60-67 degrees
  • Limit the use of the bedroom for sleep – not a workstation or living room.
  • Limit blue light exposure 1 hour before bed – Limit TV and Computers before bed

Stress reduction techniques

Supplement that helps with sleep

  • Lemon Balm, valerian root, kava, chamomile – calming botanicals
  • Tryptophan or 5-HTP – helps the body produce melatonin
  • Theanine – calming amino acid
  • GABA – helps increase GABA in the brain
  • Melatonin – the hormone responsible for sleep
  • Magnesium (glycinate) – helps relax muscles and promotes calm
  • Vitamin D – helps regulate circadian rhythm and sleep cycles.

Incorporate stress reduction practices during recovery

Stress is a major factor when it comes to substance abuse. Getting cut off in traffic, your boss yelling at you, strained relationships, and difficult living conditions along with many other forms of mental and emotional stressors can activate the bodies “fight or flight” sympathetic nervous system which releases a number of stress hormones. The activation of this stress response can put us in a state of hypervigilance and can create a number of mood disorders including anxiety, insomnia, and depression and can contribute to addiction and relapse. 

Stress reduction techniques and practice such as yoga, breathwork, meditation, massage therapy, acupuncture, and mindfulness-based practices, have been shown to have the ability to reduce perceived stress levels and help balance the bodies internal stress response (HPA axis) which in turn helps to create a more balanced and stress resilient mental state.

Incorporating a stress reduction practice whether be attending a yoga class, keeping a journal, or developing a daily meditation practice can go along way in helping to establish the mental and emotional resilience needed in recovery.

Healthy Diet and Lifestyle Practices help Maintain Long-term sobriety

These dietary and lifestyle modifications when incorporated into a recovery program can have a major impact on your mental and physical health making remaining abstinent from drugs and alcohol easier. The connection that exists between the health of our mind and body is something that is commonly overlooked when dealing with substance abuse, yet can be a major contributing factor in addiction. 

There are a number of integrative mental health practices and holistic rehab programs that helping to bring awareness to the importance of the physiological components of addiction and utilizing these practices can help sustain long-term recovery.

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Author

Written By: Linda Whiteside
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Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has been providing mental health services for over 10 years.

Medically reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson
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Went to medical school at The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

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