How Important Is a Healthy Eating Plan in Treatment?

How Important Is a Healthy Eating Plan in Treatment?

Food fuels the body. Although it seems obvious that the type and quantity of food someone eats are directly connected to health and wellness, many people greatly underestimate the importance of diet to addiction recovery. The truth is that a healthy diet can be one of the most critical ingredients of a successful recovery.

Diet, Wellness and Recovery

Addiction is a physical and psychological disease. While most people think of it as a matter of personal choices or self-discipline, the truth is that substance abuse and chemical dependency are wellness issues; therefore, treatment is about health and wellness, not about character development. Ergo, without proper nutrition and physical activity, optimum wellness is impossible to achieve. Thus, addiction recovery foundationally involves one’s relationship with food.

The process of forming an appetite and managing one’s eating habits are managed by the “pleasure center” of the brain. This area within the prefrontal cortex uses natural substances to trigger feelings of pleasure after necessary activities, like eating, having sex, relational bonding, self-esteem and tolerance for discomfort. Certain foods cause the release of high amounts of these “feel good” substances in the brain, which means people want to eat those foods more.

It is no secret that the diet of the average American is far from healthy. Although considered “normal,” most Americans have diets that are high in fats and carbohydrates (sugar) and low in vitamins, fiber and minerals. However, one major part of recovery is the brain’s ability to rebuild new neural pathways that drive ways to feel pleasure. For instance, when someone floods her system with unhealthy food, she undermines her brain’s work even as she muddles her emotional landscape with rushes of “comfort” from food. In other words, people can train themselves to feel more pleasure from food more than any other behavior.

Food as Medication

In many ways, the effect of food with considerable sugar and fat is similar to the effect of drugs or alcohol. People do not call unhealthy meals “comfort food” for nothing, because millions of people self-medicate symptoms of stress, anxiety or depression by eating in unhealthy ways. In fact, many people trade addictions to drugs and alcohol for addictions to food. Others deny themselves food by using starvation to control their strong emotions. The bottom line is that, just as healthy food is critical for physical and emotional wellness, unhealthy eating is a sure-fire way to derail recovery. Although it can take significant effort and education, developing a taste for healthy food in proper quantities might be one of the most important ways you can support your sobriety.

Specific Dietary Guidance

Just as a serious athlete would enlist the services of a specialized trainer, many people see fantastic results by seeing a professional nutritionist. Such people can develop eating plans that are based on your unique body type, other health issues and the history of your relationship to food. However, while your eating plan will be customized to your unique needs, the following guidelines will support your recovery:

  • Eat plenty of lean protein (chicken, fish and nuts)
  • Limit processed flour and sugars (simple carbs)
  • Eat plenty of specific fruits and vegetables
  • Watch for food sensitivities or allergies

Some people’s diets need only minor tweaks, while others require a complete overhaul. But only a specialist can help you truly understand what a healthy diet is for you.

Healthy Eating After Treatment

Also remember that a healthy diet can promote your recovery long after inpatient treatment ends. In fact, many people find that nutritional support only becomes more important with time. As vital as healthy eating is during treatment, many addicts focus on other issues during the first few weeks of sobriety; however, upon leaving care, do not return to poor dietary habits just because you can. Going on a binge of pizza and burgers might feel good as your blood sugar spikes and the endorphins kick in, but shortly thereafter you will feel sluggish, irritable and disappointed with yourself.

Allow a nutritionist to develop a healthy eating plan that will continue long after you leave rehab. Learn how to cook if you do not already know how, and discover how powerful that skill can be for recovery support. As your body purges the bad food you have eaten, a healthy diet may lead to the following benefits:

  • You sleep and wake up better
  • You lose weight
  • Your immune system will improve
  • Less pain in your muscles, bones, and joints
  • Fewer, weaker headaches
  • More energy throughout the day with fewer spikes and crashes
  • Better moods
  • Increased mental clarity

Generally speaking, eating healthy foods improves physical and emotional wellness, and you will need both on your journey to long-term sobriety.

24 Hour Helpline for Recovery

If you have questions about the relationship between healthy eating and addiction treatment, then please call our toll-free, 24 hour helpline right now. Our admissions coordinators can answer any questions you have and can connect you with treatment professionals who are specially trained in addiction recovery and nutrition. Recovery is hard work, so take every advantage you can find. Call now and let us help you reinforce your mental and physical recovery through healthy eating and general wellness.