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Food Matters in Recovery

We all lead pretty busy lifestyles in this day and age.  We juggle work, family, errands and a long ‘to-do’ list. Sometimes there are not enough hours in the day to do it all. So it’s no surprise that we start to cut corners in some areas of our lives.  Preparing breakfast seems like an impossible task when running out the door to be on time for work or dropping the kids to school. We may work through our lunch to meet deadlines.  Before you know it, it’s been hours since your last meal.  How do you feel when you’ve gone for a long period of time without eating?  Fatigued, irritable, anxious, unable to focus or concentrate with that searing headache?

What would you turn to, to remedy those symptoms?  To escape, and alleviate those feelings?  Some may recognize the need to eat.  Some would make a trip to the vending machine for a quick burst of energy.  However, when asking our clients at Bellwood who are afflicted with addiction, the answer is most often drugs or alcohol.

The symptoms mentioned above arise due to internal hunger cues – multiple physiological responses including lowered blood glucose, prompting you to refuel.  These symptoms are quite similar to a trigger for the addictive behaviour or substance.  Prolonged periods of semi-starvation can cause emotional distress and depression, leading to poor decision-making.  Many addicts may misinterpret these signs. They may not identify that these symptoms arise because they have not eaten for a long period, and their body is running low on energy.  Instead, they often resort to their drug of choice out of habit and as a coping mechanism, to escape these negative feelings and for symptom relief.  This is a critical time when one is vulnerable in their recovery.

This scenario is one familiar to us all, not just addicts.  However, it is a good example of the importance of remaining mindful of nutrition in recovery.  Proper nutrition and creating healthy eating patterns is an important tool in recovery, which helps to protect both physical and mental health.

It is common that most addicts have poor eating habits during the addiction. This can create vitamin, mineral and protein insufficiencies, which need to be corrected in recovery to ensure optimal health.  For our recovering clients at Bellwood, we recommend following a meal plan of three meals, and two to three snacks a day.  This allows the body to maintain energy levels throughout the day, preventing those dips in blood glucose linked with making poor decisions and potential for relapse.  Also, incorporating high protein foods throughout the day supports the synthesis of the neurotransmitters norepinepherine, serotonin and dopamine.  These are the brain chemicals which promotes a calming effect, optimism, concentration and alertness – all of which we strive for in healthy living.

Eating a variety of foods, at regular intervals during the day can help to reintroduce neglected nutrients, and allows the body to heal and repair some of the physical damage incurred from the addiction.  This can include damage to the liver, gastrointestinal tract as well as muscle atrophy.

During the addiction, food is not always a top priority.  It can be avoided for hours to days when using drugs or alcohol.  However in sober living, maintaining regular eating patterns is an essential component in fuelling ones’ mind, body and overall well-being.

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