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How Healthy Eating Can Help You With Addiction Recovery

Written by Munis Topcuoglu, Editor at EHN Canada.

Healthy eating helps you with addiction recovery by allowing your mind and body to work better and heal faster.  It helps you maintain your recovery by supporting your mind and body to function well consistently, thus maintaining your good health. Eating a healthy diet helps you with addiction recovery in a number of specific ways such as stabilizing your mood, improving your focus, increasing your energy, and making you better at resisting cravings for addictive substances and behaviors.  Conversely, nutrient deficiencies can make addiction recovery more difficult by making you more susceptible to depression, distraction, fatigue, and cravings. Substance use disorders can make you are especially vulnerable to nutrient deficiencies, for a number of behavioral and biological reasons—but healthy eating can help correct your nutrient deficiencies and greatly improve your odds of successfully achieving recovery and maintaining it long term.

Healthy Eating Means Getting the Right Nutrients and Calories in the Right Quantities

Your mind and body use up nutrients and energy constantly, so healthy eating requires that you get sufficient nutrients and energy regularly from the foods you eat.  Healthy eating means getting enough of all the nutrients you need to function well and be healthy, but not excessive amounts of any nutrients that would be enough to harm you.  Healthy eating also means getting enough calories (energy) that you need for performing healthy physical activity and maintaining a healthy body weight, but not so much that it would cause you to gain an unhealthy amount of body fat.

There are two main categories of nutrients, macro-nutrients and micro-nutrients.  Macro-nutrients are basic building blocks and energy sources for your body; you must get them in relatively large amounts, such as 10’s or 100’s of grams per day.  In comparison, micro-nutrients have specialized functions in your body; you need them in much smaller amounts, such as micrograms or milligrams per day.

Macro-nutrients

The three macronutrients are protein, fat, and carbohydrate.

Protein

Protein is used for building and repairing all the cells in your body.  It is especially important for muscle and connective tissue, but is also necessary for producing hormones and neurotransmitters.  Proteins are composed of amino acids. There are some amino acids that your body needs but cannot produce: these are called “essential amino acids.”

Fat

Fat is a preferred energy source, but is also essential for your nervous system, building cell membranes, and producing hormones.  There are some fats that your body needs but cannot produce: these are called “essential fatty acids.”

Carbohydrate

Carbohydrates are an optional energy source.  Appropriate carbohydrate intake depends on your physical activity levels and your genetics.  Excessive carbohydrate intake can disrupt your metabolism, cause you to gain unhealthy body fat, and lead to diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Micro-nutrients

The two main groups of micro-nutrients are vitamins and minerals.  Vitamins are organic molecules and minerals are chemical elements.  Each vitamin and mineral has specialized roles within your body and they are all required in small amounts for your mind and body to function properly.  Your body cannot produce vitamins or minerals.

Essential nutrients and healthy foods

Essential nutrients are nutrients that your body requires to function properly but cannot produce, they are the following: essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals.  Since your body cannot produce them, you must get them from the food you eat.

Healthy eating means getting all the essential nutrients that you need.  Therefore, healthy foods are foods that contain high amounts of essential nutrients; they are usually whole, unprocessed, and fresh.  In contrast, unhealthy foods contain low amounts of essential nutrients and are often refined, processed, and contain preservatives.

Addiction Makes It Difficult to Eat Healthy, Often Resulting in Nutrient Deficiencies

Addictive substances and behaviors can make healthy eating more difficult in a number of ways.  They can also prevent you from getting enough nutrients despite a normally healthy diet. When you don’t get enough of a particular essential nutrient in your body, you develop a nutrient deficiency.  Addictive substances can interfere with healthy eating and cause nutrient deficiencies in the following ways.

Reducing your appetite

When your appetite is reduced and you regularly eat less food, you might not get enough nutrients and energy even if the foods you eat are normally healthy foods.

Increasing cravings for unhealthy foods

When you have cravings and eat a lot of unhealthy foods, it can be difficult to get all the nutrients you need, since unhealthy foods contain low amounts of essential nutrients.

Reducing how well you absorb nutrients

Getting enough nutrients requires that you absorb the nutrients from food in your digestive system.  Since some addictive substances can reduce your ability to absorb nutrients, you might not get enough nutrients even if you have a normally healthy diet.

Depleting nutrients in your body

Getting enough nutrients means that the amount of each nutrient you get equals the amount your body uses up.  Some addictive substances can cause your body to use up nutrients in much larger quantities than normal, or they can destroy nutrients in your body.  When either of these happens, you might not get enough nutrients even if you have a normally healthy diet.

Reduce your motivation to eat healthy

Staying motivated to eat healthy requires maintaining the belief that healthy eating will produce positive outcomes for you.  It also requires the confidence that you will succeed at healthy eating long enough to experience those positive outcomes. Addiction can make it more difficult to maintain a positive outlook on the future and can also negatively affect your confidence.

Take your attention and energy away from your goal of healthy eating

Especially when you first start, healthy eating requires that you pay careful attention to choosing the foods you eat.  Shopping for and preparing healthy foods also usually requires more time and energy compared to unhealthy foods. Addictions can be distracting and take your attention away from healthy eating.  They can also get in the way of healthy eating by draining your time and energy.

Nutrient deficiencies and too few calories

As described above, recovering addicts often do not eat healthy and do not get enough nutrients and calories.  If you are a recovering addict, you may have nutrient deficiencies that are harming your mind and body in ways that make getting sober and staying sober much harder.  A caloric deficit (eating too few calories) can also make getting and staying sober much harder.

Healthy Eating Makes Addiction Recovery Easier—Nutrient Deficiencies Make It Harder

There are a number of factors that are essential for addiction recovery and recovery maintenance.  These factors are positively affected by healthy eating and negatively affected by nutrient deficiencies.

Mood and confidence

A positive outlook and confidence in your ability to overcome challenges makes it easier to accomplish difficult tasks.  Healthy eating can help maintain a stable positive mood whereas nutrient deficiencies can make you more vulnerable to anxiety and depression.  For example, research has shown a relationship between folic acid (vitamin B9) deficiency and depressed mood, and also a relationship between thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency and decreased self-confidence (Ottley, 2000).

Focus and awareness

Focusing on achieving your goals combined with maintaining awareness of yourself and your environment are very useful practices.  Healthy eating can improve your ability to focus and maintain awareness whereas nutrient deficiencies can make you more vulnerable to distractions.  An example is magnesium deficiency, occurring especially frequently in recovering addicts, which has symptoms including confusion and insomnia (Flink, 1985).

Motivation, drive, and energy

Consistent motivation, drive, and energy are necessary for problem solving and overcoming obstacles.  Healthy eating can help maintain high levels of motivation, drive, and energy whereas nutrient deficiencies can cause you to experience more ups and downs that jeopardize your success.  A well-known example is iron deficiency which can cause apathy and abnormal fatigue (Ottley, 2000).

Experience of cravings and ability to resist them

Feeling cravings less intensely and being able to resist them are both critically important.  Healthy eating can make your cravings for addictive substances and behaviors less intense, it can also strengthen your willpower to resist them.  Conversely, nutrient deficiencies can make your cravings more intense and weaken your willpower. One example is a study which showed that alcoholics treated with a traditional therapy combined with nutritional therapy had less alcohol cravings and were more successful at abstaining compared to alcoholics treated with only traditional therapy (Biery et al., 1991).

Too Much of Certain Macro-Nutrients Can Also Make Recovery and Maintenance Harder

Certain macro-nutrients consumed in excess can harm you and make addiction recovery and recovery maintenance more difficult, a few examples follow.  

Carbohydrate: Sugars

Too much sugars (simple carbohydrates) can cause you to have unstable energy levels, intensified cravings, and lower willpower.  Sugar is a reinforcing substance which has demonstrated cross-sensitization with other addictive substances such as amphetamine and alcohol in rodent models (Hoebel et al., 2009).

Fat: ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3

Researchers believe that a high ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 (two fatty acids) can increase systemic inflammation which contributes to the development of chronic conditions such as arthritis and cardiovascular disease (Patterson et al., 2012) and also depression (Berk et al., 2013).

Protein: (Any)

Some addictive substances cause kidney damage.  If you have kidney damage, there is evidence which suggests that excessive protein consumption can make it worse (Levey et al., 1996).

For Best Results Make Healthy Eating a Part of Your Addiction Recovery Plan

Healthy eating will ensure that the food you eat is helping your addiction recovery and not holding you back.  It will ensure that the food you eat is protecting you from relapse and not increasing your risk.

Healthy eating is challenging for anyone and to succeed you need a clear plan for how you will start eating a healthier diet and for how you will develop habits to keep eating healthy for the rest of your life.  The following list is a good starting point:

However, each individual’s nutritional requirements are different, due to a wide range of factors.  Professional consultation can help you design a personalized plan for your own specific needs and develop a deeper understanding of your unique nutritional requirements.

EHN Canada Facilities Can Help You Eat Healthy, Achieve Recovery, and Maintain It

The comprehensive drug rehab and other treatment programs at EHN Canada facilities include nutrition planning through consultation with our staff dietitians.  Our nutrition planning aims to get you eating healthy with the following objectives for successful long-term addiction recovery:

Please Call Us for More Information

If you would like to learn more about the treatment programs provided by EHN Canada, enrol yourself in one of our programs, or refer someone else, please call us at one of the numbers below. Our phone lines are open 24/7—so you can call us anytime.

Online Treatment and Support

If you’d like to learn more about our online treatment and support options, please call us at 1-800-387-6198 or visit onthewagon.ca.

Further Reading About How Specific Nutrients Can Help Addiction Recovery and Recovery Maintenance

Protein Part 1

Protein Part 2

Fat

Carbohydrate

Sugar (video)

Vitamins & Minerals

References

Berk, M., Williams, L. J., Jacka, F. N., O’Neil, A., Pasco, J. A., Moylan, S., … & Maes, M.
(2013). So depression is an inflammatory disease, but where does the inflammation come from?. BMC medicine, 11(1), 200.

Biery, J. R., Williford, J. J., & McMullen, E. A. (1991). Alcohol craving in rehabilitation: assessment of nutrition therapy. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 91(4), 463-466.

Flink, E. B. (1985). Magnesium deficiency in human subjects—a personal historical perspective. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 4(1), 17-31.

Hoebel, B. G., Avena, N. M., Bocarsly, M. E., & Rada, P. (2009). Natural addiction: A behavioral and circuit model based on sugar addiction in rats. Journal of Addiction Medicine, 3, 33-41.  

Levey, A. S., Adler, S., Caggiula, A. W., England, B. K., Greene, T., Hunsicker, L. G., … & Teschan, P. E. (1996). Effects of dietary protein restriction on the progression of moderate renal disease in the modification of diet in renal disease study: modification of diet in renal disease study group. Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, 7(12), 2616-2626.

Ottley, C. (2000). Food and mood. Nursing Standard (through 2013), 15(2), 46.

Patterson, E., Wall, R., Fitzgerald, G. F., Ross, R. P., & Stanton, C. (2012). Health implications of high dietary omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Journal of nutrition and metabolism, 2012.x

Early Recovery: Three Things That Can Help Sustain Sobriety

early recovery beach

Life during your first year of sobriety can sometimes be overwhelming.  Unfortunately, there is no guidebook or one specific path for everyone to follow during this time. Recovery is unique to each person.  However, every person seeking recovery needs to start by taking an inventory of their lives and beginning to make healthy changes and decisions.  This is a common thread woven into every successful recovery and a necessary step in achieving and maintaining sobriety.

We would like to share three tips to help you begin and sustain your recovery.

Support and Communication

In early recovery, it is very important to surround yourself with a strong support system, and maintain a schedule of daily contact with one or more people.  It can be easy to let this critical connection slip from your routine as you begin to feel better and perhaps a bit too comfortable in your new life of recovery.  Never forget that connection and support are foundations of a solid recovery.

Develop a Personal Plan

“Sometimes a choice that is right for you may be uncomfortable or even unacceptable for others.”

Choose your friends wisely, and avoid people and places that may trigger addictive behaviours.  Be aware of the possible risks associated with events such as weddings, work functions, family dinners, or going out with “old” friends.  Always have an exit plan and do not hesitate to use it if you are feeling uncomfortable in a particular situation.  Ask for help from your support network to come up with a plan that will help you stay safe.  And remember that everyone is different.  A situation that another person can handle may be triggering for you.  Set your own path of recovery.

Manage Expectations

Sometimes, people new in recovery tend to see things through rose-colour glasses. Being caught up in feelings of hope and seeing the possibilities of your life free from addiction, you might believe all is well with friends and family.  You might imagine that loved ones will simply forgive and forget your past behaviours. Unfortunately, sometimes that is easier said than done.  Family and friends may have faced years of difficulties related to your behaviours, and need to heal as well.  By acknowledging that relationships may not immediately return to normal, you can avoid unnecessary resentment and pressure.   It is important to recognize that recovery is a process, for both yourself and your loved ones.

 

Helping You Stay Clean

 

If you’ve been through treatment, you know how vital it is to stay connected. Do not isolate yourself. Feel free to give us a call on our toll free number, 1-800-387-6198, or email us. You can also drop by any of our inpatient and outpatient offices to speak to someone who understands what you are going through.

References:

Headquarters, I. (1992). Courage to change: One day at a time in Al-Anon II. ([Large print ed.). New York: Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters.

The 12-Steps De-coded

By Iryna Gavrysh, Simone Arbour, and George Ratnanather.

The 12-Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and Religion

Our clients come from all walks of life and while some people identify with a particular religion, others describe themselves as atheists, agnostics, humanists or freethinkers. One question we are frequently asked by clients relates to the 12-steps aspect of Alcoholics Anonymous. People often wonder: “Do I need to believe in God or religion to benefit from the 12-Step process?’ or “I am not religious, is AA right for me?”.

While it is true that six of the original 12-Steps refer to ‘God’ or a ‘Higher Power, it also true that Alcoholics Anonymous is the most common self-help source for individuals dealing with alcohol addiction in North America.

Although it is an undeniable fact that the original 12-Steps were based on Christian teachings, today, AA has grown into a spiritual program. Spirituality being much broader and more encompassing can be defined as “that which gives people meaning and purpose in life” (Puchalski, Dorff, & Hendi, 2004). This ‘purpose in life’ can take on many forms. For some it could involve god, a creator or a deity, while for others it could be a philosophy, an inner divinity, a belief, or absolutely anything that gives life a sense of purpose.

At Bellwood, our rehab program is not based on the 12-Steps. Our treatment programs use a holistic approach with includes counselling, psychotherapy, addiction education, medical care, nutrition and fitness amongst other tools. Though not 12-Step based, we encourage our clients to attend 12-Step meetings during and especially after treatment as an additional support mechanism when they complete residential or out-patient treatment.

The shift from religion to spirituality occurred during the early years of AA. Bill Wilson (1957), the founder of AA, explains that the 12-Steps were rewritten after much debate. For example, “god” has been changed to “god as we understand him” and it has been emphasised that the steps are to be taken as suggestions for recovery and not as the ultimate truths.”

In more recent years we have seen more visible variations of the 12-Steps. Atheists, agnostics, humanists and other groups have developed their own variations while keeping the essence of the 12-Steps in place. Below is a sampling of some of these ideas. What is important to keep in mind, is that the underlying essence of each step is what is helpful for recovery – not necessarily the language. That way, it is possible to find meaning in the 12-Steps regardless of your particular belief system or understanding of spirituality or religion.

Agnostics AA 12 Steps

Roger C. (2012). The Little Book. A Collection of Alternative 12 Steps, (11)

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe and to accept that we needed strengths beyond our awareness and resources to restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to entrust our will and our lives to the care of the collective wisdom and resources of those who have searched before us.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to ourselves without reservation and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were ready to accept help in letting go of all our defects of character.
  7. With humility and openness sought to eliminate our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through meditation to improve our spiritual awareness and our understanding of the AA way of life and to discover the power to carry out that way of life.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Humanist Twelve Steps

Roger C. (2012). The Little Book. A Collection of Alternative 12 Steps, (13)
Renowned behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner’s 12-Step version first published in “The Humanist” (1987).

  1. We accept the fact that all our efforts to stop drinking have failed.
  2. We believe that we must turn elsewhere for help.
  3. We turn to our fellow men and women, particularly those who have struggled with the same problem.
  4. We have made a list of the situations in which we are most likely to drink.
  5. We ask our friends to help us avoid these situations.
  6. We are ready to accept the help they give us.
  7. We earnestly hope that they will help.
  8. We have made a list of the persons we have harmed and to whom we hope to make amends.
  9. We shall do all we can to make amends, in any way that will not cause further harm.
  10. We will continue to make such lists and revise them as needed.
  11. We appreciate what our friends have done and are doing to help us.
  12. We, in turn, are ready to help others who may come to us in the same way.

The Twelve Steps of Self-Confirmation

Le, C. Ingvarson, EP. & Page, R.C. (1995). The Twelve Steps of Self-Confirmation. Journal of Counseling & Development, 73 (6), 603-609.

  1. I realize I am not in control of my use.
  2. I acknowledge that a spiritual awakening can help me to find a new direction.
  3. I am ready to follow and stay true to the new path I have chosen.
  4. I have the strength and courage to look within and to face whatever obstacles hinder my continued personal and spiritual development.
  5. I commit to become fully aware of how my use hurt those around me.
  6. I am changing my life and developing my human potential.
  7. I am proud of my strength and ability to grow.
  8. I will do all I can to make up for the ways I have hurt myself and others.
  9. I will take direct action to help others in any way that I can.
  10. I will strive to be self-aware and follow the new path I have chosen.
  11. I will continue to develop my potential through helping others and strive to become fully conscious of myself and life around me.
  12. I will continue to develop my own human potential and spirituality and will actively help others who cannot control their use of alcohol.

There are many more versions of the 12-Step process and groups. Some include a ‘higher power’ and others don’t. It is important to keep in mind that The 12-Step process may not be a right fit for everyone. While some find immense benefit in attending meetings and going through the 12-Step process, others find alternative support groups and healing practices. In our experience, over the last 30 years we have seen many who have benefited from the 12-Step process; whether through Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous or a similar group. Our own research has demonstrated that attendance at continuing care supports such as AA significantly increases an individual’s chances of being in recovery six-months after residential treatment (Arbour et al., 2011). As such, we continue to encourage our clients to attend meetings while in treatment and beyond especially considering that such supports are free and available almost everywhere, including online.

The best way to know if the 12-Step process is right for you is to attend a meeting yourself. Try a few different meetings and groups to see which one best fits your needs and personality. Some helpful sites to discover meetings in your area are:

We Can Help You

If you would like to learn more about the treatment programs provided by EHN Canada, enrol yourself in one of our programs, or refer someone else, please call us at one of the numbers below. Our phone lines are open 24/7—so you can call us anytime.

 

References

https://silkworth.net/magazine_newspaper/humanist_jul_aug_1987.html, https://aatorontoagnostics.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Alcoholics-Anonymous-and-the-Counseling-Profession.pdf, https://www.aa.org/newsletters/en_US/f-13_fall03.pdf, https://www.ww.bettyfordinstitute.org/uploaded-assets/pdf/what_is_recovery/Galanter_spirituality_model.pdf