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.
The three macronutrients are protein, fat, and carbohydrate.
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 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.”
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.
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.
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).
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:
- Eat whole, fresh, unprocessed foods.
- Avoid fast food—completely, if possible.
- Avoid refined sugars—completely, if possible.
- Avoid highly processed vegetable oils (e.g. canola)—completely, if possible.
- Cold-pressed olive oil and other minimally processed vegetable oils are okay in small amounts.
- Avoid grains—completely, if practical. If you are very physically active or trying to gain weight, go with white rice.
- Consume unprocessed, whole-food sugars and starches sparingly (e.g. fruit, sweet potatoes, squash) unless you are very physically active or trying to gain weight.
- Eat a variety of different foods whenever possible.
- Eat meat that is grass-fed, organic, or naturally raised.
- Eat fish that is wild-caught or organic.
- Grass-fed butter is a great source of healthy fats and fat-soluble vitamins.
- Consume grass-fed milk or cheese only if you, personally, can tolerate dairy.
- Eat vegetables as tolerated and needed for regular digestion.
- Consume nuts and seeds sparingly.
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:
- Stabilize your mood and improve your resilience;
- Increase your focus and energy levels;
- Reduce your cravings for drugs, alcohol, and addictive behaviors;
- Heal the damage caused to your body by alcohol or substance abuse;
- Improve any other medical conditions you may have;
- Develop habits of self-care and a healthy lifestyle.
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.
- 1-800-387-6198 for Bellwood Health Services in Toronto, ON
- 1-587-350-6818 for EHN Sandstone, in Calgary, AB
- 1-800-683-0111 for Edgewood Treatment Centre in Nanaimo, BC
- 1-888-488-2611 for Clinique Nouveau Depart in Montreal, QC
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
Vitamins & Minerals
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
Bellwood is Accredited With Exemplary Standing by Accreditation Canada
Bellwood is pleased to share with you the exciting news that we recently completed our accreditation process and have received the highest level of certification from Accreditation Canada: Accreditation with Exemplary Standing. This award level is a repeat of our 2012 achievement and reflects our continuing commitment to quality and services to our clients.
As part of the accreditation process, Bellwood was evaluated on 417 safety and quality standards, and met each one of these standards. Quality dimensions included:
- Population focus
- Client-centred services
- Continuity of services
Bellwood is committed to providing excellent care and service to our clients, their families, and our community partners. Our commitment to quality is long-standing, and is reflected through our membership in the Edgewood Health Network, Canada’s first truly national organization for addiction treatment services.
We will strive to continue to deliver high quality care and services to individuals and families dealing with addictions, substance abuse, eating disorders, concurrent trauma issues, and other related problems, and are excited to announcement that we will be re-locating to a newly renovated, state of the art facility in the Fall of this year.
For more information about Bellwood’s accreditation or re-location, please contact us at 416-495-0926/800-387-6198, or [email protected].
Let’s Talk About Addiction AND Mental Illness Together
The word addiction still paints a stereotype of what a person with substance abuse problems looks like. Several people still believe it’s a moral failing. Many biases stem from the way we were brought up, cultural taboos, negative experiences or a lack of understanding. Stigma is one of the biggest challenges people face when they talk about addiction and mental health.
During the Bell Let’s Talk day on January 27th, 2016, as part of the Edgewood Health Network, we will work with Healthy Minds Canada to shed a light on addiction and mental illnesses that many of our clients often have in conjunction with addiction. Canadians are certainly making a progress in terms of talking about mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and bi-polar disorder. What many don’t know is that people with mental illness are twice as likely to have substance abuse problems. Some research reveals that 20% of Canadians with mental illness have substance abuse problems. The rate jumps to almost 50% for people with schizophrenia and substance use disorders.
Fear, stigma and lack of support are still factors that are affecting Canadians who need help with addiction and mental illness. How can you help?
- Talk about it. We talk about several diseases and illnesses, but we aren’t as open to talk about addiction and mental illnesses. The more conversations you have about addiction and recovery, the more likely everyone will begin to realize how we are all affected by it. Addiction is a treatable disease where long-term recovery is possible. Conversations about recovery can help end the stigma and encourage people to reach out for help.
- Be Mindful of Your Words. According to the Canadian Medical Association, 2 out of 3 people with mental illness suffer in silence for fear of being judged or rejected. Often, we are ashamed or scared to disclose the fact that we know someone or it’s ourselves that need help. Sometimes, it’s the words you use that can make someone with an addiction and mental illness feel hurt, ashamed and avoid talking about what’s really going on with them. Words, such as “junkie or nut job” are examples of words that cultivate stereotypes and stigma.
- Educate yourself. 1 in 5 people will experience a mental illness or addiction at some point in their lives. Being able to recognize the signs of an addiction and mental illness can be a matter of saving a life. Knowing where to get help or who to reach out for support can make a huge difference too. With addiction, people can spend years in denial or thinking about getting help before they make a move. Being prepared with resources and options for treatment can give a person hope knowing you really care and support their recovery.
- Be compassionate. Whether it’s at home with your kids, in your workplace or at school, try to foster a place that makes people feel safe and supported so that they can talk, ask for help and request accommodations when they need it. There are several organizations you can contact to get information and guidelines on how to properly implement policies and provide support for your kids, employees or students that need help with an addiction and have mental illnesses.
As we move into 2016, let’s make better choices with our words, our workplace policies, and in our schools about how we view, treat and support people who have an addiction, are in recovery or have mental illnesses. People with addiction and mental illnesses don’t choose to have these diseases and illnesses, but you can choose to be kind and understanding.
[Infographic about Addiction and Mental Illness in Canada]
Intensive Outpatient Programs: A Flexible Option for Addiction Treatment Could be the Solution
Substance use disorders are pervasive and can affect everyone. Research has demonstrated that about one in ten Canadians reports having a substance use issue, and these individuals include professionals, those who are employed or self-employed and those who have other daily responsibilities and commitments such as homemakers and caregivers. At times, substance use disorders are problematic to the point that the individual needs to seek help from addiction counsellors and mental health professionals. Traditionally, when substance use is problematic, residential programming has been the conventional option for addiction treatment. However, taking an extended amount of time off could be a barrier in getting the help that is needed, especially for those who are employed or have daily commitments. It is for this reason that treatment providers also offer Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOPs). For those in need of addiction treatment, IOPs allow people to work and honour their daily commitments while also attending regular, outpatient treatment sessions in order to address their problems and to learn the tools that can help them maintain sobriety.
Outpatient programming is not for everyone but when appropriate, it can be a meaningful and effective treatment option to address a serious health issue such as a substance use disorder. As with any other treatment programs, recommending an IOP must be part of the individual’s treatment plan. This means taking into consideration any physical, emotional or behavioral problems relevant to the person’s care. The treatment plan must consider the needs of the client and begins with a comprehensive assessment of the individual. Once the assessment is complete, a professional can decide on the best level of care that will meet the client’s needs.
There are multiple factors that must be considered when determining whether or not someone is a good match for an IOP. For example, one of the primary considerations is the level of medical need such as a history of withdrawal symptoms, as well as existence of medical conditions that require monitoring. Professionals will also consider whether or not the individual has other emotional/cognitive/behavioral problems that may require closer attention by a mental health professional. In order to meaningfully participate and keep up with the program, the person must also have a sufficient level of motivation to be able to maintain sobriety while attending scheduled meetings. This often means that the client must have a stable and supportive home environment that will be able to foster a successful recovery.
IOPs typically take a group approach, providing clients with opportunities to learn from and support one another while developing communication skills and socialization experiences that do not involve the use of drugs or alcohol. Such programs that cultivate a supportive environment, also establish a safe and trusting relationship between group members, as well as the counsellor. Those that are further along their path of recovery can provide guidance and support for newer members, helping them refine the new skills and tools they are learning.
Clients typically participate in a variety of groups that make up an IOP program. Such groups can include psychoeducational sessions or lectures, where individuals can begin to understand the nature of addiction and how it has been impacting their mind, body and social life. These sessions are often also accompanied by relapse prevention and skills training, as well as a selection of videos that may help clients with their understanding of the material. Other groups may consist of teaching some very concrete skills such as assertiveness training, refusal techniques and stress management strategies.
As with any other treatment program, intensity and client retention are vitally important for outpatient programs. Research shows that successful outcomes are closely related with the length of program and how often clients are able to attend. It is also important that once the client completes the intensive component, they attend regular aftercare meetings and create a close network of supports that will help them maintain a successful recovery going forward. Such meetings can also serve as a safety net in case the person begins to struggle and may require more intensive support in order to prevent a full on relapse.
Successful outcomes also depend on client’s individual characteristics. For example, research has found associations between severity of substance use and treatment success. There is also something to be said about how long someone has been struggling with an addiction, the severity if their cravings and how many previous attempts at treatment may have had. Finally, symptoms of co-occurring mental health problems such as depression or anxiety can also impact an individual’s recovery. Overall, it is best to leave the decision of selecting an appropriate treatment modality to a professional who is able to consider a variety of factors that may be contributing to the maintenance of the addiction. However, when appropriate, participation in an IOP can be a realistic, meaningful and effective means of addressing alcohol and substance use disorders.
Play It Forward for Mental Health Awareness
Henri Matisse said that creativity takes courage. That’s exactly how you would describe Shelley Marshall – courageous and creative. Hilarious is another word you might use. She’s a comedienne, a mother and a mental health warrior. And she’s partnered with the Edgewood Health Network to bring her award winning autobiographical play Hold Mommy’s Cigarette across Canada.
This one woman show is the story of Shelley’s life and the impact a history of mental illness has on a family and a young girl. It’s a story that touches audiences deeply and makes them laugh just as hard. As Shelley says, “I take them on an adventure, both emotionally and visually. There is no denying that my story is tragic, but it’s my story and time and writing without shame has been my comedic relief. Hold Mommy’s Cigarette is not an exploitation of what has happened in my life, but rather, an acceptance of where it may lead. It is a dark comedy, a vulnerable piece about life, mental illness and survival.”
The play chronicles her early life, leading up to her lowest point – a suicide attempt. Yet fate and her husband intervened, and Shelley survived. She now uses Hold Mommy’s Cigarette as a vehicle to talk about depression and to showcase how she was able to turn her deep sadness into tremendous success. It’s an inspiring experience that opens up a much needed conversation around suicide and mental illness.
As a part of the Edgewood Health Network, we’re very proud to be helping Shelley spread her message of hope. Especially since addiction is a disease that often leaves it’s sufferers feeling completely hopeless.
The Edgewood Health Network wants to “play it forward” by giving away free tickets to Hold Mommy’s Cigarette. We think everyone should have a chance to see this show! Tickets will be available for April 16, 17, 18 and 19 in Toronto. Go to https://www.ticketscene.ca/series/285to register and use the promo code EHN.
As Shelley often says, “best life ever!”
Binge Eating Disorder Deserving of More Recognition and Treatment Options
Eating Disorder Awareness Week is February 1–7, 2015 and Bellwood Health Services is using this opportunity to raise awareness of Binge Eating Disorder – the most common but least talked about type of eating disorders.
When asked about eating disorders, most people immediately think of Anorexia Nervosa. Although anorexia is a very serious and sometimes life threatening eating disorder, years of movies, and magazine articles focusing on celebrities struggling with this issue, has given us the idea that it is also the most common of all eating disorders. In fact, it is actually the least prevalent of the eating disorders.
Research has found that binge eating disorder affects 3.5% of women and 2% of men, with an average lifetime duration of 8.3 years (Hudson, Hiripi, Pope & Kessler, 2007). This means that binge eating disorder affects more people than anorexia and bulimia combined, and can be life-long problem.
The primary symptoms of binge eating disorder are consumptions of large quantities of food, and the individual feels as though they have no control over this consumption. The individual often eats large amounts quickly, and secretively. Unlike bulimia, the individual does not attempt to compensate for food intake through purging or over-exercising. Binge eating disorder affects men and women fairly evenly, and the affected age group is broader than other forms of eating disorders.
According to Lauren Goldhamer, Eating Disorders Therapist at Bellwood Health Services, there are many misconceptions about binge eating that have helped keep it in the shadows. “Most people feel shame, and hide the problem from others. In fact, in front of others, they may eat normally or even appear to be dieting to conceal the problem. You usually cannot determine if someone is struggling with binge eating based on their body size. For these reasons, the problem can be ‘invisible.’”
Bellwood Health Services is one of the few residential eating disorders treatment programs in Canada that treat binge eating disorder. “The lack of quality or available treatment options are often reasons why there are not more people seeking help for the problem,” states Ms. Goldhamer. Other reasons why few people tend to seek treatment include:
- Feelings of shame and guilt that could result from others learning about the problem
- A belief that it is not a serious issue and that they do not deserve help the way those with anorexia or bulimia do
- Difficulty in discussing their concerns with their family physician
Mental Illness – Let’s Reduce the Stigma! Let’s Talk.
1 in 5 people are dealing with a mental illness. As you may know, today is “Bell Let’s Talk” day, and this is an initiative carried out by Bell Canada, in order to work towards reducing the stigma of mental illness. These anti-stigma campaigns are trying to target the deeply ingrained biases that many of us have when it comes to talking about addiction, and mental illness. The root of stigma comes from our upbringing, our family of origin, a lack of understanding, and perhaps a lack of personal experience. The stigma around mental illness is a significant issue in our society today, as many people still feel shame and embarrassment for visiting a therapist, taking medication, or requiring accommodations.
The stigma concerning mental illness has a deep effect on the individuals who are struggling with these issues. The effects of stigma can be compared to carrying an extra weight, as these individuals may react to the stigma by choosing not to speak about their illness. Coping with the stigma associated with mental health adds an extra burden to these individuals, and maintaining stigma in our society can lead to individuals not choosing to get help for fear that they will be ostracized , or viewed differently.
The workplace is one environment in which it is especially difficult for individuals to speak about mental illness. As a treatment centre that focuses on treating individuals and families with addiction and mental health issues, we encourage all employers to be progressive and informed about their workforce. To assist with fostering an environment that is free of stigma here are some guidelines:
– Be supportive, non-judgmental, and accommodating of all employees, regardless of their health issues, or the position that they hold within the company
– Provide diversity education, and educate all staff about the basics of mental illness, and how to practice work-life balance
– Foster an environment that is safe, supportive and encourages employees to feel comfortable coming forward to ask for any accommodations they may require
– Provide a range of effective Employee Assistance Programs as an added support for employees
With each person on the planet that starts breaking down the barriers related to mental illness, the closer we will find ourselves to a world where people do not feel shame for seeking the help that they need.
“Orthorexia”: When Healthy Eating Becomes a Problem
Orthorexia is a relatively new term used to describe a type of problematic eating and food preoccupation. As orthorexia is somewhat unknown, there is some confusion about what it actually means, and whether or not it is an emerging eating disorder, distinct from anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.
The term orthorexia first appeared in a 2001 book by Steven Bratman entitled Health Food Junkies: Orthorexia Nervosa – Overcoming the Obsession with Healthful Eating. The author, who is a physician specializing in holistic medicine, coined the term and defined it as an “unhealthy obsession with healthy food.” The root “ortho” comes from the Greek meaning “correct” or “right” and “rexia” implies that it is an eating disorder similar to anorexia but with an emphasis on correct or “pure” eating. The term orthorexia is not listed in the dictionary, nor is it an official diagnosis, and as a result there are no associated criteria for diagnosis. However it may useful to think about the idea of having an “unhealthy obsession with healthy food.” Can one take an interest in healthy eating too far? If so, how far is too far? Can the interest in healthy eating lead to negative physical and mental consequences? In my everyday life experiences and in my experience as a therapist working with clients who have eating disorders, I have seen examples that I would define as “taking an interest in healthy eating too far.” I have seen the obsession with healthy eating affect people’s lives, health and happiness. I have seen this become a contributing cause of death.
I believe an interest in healthy eating can be seen as part of an attitude and behaviour continuum that ranges from those who know about, and try to make wise choices in their food selection most of the time, to those who cannot eat food that is deemed “imperfect,” even if it means starving themselves.
I personally know of an example whereby an individual let their obsession with healthy eating ultimately lead to their premature death. Not long ago, I received a call from a friend whose elderly father was in the hospital with a medical illness. My friend was very concerned because while in the hospital, his father refused food and water. For years, this man had controlled his diet by choosing foods that he thought were healthy. He tried to buy everything organic, would not eat certain food for reasons that to me seemed obscure, was vegetarian, mostly vegan and drank only bottled water. He felt good about making these choices and generally talked about them with an air of pride. However, when in the hospital, he was not eating or drinking. He stated he considered the water to be unsafe because it came from the tap, and the hospital food, which was not organic, would make him sicker. Had it not been for these attitudes and fears, which led to his refusal to eat while in the hospital, his medical issue probably could have been treated successfully.
Although this story may seem extreme, it is not uncommon. For example, someone can start out with good intentions to improve their health, but this can spiral out of control. The ways in which it can spiral out of control include limiting or avoiding social eating when the food provided is not considered healthy enough, becoming preoccupied with food and health in general. This in turn can affect mental health and happiness, and even the ability to focus on other important aspects of life such as recreation, school and career. What started out as a seemingly “normal” interest in a healthy diet ironically becomes unhealthy.
Part of the problem is that all the messages we currently get from media, Internet, books etc. about healthy eating and healthy foods can be very confusing. Almost any food you choose can be seen as either healthy or unhealthy depending on the source of the information. If you were to follow all the advice, there would be literally nothing left to eat! And don’t forget, many sources of information such as the Internet and TV can be sensational, and not based on scientific evidence. One extreme reaction to this type of information is to try to restrict all foods that are considered “bad”, as evidenced in those exhibiting “orthorexic-type” behaviours. The other is to disregard all nutritional information, because it is impossible to meet these standards. These individuals end up eating a predominance of fast food and foods with little nutritional value.
What is ideal, however, is the idea that one can develop a balanced, middle ground approach to diet and nutrition. Granted, this is not sexy or exciting. However, it can be maintained in the long term, and would not negatively impact one’s emotional and physical well-being. In a balanced approach, one thinks of healthy eating “guidelines” rather than rules or absolutes. Food is neither good nor bad, and all food can be eaten in moderation. An example of a healthy eating guideline is “whole grains are better than processed grains – I aim to have whole grains about half the time.” Or that “desserts or other “fun foods” taste great and add to pleasure in life. I can allow myself to have a portion of these foods daily.” This balanced approach is one which promotes recovery from eating disorders, and which I espouse in my own life.
If you are finding yourself preoccupied with healthy eating, or other eating concerns, it can be very helpful to seek counselling. The diagnosis or label (“orthorexia”, bulimia, etc.) is not the important thing. What is important is whether food is interfering with your life; making you feel overwhelmed, taking too much time and energy, affecting relationships, self-esteem or your mood. If this is the case, a therapist, especially one familiar with eating disorders, can be of great help.
A Simple Guide to Healthy Holiday Eating
The holiday season is here, filled with friends, family and festivities. At the center of all great gatherings, food is sure to be one of the main attractions. With multiple dinners and parties to attend, we partake in an assortment of sweet and savory foods. Enjoying these foods is a great way to celebrate the season, but overindulgence is often an outcome. Here are a few tips to help practice healthy holiday eating, while still enjoying all of your favourites!
- Don’t skip meals or snacks the day of the party. The ‘buffet’ atmosphere of most parties usually includes a variety of foods, and lots of it. Most people think that skipping meals before a big party will help to cut calories and save it for dinner. This generally does not go as planned, as we often compensate later on by ‘binge eating’, because we’re ravenous! We often make less healthy choices when we haven’t eaten for a long period of time. So, stick to your regular meals. Have a full breakfast, lunch and a small snack in between. When you arrive at your party, you should feel satisfied and less likely to splurge.
- Take a peek of all the goodies. With so much food available, it’s normal to want to try a little of everything. Before you start filling your plate, have a look at what’s available. Start by choosing foods you enjoy the most or seasonal foods, and skip the more common foods you can live without. When selecting what to add to your plate, don’t forget the vegetables and salads which are high in fiber, and make us feel satiated. Grains and starches are always in abundance, so rather than having all of your favourites like bread, mashed potatoes and stuffing, try to stick to one or two sides. Using a small side plate or limiting it to a quarter of your plate is a great guide on how much to serve yourself. Don’t forget there’s still dessert to look forward to!
- Slow down. We often eat mindlessly, meaning we don’t pay attention to the taste, flavour or appreciate the food we are fortunate to receive. So take your time, and savor the food you’re eating. Make conversation with friends and family; enjoy the meal and the reason for the season. Studies show there are numerous benefits of mindful eating. It helps us attune to our bodily cues and helps to regulate appetite by registering when we’re full. It can also play a role in better management of our emotions, and promotes positive thinking.
- Stay active. The holidays aren’t an excuse to divert from your routine. Stay active to help offset all the delicious meals you’re enjoying. If you’re not usually active, this is a great time of year to grab a buddy and go for a brisk walk, skating, or even engaging in some light household physical activity is beneficial. Have fun while staying active.
The food choices we make have both a physical and mental effect on our health. It can be comforting for some to enjoy holiday meals with friends and family, but for others it can be a source of stress or anxiety, steering through limitless food choices. Remorse and shame are experienced by many after a few days of ‘holiday eating’, sometimes spurring a new year’s resolutions of weight loss. However it is important to remember that a few days of overindulgence is not something to set back your otherwise healthy lifestyle. Make a plan to practice a few healthy substitutions during your celebrations, but most importantly – enjoy the reason for the season.
Managing to stop using alcohol or drugs can be a major milestone in the life of someone struggling with an addiction. However, remaining abstinent from substances is only a part of recovery. After quitting, a person can be in a state called “Untreated Sobriety,” or as it is often called, “Being A Dry Drunk.” This means that while the person is no longer using substances, they still manifest many of the thoughts and behaviors as if they were still in the midst of their addiction. Unable to use drugs or alcohol to cope with their emotions, people with untreated sobriety often feel a sense of anger or resentment due to the fact that they had to give up the one thing that seemingly made them feel better.
Addiction often serves a purpose whether as a coping mechanism, or as a means of escape or avoiding boredom. If the underlying emotional needs are not being addressed, simply removing the substance is not enough. Recovery is not about going back to the way things were before the addiction reared its head. The person has to uncover the reasons for picking up a drink in the first place. Chemical dependency is often a symptom of a larger issue, similar to an iceberg where most of the problems are underneath the surface.
It is also important to consider the psychological ramifications of letting go of a certain way of life or routine. What happens when we give up or lose something that has been a huge part of our lives for a long time? Something that we believe made us happier? We begin to grieve. Grieving the loss of alcohol or drugs can be as powerful as losing a loved one. If the person does not begin to actively work through this grief to get to the acceptance stage, relapse is a lot more likely. Very often people get stuck in the anger stage asking: “Why me?” or “Why can’t I have just one?” This type of thinking is what can precipitate relapse. This is why it is important to ask for help and guidance, learn about the disease of addiction and begin to explore personal reasons for using substances.
Recovery is about progress and many make it through the process to the final stage. They can finally accept the loss and with the help of others, grow through the experience and move on. Others never make it through and remain stuck, feeling angry, bitter and resentful. They may not have used drugs or alcohol for a while, but are hanging on for dear life, “white knuckling it”, and screaming in anger, “I HAVE QUIT!” all the while feeling miserable. How long can this go on before drugs and alcohol looks like a good option again?
It is important to note that it is not necessarily the person’s fault if they were not able to progress in their recovery. Some people may have underlying mental health issues that have not been addressed. Other times, environmental stressors and triggers may be too overwhelming especially for someone who is early on their path to recovery. That being said, it is important to be mindful of how recovery is being approached. Recovery is about making changes that go beyond staying sober. It is about feeling good about life and the ability to meet life challenges rather than feeling deprived. Getting to the acceptance stage by quitting AND being in recovery, is what makes life beautiful again.
By: Kim Holmgren, Recovery Counsellor &
Iryna Gavrysh, Research Assistant
Introducing Edgewood Health Network
Message from Laura Bhoi, President, BHS
I wanted to share with you some exciting news. On July 31, 2014, we joined together with Edgewood Treatment Center (Edgewood) to become one of the largest single providers of adult addiction and mental health treatment in Canada. A truly national option, this Canada-wide network combines our world class mental health and addiction centres and outpatient offices under the Edgewood Health Network (EHN).
Bellwood and Edgewood have always shared an important and common focus: the needs of our patients. Our passion for this work is evident as collectively we have more than 50 years of experience in the treatment of mental health and addiction. Canadians will be comforted to know that we are going to continue the tradition of providing quality care – we will continue the work that Dr. Gordon Bell began decades ago. Now, alongside Edgewood, the care that we deliver will be at an even higher standard. Under EHN, our patients’ health will be our priority – including the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual components, as well as the family and community system.
Treatment is personal and no one method works for each patient. Our treatment models at Bellwood and Edgewood have helped many Canadians successfully overcome their addictions. With the help of qualified, caring, and committed staff, many are in recovery today. Under EHN, this is not going to change; there will be even better access to more experts and the most recent research.
We have always been steadfast in our commitment to providing high-quality, customized, long-term continuing care and support to our patients. As EHN, you can expect to continue to receive this high standard of care with a robust admissions process, and improved communication and service levels, at every location of our national network.
Managing a chronic disease is not always easy without support. We’ll offer a Continuum of Care so that we can follow the path of our patients from their first point of contact, through inpatient or outpatient treatment to continuing care, and build an important relationship for life. Under EHN we will have a national presence that will provide patients and families access to the necessary services, resources and care across the country.
We are excited to share our experience and programs under this new integrated Edgewood Health Network to create a patient-focused model of care.
This is an important milestone in our history and we are thrilled to be working together to support the needs of Canadians. Many years ago, we set down a path of delivering the best treatment possible; now under EHN we look forward to achieving even greater success for the next 50 years and beyond.
Laura Bhoi, President, BHS