Information about the power of proper nutrition to promote vitality and health is readily available.
Yet many of us still reach for a lot of the gooey, salty, sugary stuff. Instead of thinking of food as nourishing fuel, we often use it as comfort; for immediate gratification; or as a way to placate feelings we don’t want to acknowledge or accept.
If you’re trying to manage your sobriety, you’ll benefit greatly from following a good nutrition plan. It’s a circle of wellness: when you feed your body and mind properly, it’s easier to make better choices. When you make better choices, you feel confident, mentally fit, in control, and able to accept whatever comes your way—factors which support your conscious choice to stay healthy.
Why We Need Good Food
Think of your body as an amazing machine. To function at an optimum level, it needs the best oil and gas possible. This is what whole, “live,” unprocessed food does for your cellular structure: it provides essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. These building blocks are the foundation for energy, immunity, and organ function and repair. This means you’ll be less tired, not get sick as frequently, and heal more quickly.
And the circle of wellness continues. When you’re less tired, you might have more energy to exercise with regularity, which also improves your health. If you feel well most of the time, you have a greater awareness of self and can sense when something feels a little “off,” which helps prevent cravings and the potential for relapse.
And even if your body was damaged due to drug or alcohol abuse, it’s surprisingly resilient when supported by a nutrient-dense diet, and will continue to be so.
Your mind is buoyed by proper nutrition as well. There’s actually a concept called “nutritional psychiatry.” Various medical studies indicate a direct relationship between gut microbes and serotonin, the neurotransmitter that regulates mood, appetite, sleep, and pain receptors. Researchers suggest that “good” bacteria in your gut provided by a healthy diet prompt a natural release of serotonin, instead of the artificial stimulus produced by drug or alcohol use.
Studies also point to Mediterranean or Japanese cuisine as prime examples of healthful eating. Rich with live, unprocessed foods, they have less sugar, salt, and saturated fats than the typical Western diet, and help reduce depression and anxiety.
Finally, whole foods also keep blood sugar from spiking. Regulated blood sugar is imperative to stabilizing mood swings and reducing cravings.
How to Create a Healthy Eating Plan
In a treatment center, proper nutrition is often easy to follow. Once you’re home, it’s important to have a plan in place to continue your path to wellness. Here are some suggestions:
- Choose fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Avoid products that are high in salt, sugar, artificial sweeteners, and preservative chemicals. Also avoid products that are fried, processed, or manufactured, such as fast food.
- Drink a lot of water. Harvard Medical Center recommends that we consume 30-to-50 ounces of fluid daily. Hydration is crucial for proper cellular and brain function, detoxification, and joint mobility. Some of your fluid intake can be in the form of water-rich fruits and vegetables.
- Reduce sugar and caffeine. Some studies indicate that sugar is another addictive substance. It triggers the same pleasure centers in the brain as heroin or cocaine, and causes numerous physical problems. Caffeine is a stimulant, and found in everything from coffee and tea to chocolate and ice cream. Be mindful of your consumption of sugar and caffeine, and treat yourself only occasionally.
- Find new ways of eating. We all get into certain patterns, but the more open you are to trying different cuisines, the more gratified you’ll feel. Consider gathering with friends and experimenting with various recipes, including more plant-based options. You might be surprised when you discover new favorites.
- Make conscious choices. Although it’s tempting to watch a movie with bottomless bag of chips and a large fizzy drink, take a pause. Implement portion control and recognize you’re still not denying yourself anything. Instead, you’re making choices with newfound awareness, fostered by your desire for wellbeing.
- Keep a food journal. For some people, writing down what they eat, times of meals, and how they feel from day-to-day is an important way to measure progress. A food journal may also be helpful in determining if a certain food or binge-filled weekend triggered unhealthy emotions, lethargy, or general ill-effects.
Why This Is Important to You
For many people, not just individuals maintaining sobriety, the simple act of trying to eat healthfully can seem like a burden: one more thing added to the list that needs to be done or else. This may prompt feelings of anger, resentment, obligation, and even inadequacy if a proper nutrition plan isn’t followed to the letter.
If this happens to you, allow time to process these feelings. Then remember why you’re on this path to wellness, and what factors are most important to you.
So you have a king-sized candy bar for a snack today. Big deal. You can trust you’re making choices that matter for your health, and that you’re in control of the long-term results. Each new day offers opportunities for better choices.
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Center for Addiction Nutrition.