Despite the fact that diet and addiction recovery are so closely intertwined, there is often a lack of nutritional guidance provided by the majority of inpatient treatment programs. There is often a large emphasis on mental and emotional health, but it is important that physical health is emphasized just as much. It is also important to understand the connection between physical health and mental health – those who take their physical well-being into consideration will usually have a better overall sense of mental well-being. Focusing on nutrition (and hydration) is essential to the substance abuse recovery process. Substance abuse also frequently leads to malnutrition. Those who are suffering from an active addiction will generally not have the wherewithal to ensure they are properly fueling their bodies with nutrient-dense foods. Many chemical substances affect appetite, and drug addiction can lead to significant weight loss or weight gain as a result. Those who have been struggling with active addiction will frequently:
- Skip meals or overeat. Many chemical substances affect appetite – for example, stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine will reduce appetite significantly, while marijuana and alcohol use might lead to overeating.
- Choose less nutritious and more “convenient” foods. For example, someone who has been drinking heavily for an extended period of time might forget to eat for a full day, and grab a bag of chips at the local convenience store or order a pizza late at night.
- Experience gastrointestinal issues like nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. These symptoms of drug or alcohol abuse will make it even more difficult for the body to absorb nutrients and function normally.
- Experience a lack of energy due to poor nutrition and the inability of the body to absorb the nutrients it needs.
At Chapel Hill Detox, we thoroughly understand the importance of adequate nutrition during every single stage of the recovery process. For this reason, our detox facility is equipped with a fully-stocked kitchen, which is available to clients around the clock. We offer chef-prepared meals that are both nutrient-dense and delicious. To learn more about our comprehensive ad nutrition-focused detox program, please feel free to give us a call today.
Medical Nutrition Therapy
Medical nutrition therapy is often utilized in comprehensive inpatient treatment programs, and focuses on the following goals:
- Healing the body and repairing the damage that was done during active drug addiction or alcoholism. Drugs and alcohol are chemical substances, and over time they will do significant damage to the physical body. Your organs will stop functioning properly, your central nervous system and your brain will undergo potentially permanent trauma. The good news is, if you stop using chemical substances and focusing on improving your health, your body will (almost always) heal over time.
- Reducing psychological cravings for drugs and alcohol. Cravings are reduced when dietary needs are being met. In fact, in early recovery, some individuals will confuse hunger with drug cravings. Making sure that an individual is getting adequate nutrition can lead to a significant reduction of cravings.
- Stress reduction. Making sure that you are intaking the right amount of nutrient-dense foods can lead to a reduction of stress. Junk food does more than just affect the physical body – eating food that lacks nutrition will affect your mental health and well-being.
- Mood stabilization. Mood swings are far more common in individuals who do not have a consistently healthy diet. Eating three balanced meals a day can help with irritability and help stabilize mood long-term.
- Address any potentially co-occurring disorders or health issues that have stemmed from long-term substance abuse. Substance abuse always does damage to the physical body, but long-term substance abuse will inevitably lead to more serious damage and result in serious health-related complications.
- Develop skills that will be necessary to maintain a healthy lifestyle for years to come. One of the main priorities of every treatment program is working to instill life skills and coping mechanisms that will lead to long-term sobriety and comprehensive mental, emotional and physical recovery.
- Develop skills related to self-care. Self-care is crucial to long-term recovery. Taking care of your physical health by eating right, exercising and getting enough sleep will help bolster recovery and make staying sober all that much easier.
Steps to Take to Improve Physical Health
Below is a list of specific steps to take that will help improve physical health and well-being.
- Eat right! Make sure that you are getting enough fruits, vegetables and complex carbohydrates. Avoid eating excess amounts of sugar, simple carbohydrates and avoid intake of excess amounts of caffeine. While coffee tends to go hand-in-hand with early recovery (you will notice a fresh pot brewing at most of the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings you attend), intaking too much caffeine can affect your mood.
- If you smoke – quit smoking! You will often hear that it is important to avoid making any major changes during the first year of recovery, which is generally true. But you will also likely hear that it is important to avoid quitting if you are a smoker, seeing as quitting could lead to other drug cravings and ultimately lead to relapse. The truth is… smoking is never a healthy choice. Even cutting back can hugely benefit your overall physical health.
- Ask your nutritional counselor or your primary care physician if you would personally benefit from any supplements or vitamins. Because active addiction affects your health to such an extent, you might benefit from taking some additional vitamins until your system begins to regulate.
- Take care of yourself comprehensively. Nutrition is key, but physical health doesn’t stop there. Be sure that you are exercising regularly and getting enough sleep every night. Try to develop a daily routine – wake up at around the same time every morning, make sure you are eating three full meals a day, and fit at least 30 minutes in for physical activity. One of the most exciting parts of addiction recovery is self-exploration. You will be able to explore and figure out what you enjoy. Maybe you discover that you love cooking nutritious meals at home, or that you enjoy hiking and exploring the great outdoors.
Healthy Eating, Healthy Habits
It is not uncommon for those who are in early recovery to “replace one addiction with another.” This means that those who stop using drugs or alcohol will attempt to fill that “void” with another unhealthy habit or self-destructive behavior pattern. In some cases, men or women in early recovery will start sleeping around more than they normally would, or will start exercising excessively. In some cases, they will develop unhealthy eating habits. Eating disorders are common amongst those in early recovery, from anorexia nervosa to compulsive overeating. How can this “void” be filled in a healthy way? By continuing with a solid program of recovery and working through the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. At Chapel Hill Detox, we introduce all of our patients to the 12 step method of recovery, and work hard to instill the life skills necessary for long-term sobriety. These life skills include eating nutrient-dense foods and learning to prepare food that will nourish the body and the mind.