Nutrition after Addiction: Healing Mind and Body Together

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It's so important for people in recovery to make informed food choices and develop sound eating and physical activity habits. This March — National Nutrition Month — put your best fork forward.

By Jessica Walter
In recovery from addiction, the addict is consciously focusing on ridding their body of toxins and trying to overcome the physical and mental trauma that this wreaks on their health. Sometimes good nutrition can be overlooked, but it plays a vital role in getting the addict back to full health as quickly as possible.

Consequences of Poor Nutrition on the Body


In early recovery, physical symptoms of poor nutrition that may arise include dry and wrinkled skin, acne or eczema, or hair problems, such as it becoming lank and greasy or falling out altogether. Excessive tiredness and exhaustion, dehydration and fatigue go hand in hand. Generally, people in recovery might find they’re more susceptible to picking up bugs and illnesses, and flu-like symptoms and feverish conditions take longer to recover from as their bodies are also repairing the damage caused by substance abuse.

Addiction and Nutritional Deficiencies


The type of nutritional deficiencies that are present will vary dependent the person's substance of choice. If someone has been addicted to opiates, they may be deficient in iron and calcium. Alcoholics are generally deficient in most vitamins and minerals because they lose more vital nutrients from absorption of too much alcohol and potential consequential vomiting.
A recovering addict needs a good diet based on the following guidelines:
  • Limit caffeine or other stimulants.
  • Drink plenty of water or herbal tea.
  • Eat a good balance of whole-grain carbohydrates, which are found in brown rice, pasta and bread.
  • Stick to lean protein such as chicken and fish
  • Use healthy fats, including omega-3s and polyunsaturated fat, which is found in products such olive oil, instead of butter when cooking. 
  • Up your fiber intake by eating fresh fruits and vegetables and unrefined cereals and breakfast meals such porridge.
  • Limit or drastically reduced sugar intake.

Many addicts may crave sugar, but replacing one addiction with another is not a good idea, especially in recovery. Wherever possible, sugar should be kept to a minimum or replaced with products such as honey or agave nectar to provide sweetness with extra added nutrients.

Regular meals are extremely important, as are snacks in between, based on a principle of a small amount of protein and fat to keep the brain and body fed and to prevent blood sugar levels from dropping too low. It’s also important to remember to drink enough, as dehydration can be another common problem faced by recovering addicts. Plenty of fresh water or herbal tea sipped at regular intervals will help keep fluid levels up and prevent headaches and nausea.
Jessica Walter is a freelance health and nutrition writer.


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