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The Importance of Nutrition During Recovery

During the recovery process, we are asked to reconsider some pretty serious lifestyle choices, like reworking our social calendars to fit our new routines or picking up a healthy hobby to replace a less healthy one. Of all the many ways we can support ourselves through this transformative process, one important change is often overlooked: our diet. A myriad of resources reaffirm the importance of nutrition during the recovery process. 

It is no shock that those in an active addiction tend to have less access to resources when it comes to making healthy food choices. First, their brains have been trained to prefer substances over healthy food; second, if their finances are tight, they will probably choose to spend money on drugs or alcohol instead of on food. 

For someone suffering from addiction, unhealthy food choices–like pre-packaged or processed food items, cheaper take-out options, or skipping meals altogether–become the norm. This can quickly escalate into nutrient deficiencies and potentially other harmful, costly health conditions such as obesity and diabetes.  

Recovery is a time to reevaluate our diet and reestablish a healthier relationship with food. A wide range of foods will support the recovery process due to their nutrient density and therapeutic value. 

Specifically, whole-foods, like vegetables, fruits, and grains, offer the nutrient density that our bodies need to recover from both physical and emotional ailments. Addiction recovery involves every organ in the body- and that takes a lot of energy. In nutrition, energy is also referred to as calories. Our bodies rely on nutrient-dense calories to help with our daily bodily functions, from regulating metabolism and sleep patterns to protecting our vital organs and cell regeneration throughout the body. 

Food that supports Healthy Livers and Kidneys

During addiction recovery, we especially need to be vigilant of the health of our larger detoxification organs: the liver and kidneys. These often take a lot of abuse during active addictions and can take a longer time to heal. Luckily, many foods support these organs specifically. Try incorporating some of these foods into your diet to help support both the liver and kidneys:

  • Bitter foods such as broccoli and cranberries. These can help stimulate bile production and rev up organ function, which may support our bodies’ ability to break down fats such as oils and dairy. 
  • Healthy, oilier foods such as walnuts, olive oil, and avocados. These foods contain high levels of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, which may reduce chances for fatty liver disease and heart disorders. Walnuts specifically have been shown to support brain health as well!
  • Complex carbohydrate foods such as brown rice and whole-grains. These foods have been shown to help regulate insulin–a hormone that plays a key role in fat accumulation throughout the body, but especially in the liver. Insulin also helps regulate our blood glucose levels. 
  • Water. Water is not a food, but it should be a part of every meal you consume. While most foods do contain a small amount of water, our bodies need around half our body weight of water in ounces (every day!) to stay healthy. Check out this hydration calculator to see if you are consuming enough water each day.  

Food not only affects our physical health, but also our mental well-being. Some foods even have the ability to affect our moods directly. The enteric nervous system is a complex communication channel between our digestive system and our nervous system. This line of communication, also known as the gut-brain axis, is constantly sending information back and forth between our mind and our bellies. So no, you are not so crazy to think that eating when you’re upset may cause some digestive issues–that is a result of our  organ systems communicating! 

What is the gut-brain axis? 

Here are some helpful facts for understanding how the gut-brain axis works:

  • The gut-brain axis is a complex line of communication between the emotional and cognitive centers of our brains and the gastrointestinal tract. The gastrointestinal tract is covered in cells (microbiota) that allow it to transfer information between organ systems. 
  • Communication occurs through the endocrine, humoral, immune, and neural links made throughout the body; this allows information to flow between the gut and brain more easily through these many pathways. 
  • The enteric nervous system influences the way food is metabolized and therefore how nutrients are used in the body. An inflamed or hyperactive enteric nervous system may present as anxiety disorders, an altered stress response, or it may potentially affect memory function.

Research suggests that our emotional well-being directly influences the metabolism of our food and how our bodies use it after each meal. It is important to try and practice mindfulness while eating to lower stress levels and digest food more easily. Try eating slower or taking moments between bites and refills, or make a conscious effort to be grateful for your meal.

Those moving through the recovery process may also be prone to symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea, and loss of appetite. These undesirable symptoms may cause nutrient deficiencies, such as being low in certain vitamins and minerals, and potentially dehydration. It is very important to work with a professional, such as a registered dietician or physician, to ensure that you are meeting your nutrient needs and to answer any specific questions you may have. 

Great Oaks provides many opportunities for our clients to learn about and practice better nutrition. We are here for you and your loved ones. Please contact us at any time with questions.