Addiction leads to poor overall health in a number of ways. Negative lifestyle changes associated with addiction—particularly a lack of exercise and poor nutrition—often lead to malnourishment, which affects your metabolism, organ function and mental health.
Eating a healthy diet while you’re in recovery is essential for improving your physical and mental health, but it can have other far-reaching benefits as well.
Good Nutrition and Alleviating Symptoms of Withdrawal
Good nutrition during detox helps you feel stronger, improves your mood and reduces the intensity of cravings. You may not feel like eating while you’re in the throes of withdrawal, but feeding your body essential nutrients can help prevent or alleviate the severity of some of the symptoms, according to the National Institutes of Health.
For example, eating a diet high in fiber and complex carbohydrates and drinking plenty of water can help ease gastrointestinal symptoms associated with withdrawal as well as prevent a harmful electrolyte imbalance due to vomiting and diarrhea.
Repairing the Damage of Addiction
Poor nutrition associated with addiction can cause serious vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Alcohol abuse is a major cause of nutritional deficiencies in the U.S., including vitamin B6, thiamine and folic acid. These deficiencies can cause neurological problems and anemia. Pancreas and liver damage is also common with alcohol abuse and can lead to fluid and electrolyte imbalances.
Stimulant abuse, which suppresses the appetite, can lead to unhealthy weight loss, while the abuse of marijuana, which stimulates hunger, can lead to unhealthy weight gain. Proper nutrition is essential for reaching and maintaining a healthy weight during recovery.
Consuming mostly whole foods—fruits, vegetables, fish, and whole grains—helps decrease inflammation and reduce the oxidation of cells, according to Today’s Dietician, and supports proper brain function and stable blood sugar to help reduce cravings, depressive symptoms, irritability and insomnia.
Good nutrition has significant psychological benefits as well as physical ones. People who feel healthy and nourished are less likely to relapse, and they’re more likely to make other healthy lifestyle changes to further promote successful recovery.
Improving Your Diet in Recovery
Eating regular meals in recovery helps keep your blood sugar stable, which in turn can help stabilize your mood. Stick to three regular mealtimes each day, and supplement meals with healthy snacks that contain a protein and a carbohydrate. Avoid unhealthy fats, but don’t skimp on the healthy ones that come from fish, nuts and avocados that are essential for proper brain function.
Eat plenty of plant-based whole foods and make sure you’re getting enough dietary fiber. Drink lots of fluids, but avoid caffeine, which can make you irritable and jittery and interfere with the absorption of other nutrients. Talk to your doctor or substance abuse counselor about dietary supplements that can help repair the damage done by addiction and ensure you’re getting all of the nutrients you need for optimal recovery.
Exercise is also extremely important for good overall health, and it can help further reduce stress, cravings, insomnia, depression, and anxiety. Together, good nutrition and daily exercise will leave you feeling healthier, stronger and better able to cope with the challenges of recovery.