Now that you are clean and sober and free from drugs and alcohol, you are probably feeling much healthier! Your skin looks better, you can breathe more deeply and easily, you may be beginning to feel more rested after a night of sleep, you feel stronger, and overall, the world just seems like a brighter, happier, more energetic place. Perhaps you are spending more time outside and are actually exercising, too! All of these things are great, and congratulations to you. It’s likely you want to prolong and even enhance these feelings of feeling great, and one way to ensure that that happens is by eating right and, in turn, giving your body the healthy nutrients it needs.
While you were an active user, it’s likely that you thought little about what foods you were putting into your body. Perhaps you were eating only junk food – that is, when you were eating at all. Since most of your funds were probably going towards your habit, the foods you ate, when you ate, were probably cheap and full of sugar. Fast food can provide you with a full meal for less than five dollars, but it doesn’t provide you with many of the vitamins and minerals your body needs and craves.
Luckily, now that you are on the right track, it will be easy to learn how to eat healthy. So much in our lives is dependent on getting the proper nutrition. Eating right can keep you fueled up for any situation you may encounter, and it will help to give you energy and keep you in a good mood, too. You’ll soon find that you recover more quickly from illnesses and injuries. And, perhaps most importantly, eating right will help you heal from all the damage you did to your body during your active addiction.
Nutritional Damages from Addiction
The many ways that addiction damaged your body may not be visible. Many of the health problems you may have experienced while using may have been hidden on the inside, and may have progressed so slowly that they were hardly noticeable. Over time, though, continued use of drugs and alcohol takes a major toll on your body and internal psychical processes and systems. First of all, addiction professionals find that many people who enter treatment are malnourished; one study of 140 drug addicts found that 92.4% weighted under the mean weight for the population. The reason for this is twofold; the subjects are malnourished due to not eating properly, of course, but further, addiction also affects the body’s ability to absorb nutrients.
The nutritional deficiencies found in substance abusers vary greatly dependent on their drug of choice. Opiate users tend to be lacking in calcium, vitamins D and B6, and iron. These deficiencies cause issues in the users’ gastrointestinal systems which results in constipation, and which then leads to diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea during withdrawal. People who are addicted to cocaine, on the other hand, show low levels of Omega-3 fatty acids. These individuals therefore present with a decreased appetite, and are often dehydrated and have an electrolyte imbalance. Further, they are overtired from staying awake for long periods, which can have even more negative effects on their health. Alcoholics often show a wide variety of nutrient deficiencies due to the fact that alcohol consumption causes the body to lose, rather than absorb, many nutrients through excretion, and as a result, they often experience liver damage and heart disease over time.
In general, the symptoms experienced by malnourished substance abusers are many. In the short term, users may experience feelings of weakness, insomnia, and anxiety. Longer-term effects can include conditions such as osteoporosis, blood clotting problems, anemia, immune system challenges, or slow-to-heal wounds and injuries. Although some of these things can be repaired and rectified through the implementation of proper nutrition in recovery, some of these issues may unfortunately be permanent.
Meet with a Nutrition Professional
In your efforts to get back to healthy now that you are on your recovery journey, you may benefit greatly from meeting with a dietitian or nutritionist. People in both of these positions counsel their clients on nutrition issues and have a great deal of knowledge about food and health. The two positions are quite similar and the difference in title is mainly due to differences in licensing requirements, but either one can be a big help to you. Nutrition therapy for recovering addicts can be complex and it may be helpful for you to speak to someone about your specific and unique situation. A dietitian or nutritionist will ask for your personal or medical history, and then will help you to design a meal plan that will best support your health.
According to a 2014 article in Today’s Dietitian, individualized nutrition counseling and comprehensive nutrition education programs provided to the substance abuse recovery population have been found to greatly improve three-month sobriety success rates. The reasons for this are simple. Patients in addiction recovery should have access to nutrition education opportunities just like people who are recovering from diabetes or heart disease. Medical nutrition therapy (MNT) for people in recovery should focus on goals such as healing the body, stabilizing mood, reducing stress, reducing cravings for drugs or alcohol, addressing co-occuring medical conditions, and encouraging self-care and a healthy lifestyle. A healthy lifestyle can undoubtedly promote mental health, and good mental health is good for recovery; lack of proper nutrition can lead to depression, anxiety, and low energy, all of which can lead to a relapse if left unchecked.
Get Back on Track with Your Health
Good nutrition is so important. Once you have some guidance and learn the basics, it’s really very easy to eat healthily. The bottom line is, you already know what to do. You already know the difference between what is healthy and what isn’t! Much of nutrition is just common sense. However, here are a few tips and guidelines to follow, and a little information about why each category is good for you in recovery.
- Eat less sugar. Eating less sugar helps to stabilize your blood sugar levels, which will help to decrease mood swings, anxiety, and depression. This, combined with the suggestion that you eat frequently (every few hours) to keep blood sugar levels level, is probably the most important tip to follow.
- Eat more protein. Protein is good for you as it helps to make you strong, but it is an especially important macronutrient for people in recovery, because it helps rebuild damaged neurotransmitters throughout your body.
- Eat more fiber. Fiber helps to support your gastrointestinal system; fiber is good for everyone, but especially if your substance abuse issue was with opiates.
- Eat more healthy fats. There is good fat, and then there is bad fat. Good fat includes foods such as nuts, fatty fish, soybeans, flax seeds, hemp seeds, and free-range chicken eggs, and ingesting lots of it helps your body to more easily absorb nutrients. Good fats also help improve brain function, too!
- Eat fewer processed foods. Processed foods make your liver work overtime; eating more whole foods can help repair your liver.
- Ingest probiotics. Probiotics, including over-the-counter versions as well as foods such as kefir, yogurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimici, and sourdough bread, aid in replenishing healthy gut flora and in getting your bowle movements back to normal.
- Avoid caffeine. Less caffeine in your diet will help to lower your levels of anxiety and will help you sleep better. Further, the processed sugar in many drinks that contain caffeine can cause sugar spikes and crashes, which can lead to many triggering situations if you’re not careful.
The food you eat and the way you fuel your body is very important, no matter who you are, but in recovery, eating the right foods and making good decisions is even more important. Now that you are on a healthy path, this is just one more spoke in the bigger wheel that will drive you forward on your new, happier life. It’s all about balance in everything, and what you choose to eat is no exception to that rule. Take care to eat healthy and heal your body, while you continue to heal your mind and soul. Before you know it, you will be feeling better than ever before, thanks to getting clean and sober and taking care of yourself. Good luck!
At Clear Sky Recovery, we want to help you get started on your path to a clean and sober lifestyle. Our facility in Cancun, Mexico, is staffed with addiction recovery professionals who are standing by to help you change your life. Our ibogaine detox treatment is unique and effective, and we look forward to welcoming you! Please call us today to find out more. We can’t wait to hear from you.
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