Joellen K. Walter, LPC
One of the little known facts about recovery is how nutrition can affect your state of mind and promote a healthy healing journey for the body. There is a lot of truth in the old saying, “You are what you eat.” Our society has become a fast food, instant gratification, high preservative, artificial color and sweetener, malnourished culture.
Good nutrition can help repair the inside of the body as the newly sober alcoholic or addict begins their sobriety journey.
As a whole, people don’t eat enough vegetables, balanced fat, and protein to sustain the basic life force of our bodies. When we add the trauma of addiction into the mix, we continue to perpetuate a cycle of self-sabotage. Proper nutrition supports sleep, activity, a healthy brain, and everyday function within the body. When we enter into sobriety, our bodies are riddled with pain, stress, and damage from our disease, and without a proper diet and exercise, we continue to damage our bodies.
First and foremost, it is important to look at how stress affects the body.
While living in active addiction, we place additional stress on our bodies, which causes a physiological stress response. When we enter into sobriety, we begin bleeding toxins out of our system and have added a new type of emotional and spiritual stress. Our bodies do not know the difference between physical, emotional, and spiritual stress. We continue to dump adrenaline into our system because we have now entered a new type of fight or flight; our addiction wishes to kill us, and we are searching for a Higher Power to save us.
Adrenaline is cortisol. High levels of cortisol cause sugar cravings, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, elevated heart rate, increased susceptibility to cold and flu, insomnia, and belly fat gain. Our body begins to crave food to keep us going, which is often “not healthy,” such as sugar, high caloric fatty foods such as fast food, and carbohydrates.
These cravings will partially replace our craving for drugs and alcohol but add a new type of stress to our system.
Long term cortisol output eventually causes adrenal fatigue. Symptoms of adrenal fatigue include salt cravings, low blood pressure, apathy, insomnia, depression, allergies, difficulty recovery from illness, and lightheadedness when standing. Cravings would consist of salty foods such as chips, crackers, and other highly preserved foods.
Reparation of the body which has been ravaged by addiction can start with learning to eat a balanced diet.
A healthy diet includes 7-9 servings of non-starchy vegetables per day; a minimum of 75-100g of protein per day; small servings of carbs (no more than fist size); half your body water in ounces of water per day, and moderate healthy fats including nuts, seeds, and olive oil. Multi-vitamins can help restore micronutrient balance in your diet to repair cells and tissues.
As recovered alcoholics and addicts, we are already changing a lot in our life, so I caution everyone to start small, making one change at a time as we navigate sobriety.
Pick one thing to focus on, such as taking a multi-vitamin or increasing water intake. This is a lifelong endeavor. We don’t need to stop eating foods that bring us comfort but begin learning how to balance our lifestyle to promote our bodies’ recovery as we navigate the spiritual realm to overcome our substance use disorder.
Also, starting an appropriate exercise routine can help reduce the effects of years of substance abuse. Please be sure to consult with a qualified health professional to discuss strategies for physical reparation during sobriety.