Diet is integral to your mood, your organ health, the recovery of your muscles after arduous physical labor. It slashes at deficiencies and cuts down on your chances of preventable illness. And yes, a proper recovery diet can drastically affect your chances towards long-term sobriety and a good bill of health after an addiction.
This is because food is integral to how an addiction negatively affects the body to begin with. Deliberately staying well-fed and within the recovery diet recommendations for the average human body is next to impossible when every second thought is consumed by opiates, cocaine or alcohol.
On the flipside, studies have shown that a healthy meal plan and steady return to a healthy lifestyle can reverse many of the deficiencies and physical problems that addiction brings into a person’s life. But like anything, it’s not an easy transition – and education on a good recovery diet is central to figuring out how to live a better, happier life without drugs.
Cleaner Calories In Your Recovery Diet
The first step towards a healthy lifestyle to counteract months (or even years) of addiction is understanding the calorie. A calorie is a unit of energy, specifically the unit of energy that we use in any given activity. The kilocalorie, which we typically use to measure our food, is defined as the amount of energy needed to raise a kilogram of water by one degree.
Our bodies are constantly burning calories to stay alive. This basic rate at which our bodies are using energy is known as the basal metabolic rate. This depends on your age, weight, gender and fat to muscle ratio, among a few other factors such as your state of health (people with a fever tend to burn more calories, as their bodies are working harder).
We all need to eat a certain amount of food per day to satisfy the body’s caloric expenditure. Eating less calories than you burn forces your body to take those calories from an available reserve – typically fat. Eating more lets you put on weight in conjunction with exercise, building muscle. Fats typically have the highest caloric value, but the body prefers to burn carbohydrates first, as they’re easier to break down. The body rarely uses protein as a source of fuel, but needs it to maintain and build muscle tissue.
However, it’s not quite as easy as just counting calories. While most of our calories come from the big three macronutrients (fat, carbohydrates, protein), the human body requires a daily minimum of vitamins and minerals such as calcium, iron, zinc and magnesium.
Aside from making it much harder to eat a balanced diet, drugs like alcohol and opiates also affect the body’s digestive system, flushing out many of the nutrients you need to stay healthy. This leads to major deficiencies, which manifest first with symptoms such as insomnia, weakness and anxiety, and later turn into illnesses such as “wet brain”. Eating healthy is one thing, but someone who just came off an addiction needs a recovery diet plan that caters to their own deficiencies.
Start A Recovery Diet Plan
The first thing to do is visit a doctor with experience in nutrition, and get a solid idea of where you are in terms of both overall health and eating habits. A blood analysis and some basic tests should give a professional an idea of what foods need to be central to your recovery diet, especially if you want to continue staying sober.
Because of the way most drugs work in the brain, it is easy to forget what hunger feels like. For many going through early recovery, the feeling of hunger can be somewhat foreign, and easily mistaken for a drug craving. Avoiding hunger is important to preventing a relapse, so making a dedicated recovery diet plan as soon as possible should be a priority for people going through post-rehab recovery.
Your meal plan needs to orient itself around your micronutrient needs, and your goals. If you’re in an active lifestyle, then you’ll burn far more than someone who only exercises moderately. If you want to lose weight, then your caloric intake should be slightly less than your energy consumption. If you want to gain weight, then you need to eat more than you burn (if it’s clean food).
Differentiate The Good From The Bad
Avoid big bunches of sugar and fat without any real nutritional value in your recovery diet. Rice, oats, potatoes and whole wheat sourdough breads are far superior alternatives to breakfast cereals and added sugars. Virgin vegetable oils and grass-fed butter (both used sparingly) are far healthier than cheap cooking oils. Fresh meats and seafood are better than canned or deli alternatives, if available. All these things can help shape your recovery diet in a positive way.
The general rule is to avoid overly processed food. Cookies, hot dogs, most deli cuts and the like are not just made with basic ingredients, but include preservatives to survive long trips throughout the countryside. As much as possible, make your own treats and meals for your recovery diet from fresh ingredients. Learning to work with what is locally available and cheaper can be an interesting challenge, and a way to get good at something new while in recovery.
The difference between a healthy diet for most people and a recovery diet is specificity. It is easier to brush with broad strokes for most the population, but when you’re coming out of an addiction, you’re far more likely to suffer from a deficiency or a relapse than others. Be sure to consult a professional and get a detailed plan of what you should eat and avoid for your recovery diet. Sober housing or mentoring programs can sometimes also help with this and provide a structured setting that will help you maintain your recovery diet after recovery.