Virginia Woolf wrote, “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” While she wasn’t referring specifically about recovery from alcohol or drug addiction, it still applies.
If you’re in recovery from alcohol, drugs, or other substances, congratulations. That’s the important first step. Whether you stick with it, however, depends on many factors, including what you put into your body in the future. I don’t just mean resisting fermented beverages and prescription pills, but unhealthy food in general: meals, snacks, treats. Poor nutritional choices might set you up to fail, while proper nutrition can repair the damage done by addiction, and can even stave off the cravings that can cause relapses.
Substance abuse wreaks havoc on the body, whether by preventing the body properly breaking down and absorbing nutrients, by causing regurgitation and bathroom issues that eliminate food before the body gets a chance to absorb them, or just reducing the appetite in the first place. Besides, addicts rarely eat healthy food because it’s not a priority.
That’s why a nutritionist is on the staff at most secular, evidence-based, and Christian drug rehabs, though possibly they’re not emphasized enough. Getting healthy is a holistic process, and what you put into your body can be as important as what you keep out. A balanced diet is essential and may help minimize withdrawal pains and cravings.
Some prohibitions and requirements:
Sugar or sugary foods. This is the big don’t, because alcohol has a lot of sugar in it. “The link between sugar and alcoholism is not to be denied,”writes Maura Henninger, a doctor of naturopathy. Nutritionist Patricia Farrell agrees that a craving for sugar becomes a craving for alcohol in the addict’s mind.
Caffeine. At least cut down or switch to decaf; it can overstimulate the nervous system.
Artificial foods. The liver has to work harder to break them down, and it’s already working hard enough in recovery.
Common allergens, such as wheat and dairy; they can stimulate alcohol cravings.
Complex carbohydrates, including grains – brown and wild rice, oats, amaranth, millet, beans, and lentils – and fruits and vegetables, especially in easily digestible forms such as oatmeal. They’re easier on the recovering stomach.
Proteins. “Eggs, lean red meats, chicken, fish, and turkey are all to be eaten in abundance,” Henninger emphasizes – and nuts as a snack – because protein “helps the body repair tissue,” which the recovering addict “needs … in abundance to help restore organs affected by chronic abuse including the liver, pancreas, kidneys, heart, and brain.”
Fats, including oils – olive, flaxseed, coconut – butter, and avocado are “essential for absorption of vitamins and nutrients and for cellular repair” and a lack of them also can lead to depression.
Vitamins, especially B-complex, A, and C. Most addicts are deficient in these.
Above all, like anyone starting a new diet, establish a healthy dining routine. Balanced meals: meat, grains, vegetables. Fresh fruit for dessert. It can be a struggle, especially if you dine out. Learn to seek out the lower fat options on the menu, and avoid fast food almost entirely. Better yet, start cooking at home.
Even though Christian rehab centers teach proper nutrition in aftercare, Christian-based 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous seem to discourage healthy eating by providing doughnuts and cookies at their meetings; they rarely put out a veggie-and-fruit tray. But get into the habit and your recovery will be on the right track.
A healthy body and a healthy mind are easier with healthy and regular meals.