Healthy Eating For Addiction Recovery
What is the one thing that all addicts have in common? Whether they are addicted to alcohol, drugs, smoking, food... our pleasure and reward center has been hijacked and our food tastes in early or even continuing recovery is like that of teenagers.
The preference of refined sugars, unhealthy oils, and stimulants have ruined our gut health and in order to break our addictions, we have to also break our unhealthy eating habits.
Have you ever noticed that homeless people like to mill around at the fast food joints in town? You never see a homeless person hanging around the farmers market or fruit and vegetable stand with a sign that says "Will work for fruits and vegetables" do you?
Damages To The Brains Reward Center
The reward deficiency syndrome created by chronic exposure to addictive substances often requires that the food consumed be highly rewarding to the brain. These foods are typically sweet, salty, high fat, easy to digest, or some combination of these traits. Other examples include chips, cookies, and most processed snack foods. If addicts in early recovery are given unlimited access to highly rewarding food, they will predictably overeat and continue in their addiction.
While excessive weight gain is certainly an issue and can lead clients back to using substances, the bigger problem is malnourishment which limits the ability of the brain to heal from the ravages of addiction. Low quality food leads to low quality thoughts and a low quality life, and can lead back to using drugs and alcohol.
Why Cant They Just Take A Multi Vitamin And Eat Whatever They Want?
This is a good question. The problem is that while a Multi Vitamin helps when their is a compromised digestion, or limited diet, it does not provide nutritional quality of real food, things like antioxidants, petrochemicals, and fiber which is probably the singular most important component to helping restore a well balanced gut system.
Continual consumption of highly processed junk food throughout the day can significantly hinder the recovery process in numerous ways:
Unstable blood sugar impacts mood and concentration
Nutrient-void food can leave patients feeling sluggish and reliant upon caffeine (for the illusion of energy)
Refined grains, added sugars, and added fats will negatively alter the microbiome (which we are discovering has an impact on mental health)
Highly palatable food will condition the brain to expect food to taste a certain way, perpetuating the cycle of food addiction and promoting substance-seeking behavior. For example:
Eating candy will make eating fruit become less appealing.
Sweetened beverages will make drinking water less appealing.
Heavily seasoned and sauced food will make plain food be less appealing
What Does The Typical Addicts Diet Look Like?
In a typical day, the average addict will start their day with
Coffee with lots of flavored creamer and sugar
Cigarettes or Vaping
Energy drink or multiple energy drinks
For a mid-day meal they will have
A white flour sandwich, burger, pizza, or a wrap, all avoiding fruits or vegetables and probably be from a fast food estabilshment
Throughout the day they will continue to snack because their body is telling them they are hungry because it's looking for the missing nutrition it needs to keep them going. They will often snack on things like
For dinner they will typically have a protein and starch like chicken and rice or pasta and meatballs, but will skip out on any type of vegetables.
At night, most addicts are also on night time medications like Seroquel that can lead to loss of control and increased food consumption. Typical night time snacks will be
Breads and cheese
Frozen foods like pizza or burritos
and other highly processed foods
What To Eat Instead?
The simple answer is real food. If given the choice between addictive food or nutritious food, most will choose the more "rewarding" choice that they are used to. The problem is that this "reward" generated by the brain gives them the illusion that they are getting what they need, when in reality they are just stimulating a dopaminergic response.
What they need in reality is a diet consisting of
Protiens (fish, chicken, turkey, beef, pork, ect.)
Fiber (fruits and vegetables and limited whole grains)
Omega-3 fatty acids (fatty fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds, pastured eggs, meets from grass-fed animals)
Antioxidants (berries, pecans, artichokes, kidney beans, cilantro)
Vitamins (found in a variety of vegetables, fruits and nuts)
Minerals (Also found in the variety of vegetables, fruits and nuts)
If you haven't already realized this, many of these items will already be grown on our farm. Things like pastured eggs, pastured pork, vegetables, berries, and fish. The relationship between work and food is built into The Discipleship Center, and not just food, but real food that you know where it comes from and that needs very little if any processing to eat.
What Makes Recovery More Difficult?
Any of the following items will short-circuit the recovery process and reset bad habits and cravings for the things we struggle with as addictions.
Sweetened beverages including "diet" drinks. Whether it's real sugar, high fructose corn syrup or an artificial sweetener, our brain kicks into crave mode when introduced to these sweets.
Candy or highly sweetened foods
Fried foods like fried chicken or potato chips
Refined grains like white bread, white tortillas, ect. Use whole grains instead or avoid these carbohydrate dense but nutritionally void foods.
Cereals should have more grams of fiber than grams of sugar, or should be avoided as well
Dessert should only be served as dessert once a day if at all
Final Word On Nutrition
The primary focus should not be on what not to eat, but instead on what to eat. The continual obsession on what we can't have will drive many people to continually crave those things because that's the focus. Instead, make mealtime a fun and enjoyable experience and part of a well regulated or disciplined life.