How Nutrition Can Greatly Impact Your Recovery

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Food plays many roles in our lives. It provides nutrients for survival. Sometimes it brings us joy or entertainment. Gathering for a meal can provide a connection to culture and community. Nutrition is about using food to maintain your physical and mental health. This may include boosting your mood or preventing chronic physical health conditions. 

Using nutrition to manage physical and mental health can serve as a great tool in your recovery. However, nutrition is complicated. What nutrition is or isn't is always changing. Understanding the components that make a nutritious diet can help guide you in creating a healthy lifestyle in recovery.

What Is Nutrition?

You may hear a lot about the importance of nutrition, but what exactly does it mean? Nutrition is a broad term used to describe the field of study of foods and substances that help you grow and stay healthy. 

Consuming foods provides you with energy in the form of calories which are important for functioning in your day-to-day life. Certain food also provides nutrients like protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and water. Nutrition is about balance. It's about eating healthy foods in the right amount so your body can properly function and perform daily activities. 

Eating a nutritious or balanced diet means consuming the right amount of carbohydrates and nutrients from each category. This can help boost your energy, manage your weight, boost your mood, and decrease your risk for certain diseases such as diabetes or heart disease.

A Balanced Diet

What's considered “healthy” eating habits is constantly changing. Some health gurus will tell you to eat more meat, and others will tell you to eat less. There are no-carb, non-fat, and gluten-free diets. The truth is that no one diet is a perfect fit for everyone's physical health and lifestyle or is equally accessible to everyone. Generally speaking, it's important to have a well-balanced diet. Cutting out food groups or having too much of a particular food group is not good for your overall health. 

The current Dietary Guidelines of America encourage adults to eat a variety of healthy foods. This will look different depending on a person's budget, culture, and schedule. Fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, low-fat calcium foods like yogurt or milk, and proteins are the main food groups that should be included in your diet. You shouldn't avoid comfort food because that can cause you to crave it more. Instead, a nutritious diet is one balanced with healthy and unhealthy snacks and meals.

Mindful Eating

Why do you eat? Do you eat because you're hungry? Because you're bored? Because you're sad? There are many reasons that people eat. Being mindful of why you are consuming Chinese take-out leftovers or finishing the bottom of a Ben & Jerry's ice cream carton can help you eat more nutritiously. 

You don't have to stop yourself every time you find yourself eating for the “wrong reasons.” Comfort food is there for a reason. However, if you find yourself indulging in comfort food more than other healthier meals, you might want to brainstorm healthier replacements for these food options that meet your physical and emotional needs.

Mindful eating is also about eating when you are hungry and not eating when you're full. It emphasizes being aware of the signs that your body is hungry or full. When you're hungry, you might experience hunger pangs, headaches, fatigue, shakiness, and feel unfocused. Signs that you're full include a tight belly, sluggishness, and pressure or discomfort in your stomach or abdomen. 

Nutrition and Physical Activity

Physical activity can help you eat more nutritiously and vice versa. When your body feels good, you're more likely to make healthy decisions. However, physical activity will not lead to eating less. In fact, the opposite is true. The more physically active you are, the more nutrients you need and the more food you'll need to consume.

However, physical activity can make you more mindful. It makes you aware of your body's limitations and needs. Exercise can help you manage your mental health symptoms, improve cognitive functioning and reduce stress. Physical activity can increase mood by getting your blood pumping and releasing endorphins. It can help you focus and lead to making other healthy decisions.

Incorporating Healthy Living Into Your Life

Living a healthy life can feel complicated when in reality, the complication occurs when you try to apply a set of rules to the general public. Incorporating healthy living into your life can only be done through trial and error. There is no perfect diet, exercise routine, or self-care regimen.

Sometimes you'll have to sacrifice one area of health for another. For instance, while counting calories can keep your weight down, it can also cause obsessive behaviors that can harm your mental health. You have to weigh the pros and cons. Remember that you are not perfect. It will take time before you find a balance of healthy habits that work with your strengths and fit into your lifestyle. The best you can do is to be patient, mindful, and willing to change unhealthy habits.

Nutrition can help you manage your substance use disorder (SUD) and mental health symptoms during your recovery journey. Through trial and error, you can find a healthy diet that works with your lifestyle. Pathways Recovery Center understands the intersection of mental and physical health. We offer a variety of modalities that cater to both aspects of your health, including yoga and adventure therapy. Our mental health professionals can guide you through the steps of your recovery one day at a time by giving you the tools you need to manage SUD symptoms. If you or someone you know is struggling in recovery, call Pathways Recovery Center at (888) 771-0966 to learn how we can meet you where you are at.

Clinically reviewed by 

Moses Nasser
Dr. Moses Nasser, a double board-certified physician in Family Medicine and Addiction Medicine, with expertise in holistic healing, addiction medicine, and psychiatric care, holds an X-waiver to prescribe buprenorphine and has extensive experience in mindfulness-based customer service and medication-assisted treatment.

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