What Role Does Nutrition Play in Addiction Recovery?

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When someone struggles with substance use over an extended period of time, it takes a significant toll on their physical health. The body can only take so much wear before it begins to struggle to perform to the best of its ability. The individual will typically become deficient in important vitamins and minerals. This can cause us to wonder, what role does nutrition play in restoring the body while in recovery?

The body is really incredible in the sense that it can be repaired even after significant damage. Organ function can often be restored, uncomfortable symptoms can be relieved, hormones can become balanced, and the risk of specific diseases can even be decreased. But you can't leave your body to do all of this important repair work on its own. You have to do your part in the recovery process by eating the foods necessary for the healing to take place. 

If you are new to your recovery journey, you may be wondering where to start in terms of learning about nutrition. You may ask, “What role does nutrition play in my well-being?” You can start by learning about the specific ways in which alcohol and certain drugs can take a toll on your body. From there, you can learn which foods are going to have the nutrients that you will need to reverse that damage. Finally, you can then start developing meals that are going to jumpstart the recovery process.

Eating right while in recovery from substance misuse doesn't just help repair physical damage. What other role does nutrition play? It can play a significant role in your mental health as well. It can reduce stress, prevent disorders such as anxiety and depression, and make you feel happier overall. 

What Role Does Nutrition Play in the Restoration of Important Vitamins and Minerals?

What role does nutrition play in restoring the body from the side effects of addiction? Addiction affects the body in many ways, but vitamin deficiency and poor nourishment are some of the most common. In general, some signs and symptoms to look out for when it comes to basic vitamin deficiency include: 

  • Dizziness
  • Brittle bones, hair, or nails
  • A higher risk of diabetes and heart disease
  • Poor energy levels
  • Trouble focusing
  • Unhealthy weight gain or weight loss
  • Muscle weakness
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Numbness in hands and feet
  • Mental fog
  • Shortness of breath

Before determining what nutrients you are deficient in, you need to consider what substance or substances you were using before going through detox. Alcohol, as well as different substances, affect the depletion of vitamins in various ways. You want to ensure you are targeting the right ones while in the restoration process. 

#1. Alcohol Misuse: Extended alcohol use can lead to liver damage, weight gain, and an increased risk of heart problems. It can also commonly lead to deficiencies in folic acid, vitamin C (ascorbic acid), vitamin B1(thiamine), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), and vitamin B6 (pyridoxine). Thus, foods that are high in these different vitamins that you will want to include in your diet moving forward include: 

Folic Acid:

  • Whole grains such as oats, quinoa, barley, and brown rice
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Peanuts
  • Beans
  • Dark leafy greens such as broccoli, asparagus, spinach, lettuce, and Brussels sprouts
  • Fresh fruits

Vitamin C:

  • High citrus fruits for immune system health, such as oranges, kiwis, and lemon
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Cauliflower
  • Cabbage
  • White potatoes
  • Bell peppers

B Vitamins:

  • Collard greens
  • Raw or cooked spinach
  • Salmon
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Legumes
  • Avocados
  • Cereals that have been fortified with vitamins

#2. Opiate Misuse: Opioids are powerful drugs that are prescribed to treat high levels of pain. Unfortunately, they are often sold illegally and used for recreational purposes, which is very dangerous. People who misuse opioids can become deficient in important daily nutrients such as amino acids, vitamin A, and vitamin D. Therefore, if you are in recovery from misuse of this type of drug, you would want to include foods such as the following: 

Amino Acids:

  • Quinoa
  • Beef
  • Dairy products, such as cottage cheese and yogurt
  • Soy
  • Mushrooms
  • Fish (specifically salmon, which also contains omega-3s)
  • Lentils 
  • Chickpeas
  • Black beans

Vitamin A:

  • Kale
  • Carrots 
  • Beef liver
  • Cantaloupe
  • Tomatoes
  • Eggs
  • Milk 

Vitamin D:

  • Tuna
  • Swordfish
  • Orange Juice
  • Sardines
  • Egg yolk
  • Plant milks
  • Orange Juice
  • Cod liver oil

#3. Methamphetamine Misuse: Methamphetamine can wreak havoc on your body and greatly affect your mind. It also makes it difficult for the body to absorb certain crucial nutrients. Vitamin B12 deficiency is often particularly a concern for those who use this drug. If you are in recovery from methamphetamine misuse, you are going to want to incorporate foods high in vitamin B12, such as the following: 

  • Nutritional yeast
  • Tuna
  • Trout
  • Fortified foods
  • Dairy products 
  • Eggs 

When you first begin your recovery journey, you might still need to learn what specific vitamins and minerals you are deficient in or the extent of the depletion. You can have blood tests done and then work alongside a medical professional, such as a nutritionist, to determine how to move forward best. At Pathways Recovery Center, we can work with you to develop a plan to incorporate the vitamins you need into your diet. 

What Role Does Nutrition Play in Mental Health?

It is clear that nutrition plays a crucial role in physical health and recovery, but what role does nutrition play in mental health? This connection is a lot stronger than you may realize. We truly are what we eat, and when you consistently put junk inside your body, it will eventually take a toll on your mental health as well. This can be especially detrimental during recovery from substance misuse when you are trying so hard to protect your mental health. 

Poor eating habits can begin at a young age and become exacerbated through extended substance use. Certain substances will cause you to want to eat more, while others may cause you to eat less. Marijuana, for example, often causes people to want to snack on the first things they can get their hands on. This can lead to consuming whatever is fast and available instead of foods rich in nutrients. 

Similarly, when you are under the influence of alcohol, your inhibitions are often lowered. You might be less likely to make good food choices. On the flip side, you may forget and skip a meal entirely. These poor eating habits can take a toll on your mood and overall mental health. 

Certain foods, especially those heavily processed and high in salt and sugar, lead to inflammation. This inflammation can raise stress levels and make issues like anxiety and depression worse. If you often feel on edge, anxious, impatient, or just generally low, consider what types of food you are putting into your body. Avoid fast food as much as possible and focus on including foods that are great for mental health instead. For example:

  • Foods that are good for the gut, such as probiotics, vegetables, and beans
  • Omega-3 acid-rich foods like salmon, flaxseed, and walnuts
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Whole grains

What Role Does Nutrition Play in Energy?

It is clear that nutrition plays a critical role in mental and physical health and the replenishment of nutrients throughout the recovery process. But what role does nutrition play in your energy levels? Nutrition plays a very significant role in energy, as you will likely discover as you learn more about what foods will make you feel your best mentally and physically. When it comes to nutrition and energy, complex carbs and lean proteins will be your best options. 

Complex carbs are full of vitamins and fiber that will keep you fueled all day long. They offer more value than you would find in simple carbohydrates, which are typically full of sugar. For example, this includes foods like white bread, soda, or sweets. Some of the best complex carbs to add to your diet when it comes to energy  include:

  • Quinoa
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Barley
  • Lentils
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Brown rice
  • Oats
  • Chickpeas

You will want to focus on things like turkey, chicken, or fish when it comes to lean proteins. If you follow a vegan diet, you could instead opt for things like plant-based protein powders, tofu, beans, or nuts. To stay energized throughout the day, it can help to eat small but frequent meals with a protein source in each one. 

Many people try to “cheat” when it comes to energy by overlooking nutrition and trying to get the boost they need from caffeine. For example, do you often find yourself skipping breakfast for multiple cups of coffee or even a sugary soda? While it might feel like it does the trick, the truth is that you would likely feel a lot more energized if you reached for an apple or protein source instead. 

Caffeine can actually exacerbate feelings of anxiety in some people. This can be especially detrimental as you are working toward effectively managing stress while in recovery. It will probably not hurt you to have a cup or two of coffee a day. However, it is important to monitor your caffeine intake and be aware of how it affects you. 

What Role Does Nutrition Play in the Ability to Focus?

When you were still engaging in active substance use, did you often feel sluggish or foggy-brained without knowing why? This could have been due to the lingering side effects of different substances you used or consumed the day before. But it could also be because you were deficient in certain vitamins and minerals your brain needs to operate at its best. By making sure that you include brain-healthy foods in your daily diet, you might be surprised how much clearer your mind starts to feel in recovery. 

What role does nutrition play in your ability to focus? Try out some of the following foods that are rich in nutrients and that will promote brain function:

  • Blueberries
  • Salmon
  • Orange juice 
  • Whole grains 
  • Nuts 
  • Avocados
  • A moderate amount of dark chocolate 

Aside from proper nutrition, there are some additional things you should be doing to make sure that you can focus at your best. Make sure that you are staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water each day. This will not only help your focus and energy levels, but it will also help flush out unwanted toxins. You will also want to make sure that you're getting enough good quality sleep each day so that your body can repair itself as needed. 

Finally, make sure that you are getting in some form of exercise every day, even if it is just for 30 minutes or so. Exercise gets your heart rate going and releases endorphins, which can do wonders for your mental health, energy, and focus. Even if you don't have the time to get to the gym once a day, there are still plenty of other ways you can fit exercise into your daily schedule. The key is finding out what works for you and what you will truly enjoy and look forward to. 

Some examples include:

  • Take your dog for a walk around the neighborhood
  • Practice yoga
  • Take an exercise class
  • Go on a bike ride 
  • Take a hike with a friend
  • Go swimming
  • Take a dance class
  • Join a recreational sports team 
  • Consider training for a marathon
  • Follow along with a beginner workout video from home
  • Try pilates or aerobics

By simultaneously focusing on exercise and nutrition, you can promote proper weight management. Many people who have struggled with substance use in the past may be underweight. 

What Role Should Nutrition Play in My Day-to-Day Life?

You might wonder how much focus nutrition should play in your daily life. While there is no question that nutrition should play an important part in your daily life, especially while in recovery, it is also not something to obsess over constantly. When it comes to nutrition in recovery, it really involves practicing good habits and doing your best. It is okay to indulge and treat yourself every once in a while, as long as you are doing so in moderation. 

There may be weeks when you manage to eat clean. But there may also be weeks when you slip up and then experience the side effects later, such as sluggishness, low energy, or increased stress. Don't blame yourself, but try again the next week. 

When it comes to clean eating, you are likely going to experience the benefits pretty quickly, and you may be surprised by how much better you feel mentally and physically. Often, when many people change their diets in this way, the foods they tend to crave may begin to change as well. For example, perhaps you previously found yourself craving a heavily processed fast food meal after a long, stressful day. Now, you may instead find yourself craving a high-protein and truly satisfying dish with lots of nutrients that will make you feel better in the long run. 

The excuse that a lot of people often give when it comes to failing to eat nutritious meals is that they are too busy and don't have the time to cook. Preparing a healthy homemade meal is indeed more time-consuming than grabbing takeout. But there are some tips and tricks that can help make this process quicker and easier:

  • Meal prep at the start of the week. This way, you can grab meals that are already to-go and take them with you as needed. 
  • Plan ahead while coming up with recipes and writing down grocery lists. 
  • Consider making smoothies. This is one of the easiest ways to consume high levels of nutritious fruits and vegetables quickly. They can even be made ahead of time. 

At Pathways Recovery Center, we can work with you to learn how to prepare nutritious meals to aid in your recovery. 

A significant amount of damage is done to the body when a person experiences a substance use disorder. The longer that the substance misuse continues, the more extensive the damage is likely to be. However, in recovery, you have the ability to help your body repair and restore itself by eating healthy and taking care of yourself. The ability to practice good nutrition is just one of the many skills that are taught to those who are seeking treatment for recovery. At Pathways Recovery Center, we can help you take the first steps toward living a happier and healthier life, and we want to help you start today. Give us a call at (888) 771-0966 to learn more. 

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