Why is it important to eat healthy food when trying to recover from an addiction?
I think we forget how deeply connected we are to the food we eat. Our energy levels, moods, thinking, actions, immunity against disease, and all functions of the body and mind are affected by the food and beverages which we consume.
I know that healthy foods were the last thing on my radar when I was a person with an active crack cocaine addiction. I would go days without eating, and when I did eat, it was all about greasy food, drinking copious amounts of cola, and lots of sugar in the form of candy and chocolate. I am glad those days are long gone.
Every human being must eat. Therefore, food is fundamental for life to exist. We become what we eat, and at a deeper level, we are what we absorb. The bottom line is that what we put into our body matters.
“There is an intimate connection between what you eat and how you think, feel and behave. Your diet correlates directly with how your life unfolds. Food is not an outside issue when it comes to any form of addiction. It is one of the core issues. Therefore, any holistic approach to recovery must include a deep look at your relationship to food.”
The kind of food we put into our body in the early stages of recovery is especially important. It is vital because our reckless lifestyle of dependence on alcohol or drugs takes a heavy toll our body and brain functions. Addiction wreaks havoc on our body’s ability to absorb essential nutrients, which is why most of us are malnourished by the time we seek help.
Severe health consequences from a poor diet and substance abuse are:
- Physiological damage to organs, muscles, and cells.
- Liver problems from excessive consumption of alcohol/drugs.
- Respiratory impairments and possible lung cancer because of the consequences of smoking crack, meth, heroin, and tobacco.
- Memory difficulties associated with the use of marijuana, meth, and other substances.
- The inability to feel good about life because the Pleasure Centre in our brain has been hijacked from long-term cocaine, meth, or ecstasy use. (This is known as the grey zone and can last up to 2 years.)
- Damage to the immune system.
- The possibility of AIDS/HIV and hepatitis C from injection drug use.
The immediate consumption of healthy foods and supplements will kick-start the natural healing and nourishment that the body and mind need for successful ongoing repair and recovery. Nutritional food is a supportive foundation that will help reduce cravings, decrease the frequency of mood swings, increase self-control, and help decrease physical and emotional pain.
Re-balancing the body on a biochemical and neurological level is a key element in lasting recovery because it addresses the deficiencies and imbalances that often keeps the craving body and mind alive.
It is essential to understand that there is an energetic connection between what we eat and how our life unfolds. If we eat unhealthy, toxic food, we will not only feel terrible, but it will create illness in our bodies and leave us more susceptible to relapse. If we eat healthy, whole foods, we will have a zeal for life, protect our bodies from illness, allow our brain to function optimally, and support our continuing recovery.
Eating healthy foods are often overlooked or are last on the list of things to do for people in recovery. Even in the 12 Steps, eating healthy food is not mentioned or discussed much because it is considered an outside issue. We also see the massive amounts of coffee and sweets being consumed at meetings that, unfortunately, contribute to addiction but are viewed as less destructive than their substance of choice. But make no mistake— unhealthy food triggers the release of the pleasure chemical, dopamine, and affects the brain’s reward center the same way that drugs and alcohol do. We see a lot of people in the program of recovery put on weight, which can increase the risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. Unhealthy eating can also foster a new addiction (food or sugar), and not feeling well can make a person in recovery more prone to relapse.
It is important to understand that the second largest addiction in North America is food addiction, and we are getting nowhere in treating obesity because it isn’t being treated like any other addiction, but instead, like a problem of willpower.
The food service at many treatment centres misses the mark without any regard to why food is an important aspect of recovery. I feel very fortunate to be working at Aurora Recovery Centre with a menu that is all about healthy whole foods, and an understanding about the relationship that addiction and food have. We also have a variety of daily detox juices available for all of our members. Aurora gets it!
Final word: If you want to go all the way with holistic recovery, try to exercise for 40 minutes, 3 times a week.
Make Holistic Recovery “A MUST –NOT A MAYBE”
Paul Noiles is the Director of Health and Wellness at Aurora Recovery Centre. Paul is a person of long-term recovery with a deep passion for serving those who are still suffering. His members’ responsibilities are fitness/health/wellness, meditation, mindfulness, the continuing care and family programs.