When the topic of making healthy food choices comes up, it is usually met with some level of disdain. In many quarters, it is synonymous with rigidity and bland tasteless meals and the elimination of our favorite foods or worse yet, total deprivation. However, although healthy eating does involve incorporating good habits into our life, it does not have to be a burden. In fact when or if it becomes a burden, is when your efforts will fail.
The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans describes a healthy eating plan as one that
- Emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low fat dairy products
- Includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts
- Is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars
- Stays within your calorie needs
Making healthy food choices is important for all but is especially true for persons who are recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. When a person is abusing drugs of any type, making healthy food choices may take a back seat. In addition, abuse of some drugs may lead to a loss of appetite/ anorexia (such as is the case with cocaine); withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea (as occurs with opioids); as well leading to malabsorption and increased excretion of vital nutrients. It is widely reported that most whom are alcohol dependent are also malnourished which can lead to some serious nutritional deficiencies.
Alcohol robs the body of needed nutrients and interrupts vital functions. Health problems arise due to the depletion of needed minerals and vitamins including calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc, vitamin C and most of the B vitamins. With liver impairment, absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K is also reduced. The body receives a lot of calories and little nutrition from alcohol so cells become weak from starvation and are prone to disease.
Making healthy food choices plays an important role in physical recovery by replenishing what the body needs since alcohol abuse can lead to dehydration, anemia, osteoporosis, leaky gut syndrome, ulcers, pancreatitis, gallstones and cardiovascular disease. It also increases the risk of hypoglycemia, diabetes and neuropathy due to nerve damage.
A recovering person with poor eating habits is more likely to relapse. This is why it is encouraged that people not skip meals. Recovering persons who are addicted to drugs and alcohol often have no memory of what it feels like to be hungry and so may misinterpret the feeling of hunger as that of a drug craving. Remember H.A.L.T? Being hungry, angry, lonely or tired are classic triggers for relapse. It is equally important that we eat healthy meals and snacks and limit the intake of high sugar, and high fat foods which offer little nutritional value.
The University of Maryland Medical Center encourages that we:
- Stick to regular mealtimes and eat nutritious meals and snacks
- Eat a low-fat diet
- Get more protein, complex carbohydrates, and dietary fiber
- Consider vitamin and mineral supplements as they may be helpful during recovery (this may include B-complex, zinc, and vitamins A and C). Take only as directed
- Get enough fluids during and in between meals
- Exercise regularly and get sufficient rest
- Reduce caffeine intake and stop smoking, if possible
- Seek help from counselors or support groups on a regular basis
Never underestimate the positive psychological effect of good nutrition and recovery. When a person feels well they may be less likely to relapse. Balanced nutrition helps improve mood and health so it is strongly encouraged in early recovery and as a part of a continuous recovery plan.
However, keep in mind that one’s first priority should be to avoid returning to drug and alcohol dependence. This is more important than sticking to a strict diet or making other drastic lifestyle changes for which you may not be fully prepared. Even small dietary improvements can go a long way in helping us feel stronger physically, mentally and spiritually. In this respect we do ourselves great favour when we address these changes one day at a time.
4. NIH News: Diet Quality Worsens as Alcohol Intake Increases