Many of us have come across a host of dietary and nutritional advice in our lifetime and it can be a challenge to keep it all straight, even if you don’t have a serious addiction thrown into the mix. Food itself has fed into many addictions. The impact of sugar and carbohydrates on neurotransmitters that fuel good feelings has become a major issue for many individuals, some turning to 12 step groups like Overeaters Anonymous to regain some power over food choices.
Food can also be a great healer. A balanced diet, with all the building blocks proper nutrition, can provide a mental and physical environment that holds positive changes and habits with greater ease. Abundant nutritional content can also enhance a stable mood for someone in Recovery.
In this article we will go over:
- Some of the major deficiencies present when addicts and alcoholics first begin a recovery process
- Some of the key factors that bring about greater balance and healing in body and mind
- The benefits of a well-balanced diet, combined with supplementation, to support an individual’s recovery
Nutritional Deficiencies, from A to E
Many addicts and alcoholics beginning a recovery process come to a point where they are struggling to simply get in 3 meals a day, let alone include variety or even approach the topic of vitamins and nutrition. This can lead to a wide array of symptoms, on top of any withdrawal symptoms they may be experiencing, symptoms such as:
- poor attention
- altered sleep
- digestive issues
- skin problems
- neurobiological problems, such as shaking, numbness and tingling, and loss of balance
Anyone dealing with recovery from an addiction knows many of these symptoms all too well. What might be helpful to know is that often these symptoms have more to do with nutritional deficiencies than the addictive substance itself. There are many nutrients lacking from a depleted diet that contribute to these symptoms. Dehydration alone can cause irritability, trouble concentrating, and disorientation.
Amino Acids, including L-Tyrosine, L-Glutamine, and L-Theanine, are the building blocks of protein, and key component in aiding the body’s production of feel-good neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin are responsible for mood stabilization. A poor diet, or one lacking healthy proteins, can really interfere in an individual’s ability to maintain a healthy mental state, and balanced brain chemistry for optimal recovery.
Other vitamins and nutrients that play a large role in mental health are Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12 and B6, and vitamin D. Deficiencies in any of these areas can mimic mental health problems.
Omegas, along with vitamin C can also play a part in skin problems like flushed skin, excessive bruising and excessive itching.
Other nutrients necessary for proper health, both mentally and physically include:
- Minerals, such as zinc, lithium, Iron, and Chromium (found in whole grains, fresh fruits, and deeply colored vegetables)
- Vitamin D, B1, sodium and potassium (these are all helpful with muscles cramps and spasms, among other things)
- Iodine, found in seaweed, potatoes, and cranberries (that would make an interesting potato salad, the “Iodine Salad” not for the squeamish in taste)
- Magnesium, found in seaweed, dark leafy greens, and beans (thats right, you’re probably deficient in this too- been eating your greens, beans, and seaweed lately? …these combinations would all make good prepared concoctions for the Whole Foods pre-made section, don’t you think?)
- Fiber, folate, and potassium, as well as the aforementioned magnesium (lack of these can contribute to constipation)
So the point is…what’s not missing if you haven’t been eating properly? Let me rephrase that-what IS present if you’ve been surviving on poor nutrition during severe addiction? Probably carbs, sugar, and some unhealthy fats. The former break down super quick, leave super quick and have a person craving and hungry super quick. The latter is hard for the body to process, leaves a person feeling sluggish, and adds to an already toxic physical and mental environment. So… how can you support, through diet and nutrition, a healthy recovery process? Here are some guidelines to shoot for:
Proper Nutrition guidelines for a thriving personal vessel:
- Hydration, LOTS OF WATER. This is an easy place to start. We are 80 percent water. Water has the power to completely hold a certain positive or negative vibration in it’s molecular structure, anyone seen “What The Bleep Do We Know?” Multiply that by a whole being’s intention and vibration. If you want to get really out there and massively affect your state of well-being while you abundantly hydrate, drink pure distilled water, and bless it as you drink it (Have you seen the secret? yes, it’s all about what you believe, knowledge is relative.)
Okay, so back to where I was divulging all of the secrets of nutritional bliss, for healing and recovery…
- Frequently- eat when your hungry. Ah, and here is a tricky piece because if you have come into a path of recovery malnourished and depleted, than your probably always hungry, or reaching for the most satisfying foods for instantaneous, though somewhat empty, satisfaction: carbs, sugar, hydrogenated processed fats. The reality is: it’s a process and the more we can offer a wide variety of different food options for our bodies, as frequently as possible, the more the nutrients will work in harmony to promote an optimal environment for proper healing. Bottom line: Eat from as many of these groups as possible, as frequently as you want: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, proteins, nuts, seeds, legumes, meats, dairy if it agrees with you, healthy fats, and if you really want to go for the gold: include fermented foods like sauerkrauts and yogurt, and sea vegetables (though some say they contain mercury, maybe stay away from sea vegetables if your afraid of mercury.)
- High-Priority Supplements: If you have the option to supplement, here’s a few that would really help in kick starting the re-balancing process:
- -A whole foods based multivitamin- whole foods because this is easiest for the body to break down, and will help the vitamins and minerals be absorbed with greater ease
- -Omega 3s- So good for skin, brain, and digestion, and usually not included in a multi
- -Calcium/magnesium- most everyone, addict or not, is deficient in this. These really aid in the physical sensation of relaxation, help with muscle spasms, are calming, good for aches and pains. Think of these as your natural muscle relaxants.
- Probiotics- We are surrounded by microbes and bacteria, tiny organisms that help or hurt our intestinal environment as well as interfere or aid our immune system. Many addicts and alcoholics, while getting back to a healthy pattern of eating and hydrating, are prone to illness and need an extra boost of these microscopic helpers.
Even just a small increased attention to healthier eating habits can make all the difference in an addict gaining momentum in a positive direction. Some of the benefits of including more variety and whole foods, and less processed items (along with supplements, where possible) are:
- Increased energy and focus
- Better sleep
- More stable mood
- Less anxiety and agitation
- More clarity of thought
- Smoother digestion
- More ease and calm in physical and mental activities
Just like the benefits of an environment like a treatment center, in which you have a concentrated version of healthy healing energy in staff and structure, so too do vitamins and mineral supplements, along with a balanced diet, aid in helping the body and brain balance and regain function. Combine these with exercise, lots of rest, and therapeutic elements and you have a basis for a thriving recovery momentum.