Recovery is a difficult and multifaceted process that takes a tremendous amount of strength and perseverance to endure. If it were easy, all of those who seek help in overcoming substance abuse would get and stay sober beyond the point at which any emotional, financial, or legal obligations had been met. Unfortunately, the disease of addiction doesn’t abide short-term actions or good deeds and it is our responsibility to keep fighting for our sobriety, sanity, and lives regardless of the obstacles we may face.
Personal and professional experience has taught me that complete and meaningful recovery is dependent upon a physical, emotional, and spiritual practice that puts the addict in complete harmony with themselves, their fellows, and the natural world. And, proper diet is a key component of the lifestyle foundation on which to build a recovery practice that allows us to clear away the wreckage of our past and truly live in the 4th dimension of existence.
First and foremost, lets talk about food. In order to fully recover from the damage caused by substance abuse, we must embrace three simple guidelines that help restore health and accommodate the unique nutritional needs of the recovering addict. From a nutritionist’s perspective, a dietary philosophy that promotes recovery is built upon these three simple suggestions:
Eat Real Food. Indulge Mindfully. Enjoy Life
Real Recovery Food
The idea that eating real food can have a powerful impact upon health is not new, but it has become more difficult to accomplish in our convenience-based society. Foods purchased from a drive-through window or that are sold in a box have become the norm while preparing homemade meals have become a novelty and something reserved for special occasions and holidays. Unfortunately, this trend towards quick, easy foods has encouraged the physical and psychological deterioration of an entire generation and makes the journey towards complete recovery more treacherous.
Real food is that which is consumed in the form that closely resembles how it is found in nature. For example, a baked sweet potato, fruit salad and roast chicken breast are all real foods with only a few degrees of separation between farm and fork. Other real recovery foods include items such as fresh fruits and vegetables; unrefined whole grains; healthy fats like olive oil, coconut oil and butter; and animal foods like beef, poultry, pork, and fish. It is important to note that real foods are largely absent all the nasty additives that food manufacturers utilize in order to improve production and profitability.
Food like substances that we want to avoid in our new recovery diet includes Hot Pockets, Twinkies and McNuggets. These and similar products contain an excessive amount of highly refined grains, which also happen to be found in items like white rice, white bread, and ready-to-eat breakfast cereals; added sugars and oils like those hiding in packaged cookies, cakes, candies, chips, and crackers; and chemical preservatives, flavor enhancers, pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics, which are often utilized in the production of packaged goods, conventional produce, and farmed animal foods.
Fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and high-quality animal products are a powerful source of therapeutic nutrients that are essential in healing the mind and body during the early stages of recovery.
Mindful, Healthy Indulgence
The majority of what we need to eat in order to heal the body and promote a more fulfilling recovery program will need to be built from real foods and prepared in our own homes. However, this doesn’t mean that we can’t indulge in the occasional meal or treat. In fact, it may become a necessity when we find ourselves in unforeseen circumstances or without healthy alternatives. The trick in such situations is to employ mindfulness and moderation to help avoid any physical or psychological consequences that may result from indulgence.
Instead of carelessly inhaling a super-sized bag of Doritos during this weekend’s campout, place a handful or two on a plate along with carrots, celery and asparagus spears. Or, if dessert is your thing, instead of serving yourself a full slice of double chocolate chip cake, serve yourself a half slice and lay it next to some of your favorite fruits such as berries or an apple.
A healthier way to satisfy that sweet tooth or indulge in the occasional treat is to make them at home following recipes that contain only modest amounts of sugar and processed white flours. There are many healthy desert options that utilize things like almond or coconut flour, fresh fruit, and honey that are very tasty and will easily satisfy a sweet tooth. Similarly, there are many ways to convert traditionally unhealthy foods like French fries, buffalo wings and pizza into healthier versions that are well able to contribute to the repair process necessary for complete recovery.
Allowing our selves the occasional modest indulgence can be of tremendous value in maintaining a positive and healthy perspective in diet and in life. If we become overly consumed with eating only the healthiest foods, we may miss out on the celebrations of intimate moments that enrich life and greatly contribute to the recovery process.
Enjoy Food and Life
As we experience relief from the dramatic swings in mood, energy and health as we mindfully incorporate more real foods, our mind and body will begin to open up to new and exciting ideas that will further enrich recovery and life as a whole. However, before this happens we must overcome habits that may be detrimental to our physical and psychological health. More specifically, counting calories, binge eating, purging, starvation diets, and excessive caffeine and/or sugar intake are all ways in which we sabotage our ability to fully participate in recovery.
Meticulously counting calories, grams, or ratios with the idea that there is a perfect number that applies to every individual in every circumstance can set the body up for nutrient deficiencies, compromise organ function and impair the healing process. Binging, purging, and highly restrictive diets are dietary techniques often used to help those in early recovery cope with the stress and emotional turmoil associated with the recovery process, but they cause a tremendous amount of damage to the body and brain, which may interfere with our efforts at complete psychic change. Finally, becoming overly dependent on substances such as caffeine or sugar is simply transference of our addictive tendencies onto other chemicals that promote imbalance and ill health.
Life is meant to be enjoyed, so why waist time participating in behaviors that are unproductive and ultimately harmful?
Developing the ability to feed the body with real food, observe its reaction and adjust our eating behavior accordingly, following the real food recovery diet will restore vital organ function, improve metabolism, and ease the elimination of stored toxins so that a healthy body and weight is more easily obtained and maintained.
However, healing the mind and body from the damage caused by substance abuse and addiction is often as simple eating fresh, real foods; practicing a little mindful moderation; and learning to enjoy and embrace the experience we’ve been given. Maintaining a real food recovery diet to support physical, psychological and spiritual health is essential to complete physical, psychological, and spiritual recovery.
Matthew Lovitt is a holistic nutritionist specializing in the treatment of drug and alcohol addiction with food and fitness. He is the staff nutritionist for an all men’s long-term treatment facility in Prescott, Arizona and maintains a private practice where he helps addicts, alcoholics, children, families, and those suffering from specific, often acute, conditions restore health and wellbeing through dietary and lifestyle modification. Matthew is a recovery alcoholic and drug addict with over 6 years of sobriety. You can learn more about him and his diet and lifestyle philosophy at twelvewellness.com, on Facebook and Twitter.