It’s no secret that a well-balanced, nutritious diet is essential to the longevity and quality of life.
But when you are in the process of recovering from substance abuse, concentrating efforts toward a healthy diet can seem like punishment.
The truth is, after having made the decision to stop using a substance, it’s easy to justify eating comfort foods like pepperoni pizza and brownies. Between drugs/alcohol and junk food, junk food is definitely the lesser of two evils. Because the brain is used to being rewarded with drugs and/or alcohol, replacing the drug with “reward foods” seems like a natural trade.
Yet making good food choices goes beyond just satisfying the immediate “feel good” appetite (the one controlled by our taste buds). Eating nutrient-dense, whole foods will nourish the mind and body, often depleted of vital nutrients because of substance abuse.
Nutrient-dense, whole foods are:
- low in sugar, salt, artificial flavoring
- void of preservatives
- not fried
- recognizable as something that is naturally found, like fruits and vegetables
- minimally processed
- foods that don’t cause an extreme spike in blood sugar
Food is central to how we feel emotionally and physically. While junk foods offer temporary pleasure, they often cause spikes in blood sugar levels, which can cause low energy and emotional mood swings. Further, replacing drugs with junk food could lead to disordered eating.
When you are already dealing with the effects of detoxing and rebalancing your mood, eating well becomes a critical factor in how you will perceive your own recovery. If you feel good, you will be less prone to temptation. And regardless of what your past feelings toward healthy eating are, healthy meals can be just as tasty and satisfying as a double-cheeseburger from McDonalds.
Five foods to help with recovery:
1. Leafy greens
Leafy greens are vital for nutrition because they contain high levels of antioxidants, which are substances that inhibit or delay cell damage. In addition, leafy greens are full of vitamins and minerals. They are an excellent source of fiber, folate, and carotenoids, and also contain phytochemicals that are only found in plants.
Some examples of leafy greens include mustard greens, swiss chard, kale, arugula, baby spinach, romaine, dandelion greens, bok choy, broccoli, and the like. According to a study by Human Nutrition Research Center, kale ranked highest in antioxidants. Iceberg lettuce is not included on this list, as it is not nutrient-packed like the others.
There are many ways to prepare leafy greens, including sautéing and tossing up in a salad.
2. Colorful Fruits and Vegetables
So you never quite liked the taste of a banana, no big deal! There are an abundance of different types of fruit and vegetables. While you may be intimidated at first by squash or eggplant, make the process of learning how to cook and incorporate new fruits and vegetables into meals part of the recovery journey.
Fruits and vegetables supply the body with vitamins and minerals, and the more colorful the plate, the more diverse the vitamins.
According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, “a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can lower blood pressure, reduce risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancer, lower risk of eye and digestive problems, and have a positive effect upon blood sugar which can help keep appetite in check.”
One of the ways to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into the diet is to place fruit where you can see it and make meals out of vegetables, like salad and stir-fry.
No one fruit or vegetable can provide all the essential vitamins and minerals, so mix it up and try new items.
3. Whole Grains
Choose wisely when selecting breads and rice. Check bread to make sure it has whole grains and doesn’t use high-fructose corn syrup, which has been linked with adverse health effects. Whole grains provide the body with energy and fiber. Replacing white rice for quinoa or white bread for whole grain has been shown to lower the risk of diabetes.
4. Lean Protein
Protein is an essential building block for bones, cartilage, muscles, skin, and blood. Protein also helps satiate hunger. Choose lean proteins like unprocessed chicken or turkey, eggs, nuts, and seeds. Try to create variety. Grass-fed beef should be eaten in moderation.
5. Healthy Fats
Omega fatty acids are essential for tissue repair and brain function. Steer away from trans fats found in processed foods. Healthy fats, like everything else, should be eaten in moderation and can be found in whole foods such as avocados, nuts and seeds, fish, and eggs.
Create a Meal Plan
While the above list may seem overwhelming at first, creating a meal plan will allow you to focus on incorporating these foods into your diet. Taking control of what you eat will not only improve your nutrition, but it will also increase your self-discipline and improve your self-image.
As the ancient Greeks stated, self-discipline is self-mastery. What you consume becomes a part of your identity: You are what you eat. When you are using drugs, you become a consumer of drugs, and this becomes an identity held by yourself and possibly others around you.
When you change what you eat, you change your self-image. A healthy diet lends itself to a healthier self-image, which can only aid you on your journey of recovery.