The Nutrition Guide: How a Healthy Diet Can Help You Recover

Drug withdrawal isn’t the only thing that causes headaches, tiredness, and despair. Malnutrition causes similar symptoms, making a recovery from addiction more difficult. Learn how nutrition may help you achieve health, happiness, and sobriety by rejuvenating your mind and body.

When most people undergo addiction treatment, they don’t consider their diet. They just consider quitting the substance. They anticipate sessions of counselling or group treatment. People in recovery discuss the 12 Steps, finding a sense of purpose in life and cultivating a relationship with a higher power. However, the positive effects of eating a healthy, balanced diet is rarely mentioned.

Kurry Friedell, a nutritionist at Advanced Recovery Systems, said “I don’t think anyone can be active in recovery if they aren’t nourished.” “Eating well, getting enough sleep, and being active all help your body produce the ‘feel-good’ hormones that lead to a successful recovery.”

It’s all too easy to forget about nutrition. Everyone understands the importance of eating more fruits and vegetables. But, unless a doctor warns them they’re at danger of diabetes, heart disease, or other diseases, most people eat what makes them happy — or what’s quick and easy.

Some diseases are even linked to malnutrition or poor nutrition. One of them is addiction.

The body is deprived of essential nutrients when it consumes alcohol or other substances regularly. Many medications can either suppress or boost appetite. It’s not uncommon for meth users to go days without eating. Marijuana users are notorious for binge eating and “having the munchies.”

Friedell, who works with patients who have substance abuse and eating problems, stated, “Most of the time, eating is unbalanced because they’re using and staying up all night. They may be malnourished since they aren’t getting enough nourishment. They’re not getting enough macro- and micronutrients.”

The recuperation process is aided by a nutritious diet. Unhealthy eating habits delay rehabilitation by creating headaches, insomnia, and poor energy levels. Many of those symptoms are also associated with drug withdrawal, making it difficult for many people to distinguish between hunger and withdrawal.

The Effects of Substance Abuse on Nutrition

Malnutrition, a disorder caused by a lack of nutrients, is the most common side consequence of an improper diet. Because alcohol and other substances impair the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, substance abuse increases the risk of malnutrition. Many people with substance use disorders disregard their nutritional necessities in favour of their preferred substance to alleviate physical or mental pain. “They can’t distinguish hunger cues from other cues while they’re using,” Friedell added. “It’s difficult to tell the difference between malnourishment and withdrawal during rehabilitation.” For those in recovery, weight gain or loss is a significant worry. Malnutrition causes some people to lose too much weight. Others gain excessive weight as a result of attempting to replace drugs with food. Each type of substance also causes its own health problems.

Alcohol

Chronic alcohol intake deprives the body of thiamine, a vital nutrient. Thiamine is used by every tissue in the body, including the brain, heart, liver, and kidneys. The tissues cannot operate correctly without the vitamin.

Diabetes and heart disease are both increased by metabolic syndrome.

Heart disease and heart failure are linked to low thiamine levels. The brain is also affected. Dementia and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome are more common in those who are deficient in thiamine. The syndrome is associated with incoordination, eyesight issues, confusion, and memory loss. Chronic alcohol consumption also raises the risk of metabolic syndrome, a condition marked by high blood sugar, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and excess body fat. Diabetes and heart disease are both also increased by metabolic syndrome.

Opioids

Opioids cause people to feel sleepy because they slow down the body’s functions. In addition, the medications delay digestion and metabolism. This indicates that the body is unable to digest nutrients from foods efficiently. Constipation is the most well-known side effect of a messed-up digestive system. Withdrawing from opioids might throw a food plan off. During withdrawal, people frequently feel nauseous, vomit, and have diarrhoea. These symptoms can make it difficult to consume food and water at a time when the body requires them.

Stimulants

People who use stimulants like cocaine, methamphetamine, and prescription ADHD drugs often lose a lot of weight. Stimulant users have a higher risk of developing eating problems, including anorexia. Cocaine or crystal meth addicts may go for days without eating or sleeping. When the bender is over, they’re usually hungry, and binge eat. Malnutrition is more likely a result of these extreme eating habits. Additionally, crystal meth users frequently have dental hygiene issues. Because of missing teeth or chewing difficulty, they may be less inclined or unable to consume solid foods.

The story of Madeleine Ludwig – Stimulants

Madeleine Ludwig’s weight fluctuated considerably throughout her adolescence due to substance abuse. She decreased 30 pounds with bath salts between the ages of 15 and 16. Madeleine said “The upper effect [of bath salts] entirely ruined my appetite.” “As my drug of choice changed, my body frame shifted.” I was slim for the first time at 16 years old, and I feel this contributed to my addiction. I’ve always been self-conscious about my appearance.” She quit using bath salts and gained some weight back. However, at the age of 18, she began taking heroin, and the tall adolescent’s weight decreased to 90 pounds. Madeleine is now in remission from her addiction.

The Effects of Eating Disorders on the Body

According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse research, people who abuse alcohol or other drugs are 11 times more likely to develop eating problems than people who do not abuse these substances. Approximately half of all people who suffer from eating problems abuse alcohol or other drugs. “Lab reports are always inaccurate with eating disorders, especially with anorexia and bulimia patients,” Friedell added. “White blood cell counts, B-12 levels, or electrolyte levels are all off.”

Different eating disorders have different effects on the body, however, the majority of eating disorders have similar side effects. Muscles begin to break down when humans ingest too few calories. Because the heart is also a muscle, a person’s pulse and blood pressure can drop to dangerously low levels when it fails.

Purging depletes the body’s electrolytes and can include self-induced vomiting or the abuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas. Electrolytes are substances that help in the flexing of muscles. The heart struggles to beat without enough electrolytes. Purging and dietary starvation both damage the digestive system. The body struggles to break down and digest meals after these behaviours. Constipation is common as a result of this.

“Hormone production slows down when you’re hungry. The more nutrients that enter the body, the more hormones that can be made.” – Kurry Friedell

Eating disorders also make it difficult for the brain to access the nutrition it requires. Sleep issues can be caused by being overly hungry or too full. Electrolyte deficiency can result in nervous system problems such as convulsions and paralysis. “Hormone production slows down when you’re famished,” Friedell explained. “The more nutrients that enter the body, the more hormones that can be made.”

Low energy, low body temperature, and irregular menstruation are all symptoms of hormonal abnormalities. Substance abuse and eating disorders both have several common adverse effects. Each condition deprives the body of nutrition on its own.

The effects of co-occurring addiction and eating disorders on the body can be severe. However, both illnesses can be addressed simultaneously, and people in treatment can see significant changes immediately.

The Effects of Nutrients on the Body

A nutrient is a chemical that assists the body’s growth and well-being. There are two types of nutrients: macronutrients and micronutrients. Carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, and water are all macronutrients that the body requires. Micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, are needed in small amounts by humans.

Minerals and vitamins

Even if humans don’t require a lot of micronutrients, low levels of vitamins and minerals might have serious consequences. A deficiency of thiamine causes Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (vitamin B-1). Low levels of iron, folate or B vitamins can cause depression-like symptoms such as exhaustion and sleep disturbances.

Vitamin and mineral sources that are good for you include:

  • Whole grain bread or cereals
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Peanuts
  • Seeds
  • Dairy
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables

Vitamin-rich foods should be included in your regular diet to maintain your body healthy and working properly. Make an effort to eat well-balanced meals that include fruits, veggies, and whole grains.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates provide the majority of the body’s energy. Several areas of the body struggle to function without glucose, and blood sugar levels fluctuate. These disruptions result in symptoms of fogginess, anger, melancholy, and worry.

Low-carbohydrate diets might produce sleep disturbances and cravings. Carb cravings might be confused with drug cravings.

You can get healthy carbohydrates from:

  • Whole-grain bread and cereal
  • Low-fat dairy
  • Whole fruit
  • Potatoes
  • Vegetables
  • Beans
  • Nuts

Fibres

Fibre is a special kind of carbohydrate. Fibre, unlike other carbohydrates, is not transformed into energy. Fibre is not digested and travels through the body. It helps other foods flow through the digestive tract by regulating blood sugar and lowering cholesterol.

You can get healthy fibres from:

  • Oatmeal
  • Nuts
  • Beans
  • Wheat bread
  • Brown rice
  • Apples
  • Carrots
  • Tomatoes

Diets lacking in fibre can raise the risk of excessive blood sugar, cholesterol issues, and constipation.

Proteins

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and numerous hormones. Hormones are substances that play a role in mood regulation. When people don’t eat enough protein, they don’t receive enough amino acids, which reduces hormone production. Low hormone levels can cause sadness, anger and anxiety.

You can get healthy protein from:

  • Fish
  • Chicken
  • Eggs
  • Low-fat dairy
  • Beans
  • Nuts

Proteins also help the body’s immune system battle infections and diseases. Most addictive substances affect the immune system, and a frail immune system can be weakened by a lack of protein.

Fat

Most Britains are aware that they need to cut fat from their diets, but not all fat is harmful. Moderate amounts of healthy fat can improve mood and enhance cell activity throughout the body. It’s also a backup energy source for when the body runs out of carbohydrates.

You can get healthy fat from:

  • Fish
  • Dairy
  • Seeds
  • Nuts
  • Omega fatty acid supplements

Obesity and various health concerns can result from a diet high in unhealthy fat.

Water

Water is necessary for good health. It preserves internal organs, lubricates joints, and aids the body’s absorption of other nutrients. Water is required for the liver and kidneys to operate, reducing constipation.

Healthy sources of hydration:

  • Water
  • Watermelon
  • Strawberries
  • Cucumbers
  • Soup
  • Low-fat milk
  • Low-sugar sports drinks

Water is an integral part of a healthy diet. Dehydration can cause irritation, dizziness, confusion, and fever.

The Importance of Nutrition During Rehabilitation

Addiction treatment programmes must include counselling and therapy. They teach people in recovery how to cope with unpleasant emotions and behaviours in a healthy way. However, learning is difficult for a brain that is malnourished.

“Before the therapy can function, we have to refeed the person and get them nourished,” Friedell added. “Coping abilities will go in one ear and out the other if their brain isn’t working. If they’re eating correctly, the psychiatrist can take a different approach to mood.”

From the moment a patient enters rehab, the nutritionist must be involved in their treatment plan. Kurry Friedell explained, “We check for disturbed eating. We inquire as to whether they are eating enough, their weight, and what they ate at home. We have a fair picture of what their food and nutrition are like by looking at lab findings.”

Dietitians check weight first, but they also look at heart rate, cholesterol levels, and other nutritional factors. They also check to see if the person uses food as a coping method. Dietitians want to get rehab patients on a healthy eating plan as quickly as possible, but withdrawal makes most meal plans difficult.

Detox Nutritional Side Effects

During detox, many rehab patients gain a lot of weight. Appetite increases as drugs leave the body. Dietitians keep a close eye on weight gain since it’s unhealthy to gain too much weight too quickly. Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other issues can result from overeating. Increased hunger, however, can be advantageous for people who are starting recovery with low body weight.

During medical detox, some people find it difficult to eat. Withdrawal from alcohol and marijuana might result in a loss of appetite. Opioid withdrawal can produce nausea, diarrhoea, and vomiting. Dietitians must ensure that people recovering from addictions do not lose too much weight.

Diet regimens can be affected by several drugs used during detox. Naltrexone (Vivitrol) and disulfiram (Antabuse) can both make you feel sick. Acamprosate (Campral) stimulates the appetite and alters the flavour of meals. Constipation and appetite changes are possible side effects of methadone, buprenorphine (Suboxone), and bupropion (Wellbutrin).

Nutritional Therapy

Clients are usually on a controlled eating plan for many days by the time they finish detox. When it’s time to start therapy, the benefits of a balanced diet are usually obvious.

“If they’re in a structured atmosphere, it might be quite quick,” Friedell added. “We serve breakfast, lunch, dinner, and three snacks at our facilities. The more structure you have, the more likely you are to recover.”

“We ask them if they have access to a refrigerator or a stove,” Friedell says. Who is in charge of the kitchen? Do you own or have access to a vehicle? If they have a car, their shopping list will be different than if they walk.”

Each of these characteristics impacts the type of diet that people can maintain after they leave treatment. Dietitians work with people individually because everyone’s nutritional requirements are distinctive.

Eating Disorders Treatments

People who have both substance abuse and eating disorders require more intensive treatment than those who don’t. Individual counselling and one-on-one nutritionist sessions are provided at treatment facilities for these individuals.

“We talk about minimising the [problematic] behaviour and being safe when it comes to binge eating or purging,” Friedell added. We want to show children that pizza does not have to be associated with purging.” “If kids purge every time they eat pizza, we’re not going to feed them pizza until they develop better-coping skills.”

According to Friedell, exposure therapy is frequently used to help people overcome anxiety related to a specific meal. Patients may also be served “challenging foods,” which they would typically avoid.

“They practise dining out and not exceeding their diet plan,” Friedell explained. “If they eat more, they’ll feel compelled to engage in the [dangerous] conduct.”

A balanced diet can help a person avoid relapse and speed up their recovery. When the body is healthy and well-nourished, it is simpler to stay sober. As a result, detailed meal planning is an essential part of addiction treatment. To feel happier and more invigorated, people in recovery should learn to prepare and consume healthful meals.

Compare Rehab aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance abuse by providing fact-based information regarding the nature of behavioural health problems, treatment options, and their associated consequences.

We do not intend for the information we give to be used in place of professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should not be used as a substitute for medical advice from a doctor or other qualified healthcare provider.

Last Edited: April 14th, 2022
Clinically Reviewed: April 2, 2022
Clinical Reviewer

Michael

BACP accredited psychotherapist with 16 years experience working in mental health specialising in psychodynamic person-centred therapies treating those with a range of mental health disorders including anxiety, depression, OCD and Addiction.