Every doctor and science teacher has probably told you about the importance of a balanced diet. The foods you eat contain nutrients that fuel your body and allow you to perform daily tasks. By receiving the correct balance of nutrients through different foods, your body can feel its best, and you can function at your highest level.
Your diet becomes even more essential, however, when you’re in recovery from addiction or substance use disorder (SUD). During this time, your body is in a very delicate state. Not only does it have to carry out its normal functions, but it’s also missing the chemicals that it’s used to receiving from substances. That’s why it’s essential that you provide your body with the best mix of nutrients through an optimized diet in recovery. While specific diets may vary based on dietary restrictions and other factors, there are building blocks that can be implemented into anyone’s diet to ensure they’re receiving the appropriate nutrients.
Substances, Nutrition, and Diet
Your body’s need for nutrients began when it was just a fetus. Throughout your life, your body has required diverse nutrients and different diets to acquire them. As a fetus, you absorbed nutrients from your mother. In infancy, you required milk and supplements to fuel healthy growth. As you continue to change and grow, your body may demand different things based on what it needs.
Substances affect your body on a chemical level. While specific substances have different effects on your body, there are many shared effects among them. Often, these effects can impact what your body thinks it requires to function or the way that it processes these nutrients.
Here are a few ways that substances may impact your body:
#1. Loss of Appetite
Some substances will either suppress appetite or cause a person to forget eating altogether. Skipping meals trains your body to expect fewer nutrients, which can cause it to cut back on essential functions. This can cause damaged memory, fogginess, constant feelings of tiredness, decreased lung capacity, and more.
#2. Poor Diet Choices
Certain substances — such as marijuana — encourage “munchies,” where people may be more inclined to divulge in sweets and/or binge eating. Other substances may eliminate an individual’s motivation to eat at all.
#3. Organ Damage
Many internal body functions are impacted by substance use. Often, substances can affect the organs in your body responsible for food breakdown and nutrient processing. This can impact the number of nutrients that make it into the appropriate places, resulting in your body not getting the proper nutrients despite eating.
Addiction and Neuroplasticity
A key aspect of addiction is a concept called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity refers to your brain’s ability to develop new neural networks and connections as well as rearrange old ones. Addiction changes the way your brain functions through this concept, in fact, as it rewires your reward system to the presence of substances. Once your brain has been rewired for addiction, however, it becomes much harder to change. This is one of the reasons why adjusting back to sobriety can be so difficult.
Luckily, proper nutrition can actually improve neuroplasticity by replenishing neurotransmitters in the brain. This can help your brain provide normal chemical balances in the body and restore neural connections. Understanding the correct nutrients to consume to restore these neurotransmitters — as well as which foods to find them in — is a great place to start when building your new diet:
Carbohydrates, or carbs for short, are the primary source of energy for the body. They give you energy and fuel your daily activities. In addition, carbs aid the brain in producing serotonin, which helps with mood stabilization and sleep regulation. Increased levels of serotonin can also help to curb cravings for substances. The best kinds of carbs can be found in whole-grain bread and pasta.
#2. Amino Acids
Nutrients like amino acids help your brain to produce dopamine, which you may know as the happy chemical. When you achieve a task or take pleasure in an activity, that rush you feel is thanks to dopamine. Being the happy chemical, dopamine is crucial to your brain’s composition, especially to those in recovery. Without dopamine, you may feel more intense cravings for substances and a depressed mood. Various amino acids are found in different foods, but a great place to start is fish, poultry, eggs, bananas, and dairy.
#3. Dietary Fats
“Good” fats, such as dietary fats, can help reduce inflammation in the brain, which helps restore neuroplasticity. Omega-3s and omega-6s are examples of these “good fats” and can also increase neurotransmitter uptake in the brain. Foods high in these fats include vegetable oil, nuts, seeds, and corn.
Nutrition in Recovery
When struggling with addiction, drastic changes are made to your body from the functions of your organs to your brain’s neuroplasticity. That’s why it’s essential to partake in a healthy, balanced diet packed with the proper nutrients. While those listed above are a great starting point for restoring your health, it’s not an exhaustive list. Dietary restrictions, types of substances used, and duration of use can all impact the nutrients you should prioritize.
The best way to ensure that you’re setting your body and yourself up for success is by meeting with a physician or nutrition specialist to discuss your needs. Together, you can create a meal plan that supports the specific needs of your body.
Nutrition is an important part of every person’s life. The food we eat contain nutrients that fuel our bodies and support our brain. However, the diet of those in recovery from addiction is even more important. Addiction changes your body and brain at an intimate level. Your organs and brain may suffer in ways you’re not even aware of. Due to this, you must be consuming nutrients that support your body in the way that it needs. Meeting with a physician or nutrient specialist to create a meal plan that works for your body’s needs is crucial for lasting recovery. For more information on how your diet could impact your recovery, call West Coast Recovery Centers at (760) 492-6509.