One critical factor in addiction recovery that is often overlooked is the importance of exercise and proper nutrition. During active alcoholism and drug addiction, terrible eating habits are the general rule –a never-ending supply of fatty fast food, empty junk food, and overeating (or not eating at all), combined with the physical deterioration that happens to so many people with substance abuse problems, can easily lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies, causing many related health problems.
Eating Right to Get Right
Alcohol is a co-carcinogen –meaning it promotes the growth of cancerous tumors. Long-term drinking is linked with an elevated risk of diabetes, osteoporosis, and cancers of the pancreas, liver, colon, and breast. There is also evidence of a connection between heavy drinking and a greater incidence of age-related eye and muscle conditions. While quitting alcohol and drugs is the best thing a person can do for their health, there might be years’ worth of damage left to undo. Therefore, the next thing a person in recovery should do for their health is to start paying close attention to the foods they eat. Many nutritional scientists believe that an individual’s diet may be responsible for causing as much as 40% of all cancers – and perhaps up to 70%. Eating foods rich in the proper nutrients can restore much of what active addiction took away, and just may be the deciding factor when it comes to whether or not an individual develops a disease later on. An unexpected but wonderfully welcome side effect of healthy nutrition is that any associated changes in lifestyle can help curb cravings and arrest compulsive behaviors, which in turn prevents relapse. Often, individuals who are new to addiction recovery can easily mistake the hunger symptoms–headache, dizziness, nausea, and irritability– with an actual physical craving for drugs or alcohol. This makes it easy to have a slip or a full-blown relapse. Gaining the ability to recognize a hunger pang for what it IS rather than what it ISN’T can assist the alcoholic/addict in recovery to keep the proper perspective and allow them to make better choices. People in early recovery typically endure some degree of withdrawal, usually evidenced by such symptoms as problems with memory/concentration or sleep disruption. A good diet can help lessen the worst of the symptoms and shorten the overall duration of the withdrawal process. There are a few easily-implemented “Good Habits” that a person in recovery needs to adopt in order to manage both cravings and hunger, and most importantly, to help them adhere to a healthy diet that supports their sobriety.
- ALWAYS MAKE TIME FOR BREAKFAST – Having a balanced meal every morning helps “reprogram” a recovering alcoholic/addict’s body to expect nourishment at the beginning of the day. Just as important, starting the day with nutritious fuel helps the person in recovery avoid the dreaded “H” – Hunger, which can act as a trigger.
- KEEP HEALTHY SNACKS AND DRINKS NEARBY–This is absolutely crucial. When normal daytime hunger happens, the first step is to recognize it for what it actually is – hunger, not a craving for alcohol or drugs. The next step is to satisfy that hunger with something fast and healthy.
Fruit, granola bars, yogurt, and nuts are all sources of quick energy that can conveniently be taken anywhere. Milk, fruit juice, tea, and especially bottled water should also be carried. Soda, even diet soda, is nothing but empty calories. The convenience of having the snacks at hand helps eliminate other unhealthy choices like fast food or sugar-laden vending machine snacks.
- PLAN FOR THE DAY –Most individuals in recovery who are really working their Plan find themselves with very busy schedules, so it is a good idea to have a plan in place that can help reduce temptation.
That could mean something as simple as bringing their lunch each day – perhaps a soup and sandwich or reheatable leftovers, no fuss, no muss. For other people, the temptation might lie in the options for dining out. On a given day, for instance, the only available nearby restaurant choice could be a bar and grill during happy hour. It’s obviously that during early recovery, this could be a particularly bad idea. It may be necessary to allow extra time to find alternate dining options. There may be a bit more travel involved, but prior planning will help remove any temptations and allow for better, healthier choices.
- AVOID “TRIGGERS” –People in recovery should take great care to refrain from eating any foods prepared with alcohol as an ingredient. Contrary to the accepted belief, alcohol doesn’t “burn off” during the cooking process. Rather, up to 85% of alcohol can still be present after cooking, dependent upon the method of cooking and alcohol type used.
Strong cravings can be triggered in a number of different ways – eating food prepared with alcohol, the smell of alcohol, and in some instances, merely looking at a bar glass or liquor bottle. If that’s the reality in your case, isn’t it is much better to suffer a modicum of inconvenience in order to avoid that particular trigger? If the individual in recovery is dining out at a restaurant, they should never hesitate to ask how the food is prepared, to avoid any inadvertent, “accidental” alcohol consumption. Similarly, a recovering alcoholic/addict might find it necessary to change their eating habits if there were any dishes or establishments that played any part in their drinking/drugging daily lives.
How Exercise Can Help
Once you start eating right, you will start feeling increased energy, and you can use this energy to start moving right. There are several proven positives to regular physical exercise that are of great benefit to recovering addicts and alcoholics who hope to repair some of the damage.
- Reduces Stress
- Reintroduces Natural Endorphins
- Helps Alleviate the Symptoms of Depression
- Increased Energy Levels
- Inspires Self-Confidence
- Eliminates Boredom
- Improves the Individual’s Mood
Exercising and striving for optimal nutrition during recovery does not have to be a chore. Think of it instead as an investment of time. Proper nutrition and exercise today – eating to replenish depleted nutrients – will help make tomorrow’s recovery both healthier and easier.