Imagine you’re on the high diving board at a public pool. Or maybe you’re waiting backstage for your big solo. Waiting for an important phone call. We’ve always referred to that feeling as “butterflies in your stomach,” but have you ever wondered why?
Anxiety, cravings, and excitement all manifest in our gut. This part of the body is so sensitive that scientists call it “the second brain.” In fact, 95% of our body’s serotonin receptors live in our guts. Nutrition has a major impact on the way our brains and bodies respond to stress. Early addiction recovery is stressful. Whether recovering from drug addiction or suffering with alcohol withdrawal symptoms, our bodies are undergoing massive changes that produce high levels of cortisol. These levels can increase both our cravings and anxiety. But if our guts are like our second brain, then nutrition can help.
Withdrawal symptoms can severely impact appetite so it’s important to be sensitive to what your body is asking for. Mindful attention to hunger cues and how you respond to them is the first step to incorporating nutrition into your recovery. Nutrition, like anything else, is a practice.
Things to look for when choosing foods for recovery:
- Think greens, grains and fruits. These should make up half your total daily food intake. Carbs contain higher levels of serotonin and will give you high energy levels.
- Dark, leafy greens are high in iron and fibre, which make you feel fuller for longer.
- Finding fruits that are high in vitamin C will help to improve your immune system.
- Pasta and bread also fall into the carb family and are great in moderation.
- Let’s be honest, we need our food to taste good too.
- Our brains are 60% fat. This means that if we want our brain to heal, healthy fats are our friend.
- Mindful attention, meditation and affirmations are all great tools to reprogram the pathways in our brains which can lead to long-term addiction recovery.
- Adding fat to your diet will improve brain function, repair the nervous system and provide a slow-releasing energy source throughout the day.
- Healthy fats come from fish, oils (canola, olive, flaxseed), and everyone’s favourite fruit that looks like a vegetable: avocado.
- These are the builders in the body. This essential nutrient is responsible for muscle growth, repairing connective tissue, producing hormones and neurotransmitters and so much more.
- Certain types of protein are also a great source of vitamin B-12; something that is deficient in many who are in active drug addiction.
R. A. T.
- If cooking a meal feels too challenging on a given day, (particularly if your appetite is reduced due to withdrawal) you can always fall back on the BRAT diet. Bananas, rice, apples, toast. My mom swears by B.R.A.T to this day and recommends it for anyone who is feeling sick.
Nutrition is frequently overlooked as a vital part to success in addiction recovery because it’s often tied to physical, rather than mental health. But good, mindful nutrition can increase levels of focus, confidence and motivation; which are essential for successful recovery.
To be clear, nutrition is not the same as going on a diet. When in early recovery, withdrawal symptoms and cravings can be a very real part of daily life. Restricting your caloric intake on top of that can feel impossible. Recovery-based nutrition isn’t about focusing on what you shouldn’t eat, but about being thoughtful about what you do eat.
Nutrition, like sleep, and exercise is an act of self-care. Feeding your body what it needs sends your brain the message that you are committed to your recovery. The best practice is to focus on finding ways to incorporate carbs, fats and protein into your daily meals – and know that sugar is okay in moderation.