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Nutrition Education Is Vital In Addiction Recovery

Across the board it’s hard to always make sure we’re eating healthy, whole foods that nourish not only the body, but also the mind. Those suffering from alcoholism, however, are often severely malnourished and unsure of where to begin when it comes to caring for their bodies and overall health. For this reason, it is vitally important that rehabilitation and treatment centers address nutrition education.

Addiction And Malnutrition

For individuals struggling with alcoholism and other addictions, the intense desire to use often overpowers every other basic human need, including the drive to eat. Generally, all substance abuse compromises an individual’s dietary habits and overall wellness; people who use will often neglect to eat at all or if they do, there is little to no thought about what they are putting in their bodies and the nutritional value or health benefits. Thus, they are deficient in many essential vitamins and nutrients which can negatively impact various equilibrating functions of the body.

For example, heavy Cocaine users usually only eat one meal a day, consisting of foods with high carbohydrates and sugars and no fruits or vegetables. Stimulants, like Cocaine and Methamphetamine are appetite suppressants and the more that is consumed, the higher chance the reward mechanism in the brain will release dopamine, one of the neurotransmitters responsible for regulating mood. This, in turn, affects the pleasure receptors which can reduce the presence of hormones that produce appetite. Those grappling with alcoholism can suffer from a multitude of health issues ranging from cardiac trouble to neurological conditions.

One study found that there is a substantial correlation between individuals with varying substance use disorders and a preference for sugar and sweet taste. In many cases, the beginning stages of rehab saw recovering users substituting sugar for their drug of choice. However, there is also research that education and increased knowledge of nutrition seems to positively affect the dietary choices in populations of individuals in detox therapy for substance use.

Nutrition In Treatment Facilities

Addiction medicine specialist, Dr. Ashish Bhatt, MD says that education is the most important factor when it comes to improving nutrition in addiction recovery treatment. In many facilities, specifically in inpatient programs, there are nutritionists on staff who instruct patients on proper health and the importance of a balanced diet for optimal functioning. Dr. Bhatt states that most individuals in programs for substance abuse rehabilitation and recovery do not have a baseline understanding of basic principles of health. Besides, “there are many people who don’t have substance use problems, but don’t know how to eat correctly, so it becomes a little bit more complex when we’re talking about people who do have an issue with substances,” he explained in a podcast episode.

As much as the act of eating is a physical experience, it is important to not neglect the psychological component of choosing various foods and meals. A purposeful approach is to think of eating as the method by which we fuel our bodies. This shifts the practice away from solely satiating the appetite or silencing a craving. This is where an emphasis on establishing healthy habits and a general awareness of nutrition and body wellness comes in. Patients must learn about the various food groups like fats, carbohydrates, and proteins and what each of these actually does within and to the body; what’s more, they must learn to eventually override the instinct to simply reach for the closest, easiest, and cheapest option and instead choose a healthy, balanced meal.

Nutrition awareness and education in rehab is a complex phenomenon and process because not only is every patient different, but so is every addiction. Specialists must take bloodwork and determine a baseline standard of the individual’s overall health and tailor directions and information to their needs accordingly. Instituting healthy habits and practices does not happen from one day to the next, but often over the course of weeks, months, and years of recovery. It is because of this lengthy and often arduous journey that a mindset shift is crucial to success; if health can begin to be viewed as a life-long commitment, eating healthy foods may seem more manageable and attainable, especially for those recovering from addiction.

Importance Of Nutrition And Intentional Eating

Considering our mindset is a large governing voice in the way we all live and conduct our lives, it’s not surprising that such a strong emphasis is placed on the mind, body, and spirit functioning as one when treating individuals with substance use disorders. Food can often fill an emotional void or act as a replacement for a drug when its true purpose is so much greater: to nourish and fuel the body. Thus, without the building blocks of an education in health and nutrition during addiction treatment, simply providing healthy meals will hardly be beneficial in the long run.

While the internet can be overwhelming and occasionally contradictory, there are tons of resources on nutrition from classifications of foods and how they interact with the body to foods that can boost and support mental health. If you’re looking for a place to start, contact your primary care physician to ask for dietary advice. In general, the human body requires higher amounts of macronutrients like carbs, proteins, fats, and water and slightly less micronutrients like minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants. A balanced diet should consist of a combination of all these basic essentials. By learning more about the importance of proper, ideal nutrition, eating and interacting with food can become a self-fulfilling prophecy with lifesaving power, especially for those in addiction recovery.

Reach Out And Get Help Today

If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use, you likely know the devastation and disappointment that goes hand in hand. You are not alone and there are resources available to assist you. Reach out to a treatment provider  to learn more about different rehabilitation programs and facilities and get your questions answered. Begin a fresh, new chapter today.

  • Author: Hannah Zwemer | Last Updated: May 10, 2022

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    Hannah Zwemer

    Hannah Zwemer graduated with a BA in dance and a minor in educational studies from Denison University in 2017 before moving to Orlando to work as a performer at Walt Disney World. While at Disney, she discovered her passion for writing and pursued a master’s degree in creative writing with an emphasis in nonfiction. She is passionate about helping people in any way she can while simultaneously sharing stories that remind us that the best of us are still only human.

  • Medical Reviewer: David Hampton

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