Do you know the difference between diet and nutrition? Many times, these two terms are used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. A diet is something temporary to either achieve temporary results or a necessity based on circumstances. Nutrition is a healthy lifestyle choice that should be practical and sustainable.
Negative Effects of Addiction on Food Intake
People with substance use disorder (SUD) tend to live a chaotic lifestyle. Money is usually spent on drugs or alcohol rather than on necessities like healthy food. Many people either skip meals or rely on fast foods that are high in refined carbohydrates and low in good nutrients. Over time, this may severely compromise their food intake, sometimes leading to malnutrition.
Studies have shown that cocaine users have irregular eating patterns and rely mainly on one meal eaten late at night. Even during detoxification, many people may still report going through a period of low food intake. As they experience nausea and gastrointestinal problems—common withdrawal symptoms—eating may make them feel unwell and becomes a low priority.
The same research also shows that people with SUD crave sugar and sweet foods between the first and sixth months of sobriety. After six months, these cravings will level off, and positive dietary changes can be integrated more effectively.
Short-Term Dietary Changes During Recovery
Residential treatment can help change the previous dietary habits of recovering individuals. Professionals closely monitor their food intake, weight changes, and BMI. As their overall intake of nutritious foods increases, their micro- and macronutrient intakes change for the positive.
Because these dietary changes happen in a medically monitored environment, these positive changes can be only temporary without nutritional intervention aimed at effective lifestyle modification. Once residential treatment is completed, there is no guarantee that recovering individuals won’t fall back into poor eating habits.
Physical exercise and sleep quality are two factors that influence people’s dietary intake. While in residential treatment, a structured life directed by medical professionals may benefit these two areas. However, again, there is no guarantee that recovering individuals will implement the same nutritional regimen they used in the treatment center into their lives after leaving.
Preparing for Long-Term Lifestyle Changes
Health professionals must create treatment plans with the vision of achieving long-term lifestyle changes. Sobriety is not the end goal; the goal is a healthy lifestyle, which can be lasting even when relapses happen. As the saying goes, give a man healthy meals and he’ll eat healthy for a day; teach him how to prepare himself healthy meals, and he’ll eat healthy for a lifetime.
While in residential recovery, health professionals should use this time to educate people extensively about the connection between SUD recovery and proper nutrition so they can implement those principles into their lives post-treatment.
Nutrition Intake and Mental Health Improvement
Focusing on a nutrient-rich food intake lifestyle is important for improving mental health. This is important for relapse prevention. Essential micronutrients play an important role in mood regulation. Deficiencies or insufficiencies of these nutrients have been found to correlate with poor mental health. Ideally, a recovering individual who has completed residential treatment should be able to supply themselves with well-balanced, calorically-appropriate meals as a manifestation of lifestyle change.
Similarly, exercise and sleep play into mental health and recovery. Exercise is thought to stimulate some of the same circuits in the brain as most substances, so promoting healthy activities may be a good way to replace old behaviors. Lack of sleep can lead to decreased well-being, reduced cognitive function, and reduced energy, so encouraging patients to practice healthful bedtime routines is beneficial.
They should also be informed about the risks of transfer addictions, like caffeine and tobacco. Low caffeine intake and smoking cessation have been shown to improve long-term sobriety for all addictions. Caffeine intake should be monitored, as it triggers the same reward centers of the brain as substances and can markedly impact anxiety and sleep.
Nutritional Adjustments as Self-Care and Relapse Prevention
Even more than aiding recovery, proper nutrition is a form of self-care and relapse prevention. Improper or imbalanced eating habits can run counter to well-being. Below are warning signs of risky food-related behaviors to watch out for in recovery:
- Skipping meals or not eating enough
- Choosing unhealthy food options
- Irregular or absent nutrient-rich food intake
- Binge eating and other eating disorders
If you aren’t sure how to eat right or how to prepare nutritional meals, most addiction treatment centers offer nutritional counseling. In fact, nutritional counseling should be offered throughout all stages of the treatment process. Although these concepts are basic, their implications are far-reaching.
A nutritional counselor may also suggest an all-around overhaul of one’s lifestyle to establish new routines and reduce idle time. Apart from a high level of awareness about nutritional intake, these two areas are also good relapse prevention practices.
Are you aware of the many benefits of nutritional therapy during recovery? You should not neglect the food-mood connection, which is essential for your recovery and long-term well-being. If you suffer from addiction-related eating disorders or malnutrition, seek help from health professionals who can help you rebuild healthy nutritional intake habits. Chronic malnutrition or eating disorders, if left untreated, may contribute to cravings and relapses. Nutritional therapy is an important part of any treatment plan. At Laguna Shores Recovery, we have experienced mental health professionals who can coach you through recovering from addiction and instill good nutritional habits for your recovery. We customize treatment plans for every client. Schedule an appointment with us today to discover how we can help you. Call us now at (866) 229-9923, and we would be happy to talk with you about short-term and long-term recovery plans, including nutritional coaching.