Food is Medicine When You’re Detoxing or in Early Sobriety
Detoxing and early recovery from habitual use of alcohol or other drugs of dependence can be challenging physically, mentally, and emotionally. Balanced nutrition helps optimize energy, rebalance neurochemicals, and reduce cravings in sobriety – no extreme diets needed. It can also head off the temptation to turn to food as a substitute addiction when those cravings do strike! In my first post on What to Expect When You’re Detoxing, I outlined common nutrition and health impacts of habitual substance use. Here, we will consider general wellness and nutrition strategies that will help most people rebound to health. In future posts, we’ll dive into the details for specific substances and typical health challenges in long-term recovery, with strategies to support healing at every stage.
Holistic wellness strategies for detoxing
If you are detoxing or in early sobriety, incorporate the following tips into your lifestyle now, to ensure you feel better, faster. (If you have specific food restrictions or questions, consider consulting a qualified nutritionist about your needs.)
Keep drinking – water, that is!
Staying hydrated helps your body remove toxins and wastes. Dehydration can lead to irritability, headaches, and low mood or energy. Additionally, it can be mistaken for hunger or cravings for substances. Water is the best choice – add citrus slices to keep it interesting or brew herbal teas. Stick with non-caffeinated teas, and be cautious about coffee. This is because caffeine can spike anxiety, interfere with sleep, and potentially trigger the same reward centers in the brain as do drugs of abuse.
Consume healthy proteins at every meal.
Foods such as beans, tofu, and fish provide the building blocks for muscles, immune cells, and mood-stabilizing neurotransmitters. They help ease the blood sugar swings that may accompany detox and amp up cravings and irritability. A balanced and varied diet provides enough protein for most people’s needs, and consuming it spread throughout the day ensures maximum utilization.
Avoid added sugars.
Added sugars are bad news because they negatively impact blood sugar balance, add excess calories, and can trigger the same neural pathways in the brain that drugs of addiction do, while offering no health benefit. This is not to say that you should never eat dessert again – it’s part of a joyous life for many people to find balance between over-using sugar vs. completely swearing off anything that seems too tasty. Balance means not relying on sugar to manage the physical and psychological discomforts of life, while still allowing yourself the occasional sweet treat.
Love your gut.
Probiotic foods like yogurt and sauerkraut provide digestive and mood support, among other benefits currently being researched. Vegetables and whole grains nourish the healthy bacteria already in your gut to enhance immunity, and eating this way can even lead to cravings…for more healthy foods! If you are abstaining from alcohol, skip the kombucha – many commercially available products have a small percentage of alcohol left from the fermentation process, and any health benefit it provides is not worth potentially derailing your sobriety.
Enjoy healthy fats.
Avocado, nuts, olive and coconut oil – these delicious plant-based fats are necessary for optimal brain function and absorption of some vitamins. Omega-3 fats (from flax, walnuts, and fish like wild salmon and sardines) are also key, as they may decrease depression and chronic inflammation whilst increasing brain and heart health.
Eat every 3 – 4 hours.
Early recovery is not the time to experiment with trendy diets like intermittent fasting. During detox, hunger signals from the body can be faulty, easily missed, or misinterpreted – often as a desire to use. Your body and brain need the nutrients provided by regular mealtimes in order to heal and further balance your blood sugar, calming those cravings.
Maybe take a multivitamin.
A moderate dose multi can help ensure your body has all the micronutrients needed to support detox. Beware supplement pushers who want to sell you mega-loads of high-dose pills – it is usually unnecessary and expensive to invest in that kind of stockpile. Some people also find it triggering to be counting out capsules again – even if this time around, it’s vitamins rather than pain pills.
Regular physical movement improves mood and resets neurochemical balance in your brain, while helping ensure any changes to your weight are healthful. Get your heart pumping for 20 minutes at least once a day to unlock the flow of “feel good” neurotransmitters, and make it part of your daily routine as you continue your recovery.
Find like-minded friends.
Social support is key for maintaining sobriety…and also for maintaining positive changes to your diet. If 12 Step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous are part of your recovery plan, invite other members to join you for healthy activities such as going for walks. Refuge Recovery is based on Buddhist principles of mindful awareness and is open to anyone who identifies as being “in recovery” – offering all the more fellowship on the journey to well-being. Some rely on other programs or their circle of family and friends for encouragement and accountability. Whatever works best for you, make it a priority to stay connected. These relationships make it easier to maintain new habits…and they definitely make it more fun!
Mind your moments.
Mindfulness can help you learn to distinguish between hunger, craving, and emotional overwhelm – all of which may seem like a blur in early sobriety. These practices can be a natural extension of remaining sober “one day, or one breath, at a time”. Mindfulness can include formal meditation, but it doesn’t have to. It could simply mean taking a moment to notice how your hands feel, practicing mindful eating, or enjoying a long, deep breath. If you are curious to learn more, there are a variety of books about mindfulness written especially for people in recovery.
Recover your mindset.
The initial detox period can seem like a tough time to make additional healthy changes, like improving your diet. Empower your recovery by reframing your perspective – this is actually the ideal time to create a foundation of vibrant well-being for your future. And when we feel healthy and strong, it’s easier to stay excited about recovery.
Nutrition and wellness make detoxing and early sobriety easier
Detoxing from habitual substance use is a momentous transition that opens the door to transformation in every aspect of life. Complementing sobriety with the right nutrition and wellness strategies helps you feel more balanced, more often. This optimizes our energy and increases our odds of long-term success in recovery – with a side effect of feeling better right now!
If you have questions about the content in this article, or want to learn more about how you can build a nutrition plan that supports holistic recovery in your life, contact Lulu Cook, RDN at Gut Feeling Holistic Health for a free discussion about your needs.
Banner image courtesy of Push Doctor.