What you put into your body can have a huge impact on how well you sleep, how you feel physically, and how you feel mentally – which can all, in turn, significantly alter how well you manage cravings and triggers for relapse. Just like making poor choices in food intake (e.g., lots of fried and fatty foods and not enough vegetables, eating far too little food or too much, etc.) can make it difficult to get quality sleep and have the motivation and energy to take care of yourself physically and mentally, making positive food choices can increase your energy levels and mood, which will help you to make other positive choices in life and recovery.
Not sure where to begin? Here are 10 tips, some indicating a major shift and some that are relatively small, that can have a big impact on your recovery:
- Eat more fruits and vegetables. It’s important to take in a range of vitamins and nutrients each day. While there are lots of multivitamins sold with the goal of helping you meet your nutritional goals, your body will be better able to utilize those nutrients if they are ingested in a food source.
One of the quickest and easiest ways to get a range of nutrients into your diet is to bulk up on local, fresh fruits and vegetables. A good rule of thumb is to make sure that half your plate is covered in fruits and vegetables at lunch and dinner, and to figure out how to add a serving or two into breakfast (think an omelet with spinach and mushrooms or fresh berries on top of oatmeal). If the season or the region where you live makes it difficult for you to get a wide selection of fresh produce, buying frozen – not canned – will help to ensure that you get the nutrients you need.
- Cut back on processed foods. Crackers, cereals, meal replacement bars, and prepackaged baked goods – all of these may be convenient, but they are not very filling and offer little in the way of actual nutrients and vitamins. Many are packed with trans fats and soy fillers, neither of which are what your body needs. Ultimately, choosing the “convenience” of premade food items over fresh, whole foods can mean filling up on empty calories rather than getting good nutrition.
- Enjoy sugar and salt in moderation. There’s nothing wrong with having a sweet treat every now and then or adding salt to your food for flavor, but too much can have a negative impact on your body. You can quickly and easily cut back on both sugar and salt by following #2 and cutting back on processed foods. Those prepackaged mixes, bars, and crackers are often loaded with sodium and sugar.
- Choose whole grains. Making sure that the breads and pasta you eat are made with at least 50 percent whole grains is a simple way to boost overall health in recovery. Though eating extra servings of whole grains is not recommended, choosing whole grain items whenever possible – or making your own – can help to make sure that the grain-based foods you eat are as nutritious and fiber-filled as possible.
- Do not eliminate any food group entirely. Though there are a number of diets out there that would direct you to cut out one or more food groups with the goal of “cleansing,” “resetting your body’s metabolism,” or losing weight, this is not a healthy choice, nor is it sustainable. In recovery, seeking balance in all things, including food, is recommended.
- Eat consciously. If you struggle with eating the right foods, eating too much or too little, or eating when you are not hungry, choosing to eat with intention is a good way to begin making positive choices with food in recovery. This means choosing foods based on their nutritive value and not just their taste, preparing a plate with healthy portions rather than eating out of a bag, and sitting down to eat and doing nothing else – including looking at your phone – until you are done eating. The more conscious you are of the foods your body needs, the more present you are when you fill those needs, and the less likely you will be to engage in mindless eating, overeating, and emotional eating.
- Plan ahead. If you find that you are often in a situation where you have a finite amount of time to eat or few healthy and affordable food choices, plan ahead. This can mean cooking a double portion of dinner so you have an extra meal in the freezer after late nights at work, making snack bags to carry with you when you have to eat on the go, prepping a healthy breakfast the night before, or making your lunch ahead of time to bring with you to work.
- Track your eating if needed. If you are working toward a food goal and want to make sure, for example, that you’re eating five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, drinking eight glasses of water, or taking in the right number of calories, track it! There’s nothing like consistently gathered data to demonstrate patterns and see how far you’ve come.
- Create food-based goals instead of appearance-based goals. It’s natural to want to create goals based on appearance – especially weight loss or gain – and use food to try to achieve those goals. Progress can be slow, however, and there are so many other benefits to eating well in recovery. It can be a better choice to create other goals. Create a goal to eat at least a dozen different fruits and vegetables every week, or cut out fried or fast foods, and celebrate your progress every week you reach those goals.
- Work with a nutritional therapist. If you are having a hard time experiencing benefits from making positive food changes, work with a nutritional therapist. Everyone is different, and some foods may be of great benefit to one person and less so to someone else. After addiction, there may be certain nutritional areas that need more attention, and working with a nutritional therapist will help you to create goals that make sense for you.