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How Healthy Eating Can Help You Stay Sober - Ascendant New York
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How Healthy Eating Can Help You Stay Sober

February 11, 2019

For those recovering from substance abuse and addiction, getting the body back to a healthy state of homeostasis can not only prolong life, it can also help to mitigate the side effects and cravings that are associated with ceasing the drug use. Eating healthy is a solid approach toward regaining your physical and mental equilibrium, and can aid in your journey toward wholeness.

Persistent drug and alcohol abuse negatively affects the condition of the body in multiple ways. Some substances block the body’s ability to properly process vitamins and minerals, meaning that vital nutritional components – such as potassium and niacin – are passed through the system without having an opportunity to work. Certain drugs, such as opiates, also tend to elevate blood sugar levels, which can result in the user developing stage-two diabetes, or even lapsing into a diabetic coma.

With many substances, there also exists the side effect of dehydration. Without adequate fluid levels in the body, vital systems cannot receive the support that is needed. Symptoms of dehydration include dry mouth; infrequent urination; and dizziness. Acute, devastating, symptoms arise as a response to lowered blood volume and a lack of electrolytes being delivered, and can result in a lack of oxygen, seizures, and kidney failure. Substances which are particularly prone toward causing dehydration are alcohol and amphetamines.

Replenishing the body’s supply of fluids and nutrients is a vital part of successful addiction recovery, and the experience of treating yourself well through mindful eating can result in a healthy, lasting, change in lifestyle perspective.

Physical Benefits of Healthy Eating

When choosing foods to best support your recovery, consider what your body has been lacking as a result of your substance abuse. Certain substances tend to affect certain bodily systems more than others, and determining your specific nutritional deficits is a good place to start. In some cases, it may be beneficial to undergo a blood panel procedure with your medical provider. Blood tests can reveal deficits and excesses that are present in your current condition, and can provide a road map for your new, nutritional, goals. Some of the vital nutrients, and their benefits in aiding recovery, are listed below:

  • Niacin: A deficiency in niacin can result in skin irritation, diarrhea, and mental confusion. Alcohol is a specific culprit in reducing the body’s supply of niacin, but there are other substances which reduce this nutrient, as well. Proper levels of niacin result in better metabolism; a better functioning nervous system; and more antioxidants to fight off damaging free radicals within the body. Niacin is not stored for long within the body, so a regular supply is necessary. Foods which can be incorporated into a niacin-rich diet include fish, chicken, beef, and pork. For the vegetarian, foods such as peanuts; avocados; mushrooms; and potatoes can supply this nutrient.
  • Potassium: Potassium has the ability to conduct electricity within the body. The presence – or absence – of potassium affects the ability of the body to transmit signals to nerves and to regulate fluid levels. A lack of potassium can result in weakness; muscle cramps; abdominal issues; and heart palpitations, many of which are the acute symptoms present within opiate withdrawal. Potassium can remove excess sodium from the body, resulting in reduced hypertension. Foods that are rich in potassium include many fruits; cooked spinach and broccoli; eggplant; and cucumbers. Mushrooms and potatoes also make another appearance, in this category.
  • Vitamin D: Not only is vitamin D vital for forming strong bones and a healthy immune system, lack of it has also been implemented in instances of developing cancer. This nutrient works by assisting cells to communicate properly. A deficiency in vitamin D can result in frequent illnesses; fatigue; muscle pain; and even depression. Getting a healthy dose of daily sunlight is the primary way to replenish the vitamin in your body, but certain foods can also assist. Foods rich in vitamin D include diary products, egg yolks, and fish.
  • Thiamin: Thiamin is one of the essential B vitamins. It helps the body to regulate sugars, and contributes to healthy heart and muscle function. Unlike with other nutrients, the presence of adequate levels of thiamine are not discernible through a blood test. Symptoms of a lack thiamin include poor memory; poor sleeping habits; poor reflexes; and muscle cramps. These symptoms also tend to be present during withdrawal from addictive substances. The primary way of adding more thiamin to your body is through eating whole grain foods, such as bread; rice; and oatmeal.

Psychological Benefits of Healthy Eating

In addition to the physical benefits, a healthy diet is increasingly considered to be a vital part of maintaining our psychological health. As mentioned, nutrients within a healthy diet can directly assist in relieving the negative psychological experiences that are often present during withdrawal and recovery. Emerging studies also indicate that, in addition to the specific anxiety and depression relieving affects of some vitamins and minerals, choosing to follow a healthy diet may result in improved mental health, overall.

The psychological effect which can arise from a focus on healthy eating can be its own reward. This “food-mood connection” suggests that those who eat nutritious food, at regular intervals, experience more peaceful and positive emotions throughout their day. Energy that is gained from nutrition-rich foods is better sustained, as well, and is free from the crashing effects that are experienced with sugar, caffeine, and other stimulants. So, not only are those who eat healthy more happy, they also have more daily energy to devote to their recovery.

As experiencing negative thoughts and emotions is a primary risk factor in relapse, promoting psychological wellness through engaging in healthy eating can be an important safeguard. Successful drug treatment programs will do well to incorporate this focus on nutrition into their holistic approach toward recovery. For those seeking to improve their nutritional habits on their own, there are many guiding resources that are available, online.

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