French physician Anthelme Brillat-Savarin famously said, “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are”, a phrase that was translated from French to English, before morphing into the more commonly known, “You are what you eat”.
This phrase perfectly describes the effect that your diet has on your physiology, as well as your psychology. Simply put, if you want to remain in optimum health, then you need optimum nutrition. Not only is this true of the general population, but it’s something that needs to be taken on board by those battling with addiction in its many forms.
Commonly abused drugs like meth not only restrict the way that your body absorbs and processes vitamins, but they can also remain in your system for many weeks after use, reducing the positive effect that a good diet has and exacerbating the damage that a bad diet causes. If you want to battle withdrawals, or you want to stave off the looming, nagging threat of relapse, then there is no better place to begin than with your diet.
In this guide we’ll help you to keep your natural fortifications up, sharing our 4 nutritional tips for staying sober to help you create a strong, healthy foundation on which you can battle your addiction.
The word “detox” has been misused a lot over the last couple of decades. The truth is that you can’t magically heal your body by fasting for a few days, drinking a lot of water and giving yourself an enema. However, it shouldn’t be dismissed altogether. Not only are even the most extreme detox programs still firmly rooted in truth, but the process of detoxing, when done right, can be hugely beneficial to your health.
The best way to view—and indeed to perform—a detox, is as a shake-up of your physiology. It’s an “out with the old, in with the new” way of looking at your diet and your health. If you’ve been addicted to substances for any length of time then not only will your body have suffered directly, but it may have also suffered indirectly, as drug addicts often struggle to eat right and to care for themselves.
A detox is essentially a way of going cold turkey from one way of living in order to enter into another. Try all of the following for a week, or even just for a few days:
1. Eliminate sugar
2. Eliminate additives and sweeteners
3. Cut down on caffeine
4. Eat more fresh food and less processed food
That’s it. No need to load up on supplements. no need to choke-down nasty “diet drinks” as the celebrities do. You don’t even need to increase your exercise or reduce your calories. This is a mental test as much as a physical one, and it’s one that stops you from consuming foods that can have a negative effect on your brain chemistry.
Once you have made it through those difficult days you should try to stick to this diet over the long-term. By all means, consume a little sugar and a little caffeine, but don’t go overboard. And when you do, think about how it made you feel and then think back to how you felt during the detox. In many cases detoxing patients realize that while the cravings for sugar and processed foods were high, the actual act of eating those substances didn’t bring them any sense of satisfaction and merely made them feel guilty.
3. Eat Regularly and Maintain Sugar Levels
When we hear the words “sugar levels” we think of the processed white stuff and use “maintaining sugar levels” as an excuse to binge on something we know is bad for us. It is important to maintain your sugar levels, even more so when you’re in recovery, but you don’t need processed sugar to do this.
Your body simply needs a hit of carbohydrates, and the healthier those carbs are, the better. The best way to keep your sugar levels high is to eat every few hours. Instead of consuming 2 or 3 large meals a day, eat 5 or 6 smaller meals. You should still try to hit your RDA of calories, but you should avoid pigging-out on too much food at once. Not only can this cause a spike in your insulin levels, but it will also cause a bigger crash when those levels eventually come down.
By consuming smaller meals throughout the day you’re giving your body a steady dose of energy, limiting rises and falls and ensuring that you feel better and you function better.
If you find that you struggle to eat so many meals, whether because you’re just not a big eater or because the withdrawals have restricted your appetite, then simply carry around healthy snacks and eat these whenever you feel your energy levels dipping. Dried fruit, oat bars, nuts, seeds and even pieces of fresh fruit and vegetables are perfect for this.
2. Antioxidants and Probiotics
Your body is an ecosystem, one that contains millions of bacteria all working to keep you alive and to ensure you function the way you do. If you have abused drugs for any length of time, then this workforce will be depleted, weakened, and not capable of performing as it usually would.
This is most evident in the case of gut bacteria. This bacteria is essential for keeping you regular, which can have a huge impact on your overall well being. The bacteria in your gut works to break down food and to process waste, but it can be destroyed by excessive consumption of processed foods, drugs and alcohol. Even a dose of antibiotics can adversely affect this bacteria.
This is your body’s front line, so make sure you consume probiotics in order to keep it manned. The best way to do this is via the consumption of prebiotic and probiotic yogurts, which contain live bacteria, as well as the food that those bacteria need.
You should also increase your intake of antioxidants. If gut bacteria is the front line, then these are the special forces. Antioxidants eliminate disease-causing free radicals from your body, strengthening your immune system, reducing the risk of illness and generally making you feel healthier.
Antioxidants can be found in all kinds of fruits and vegetables. The scale on which a food’s antioxidant content is measured is known as the ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity), and some of the biggest scoring foods include:
• Berries (goji berries, wild blueberries, blackberries)
• Kidney Beans
• Grapes (the darker the better)
• Tea (Matcha is one of the best, but black, green, red and white teas also score highly)
• Green Veg (kale, spinach, broccoli)
• Sweet Potatoes
1. Eat Well to Feel Great
When an addict stops abusing an addictive drug, they are sent spiraling into withdrawals. Their body has become accustomed to that drug. It relies on it. It needs it. And when it doesn’t have it, it essentially revolts. Withdrawal symptoms are incredibly unpleasant and often mirror the euphoria that the user experienced while high. Heroin withdrawal, for instance, causes restlessness, cold shivers and a general feeling of malaise, all of which are in stark contrast to the feelings of comfort and warmth experienced while high.
However, as uncomfortable as withdrawals can be, it’s the period after withdrawals that causes many users to relapse. Known as PAWS (Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome) this stage is indicated by a marked decrease in the ability to feel pleasure. The patient can no longer derive pleasure from the things they used to enjoy. They feel that they are no longer connected to their friends or family, and they feel that they just can’t go on living without the drug they relied upon for so long.
A lot of this is down to drastically altered brain chemistry. Without a regular rush of dopamine-making everything feel great, the brain doesn’t know how to react. It needs time to recover. It needs time to heal. But if it gets the right nutrients, then not only can that recovery process hasten toward completion, but the patient can also feel the sense of connection and the sense of pleasure that they thought was lost.
That’s because there are many foods that can trigger an increase in chemicals like dopamine, including serotonin—which can help with mood. Some of these foods, such as chocolate, cause a short-term rush similar to a recreational drug, and like a recreational drug, they don’t have any positive long-term effects and should, therefore, be avoided. Instead, the brain needs to feed on foods that trigger a steady release of these brain chemicals, foods that help to regular mood, foods that help to trigger feelings of pleasure.
Such foods include:
• Red and White Meat: Meats like beef, turkey, and chicken contain the amino acid tyrosine. This chemical is the subject of an old wive’s tale that blames it for sending family members to sleep after Thanksgiving/Christmas dinner. But while it’s not quite the potent sedative that it’s made out to be, it can trigger a release of dopamine.
• Dairy: If you don’t eat meat then you can also get tyrosine from foods like eggs and cheese. As a result, vegetarians shouldn’t have an issue getting a regular dose.
• Fruit: if you’re on a vegan diet then you can’t get tyrosine from meat or dairy, but you can get it from fruit. Bananas are a great source of this amino acid, and the riper they are, the more of it they contain.
• Omega 3 and 6: These fatty acids have been the subject of countless tests over the years, suggesting that they may help with everything from cardiovascular disease to brain function. These oils also help to lift your dopamine levels, making them an essential part of a sober diet. Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids are most abundantly found in oily fish and flax seeds.
• Spirulina: This supplement is one of the richest available sources of tyrosine, and it can be consumed by those on a plant-based diet. It’s not the most palatable of powders and is best known as algae, but it’s also considered to be a superfood.
• Turmeric: Increasingly considered to be a superfood, as well as a potent medicine (turmeric may even help to cure cancer) this spice can also increase your levels of dopamine. It is used liberally in Indian dishes, but it can also be purchased as a dietary supplement and used safely and with very few contraindications.
From Nutrition to Recovery
You really are what you eat, and if you were consuming excessive amounts of harmful substances for many years, then the change that needs to take place is huge. As a result, it can take some time before you begin to feel better, before that gut bacteria get back to normal before the reaction of processed foods begins to ease the stress on your organs and before your brain chemistry mends itself.
But with each healthy meal and each nutrition packed day, you will begin to feel just that little bit better and, more importantly, you will be continuing your journey towards recovery.
So, ask yourself what price would you pay to be truly sober and healthy again? Are you prepared to give it your everything? Are you prepared to sacrifice every last drop of alcohol, every last gram of powder? And more importantly, are you prepared to give your body the fuel it needs to survive?