Developing Healthy Eating Habits While in Recovery

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Contributor: Erica Smith, M.A., NCC, clinical team member of Timberline Knolls

Close-up of businesswoman is typing on her keyboardGoing through the recovery process can be challenging in many ways. For women who have developed an addiction to any type of substance, just getting to the point where they have made the decision to begin the recovery process can seem overwhelming and somewhat scary.

The presence of an addiction can rapidly take over every aspect of a person’s life, regardless of the type of substance to which one has developed a dependency. Not only will it affect a person’s family life, home life, social life, academic life, and occupational life, but it was also cause detrimental ramifications on her health.

Besides the fact that substances will put users at the risk for causing permanent damage to various parts of their body, they will also inevitably cause individuals to begin changing certain aspects of their lifestyle in a negative way. One part of such lifestyle changes often includes the onset of detrimental eating habits.

Recovery from Substance Abuse and the Effects on the Body

Recovery from substance abuse affects the body in countless ways. As toxic substances filter out of the body, organ functioning will change and one’s metabolism will become altered.

Medicine Plus, which is a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health provides explanations on how the abuse of different substances will affect a person’s body, and how certain diet changes can help the recovery process. Summaries of the information provided by this entity are described briefly in the following:

Malnutrition and Alcohol Dependency

Man sitting on bed thinking about RecoveryResearch has shown that out of all addictions, a dependency on alcohol is one of the most prominent reasons why a deficiency in nutrition ensues. The liver and the pancreas are two vital organs involved in regulating one’s metabolism and ability to process nutrients.

More specifically, the pancreas absorbs fat and regulates blood sugar, while the liver works to get rid of harmful substances that are ingested into the body. When these organs become damaged, they will inevitably malfunction, causing an imbalance of electrolytes, calories, protein, and fluids.

In order for attempts to be made at reversing this damage, a diet that contains the electrolytes, calories, protein, and fluids should be implemented. Additionally, women in particular are at risk of experiencing osteoporosis as the result of excessive alcohol consumption.

For this reason, women should be sure to add calcium to their diets or, at a minimum, take calcium supplements.

The Gastrointestinal System and Opiates

Opiates, which include prescription medications such as OxyContin, Vicodin, codeine, and morphine, as well as the illicit substance, heroin, are said to affect the gastrointestinal system. The symptoms that result from the process of withdrawing from opiates can lead to an imbalance of electrolytes and a decline in the body’s ability to metabolize nutrients.

In order to confront this problematic nutritional deficiency, ingesting foods that are high in fiber and contain complex carbohydrates can assist in helping the body return to nutritional homeostasis.

Significant Weight Loss and Stimulants

Woman jogging for her RecoveryStimulants, such as cocaine, methamphetamine, or prescription drugs like Adderall and Ritalin, are known to lead to significant weight loss as they reduce a person’s appetite. This not only inhibits the body’s ability to receive the proper nutrition that it needs to function appropriately, but it can also lead to dehydration and an imbalance of electrolytes.

To address this problem, women who have experienced such weight loss as a result of stimulant abuse will obviously require an increase in food intake in order to work towards returning to a normal, healthy weight.

However, it is essential that this increase in food intake is done so in a healthy fashion. Consultations with nutrition specialists and physicians can assist in properly returning to an overall healthy state of functioning.

Weight Gain and Marijuana

In contrast to stimulants, marijuana is known to elicit a drastic increase in appetite, potentially leading to excessive weight gain and the deterioration of healthy functioning that results from such.

Cutting back on one’s intake of fats, sugar, and foods that are high in calories can help women lose weight in a healthy manner.

Nutrition as a Part of Recovery

So why is nutrition such an important part of the recovery process? First and foremost, the implementation of a healthy diet will help the body regain its health and vitality following the deterioration that was caused by the abuse of substances.

Additionally, by consuming a healthy and nutritional diet, women will begin to regain an overall sense of wellbeing. In other words, they will feel better. This not only results in the rebuilding of psychological health, but the positive way that a person feels can help prevent relapse.

Taking the Steps Towards Recovery

Girl in Recovery lying on Green GrassBy taking part in a treatment program that specializes in addressing the problems that arise from substance abuse and addiction, women can take the first steps towards achieving sobriety.

While engaged in this type of programming, individuals will have access to mental health professionals, nutritionists, and medical personnel who can all assist in helping them regain the healthy state that they lost while lost in their consumption of substances.

Tools for attaining sobriety and maintaining a healthy nutritional diet can also be learned so that the goals achieved while in recovery can be successfully continued once treatment has been completed.



About the Author:

This blog was written by Timberline Knolls clinical team member Erica Smith, M.A., NCC. Erica has several years of experience working in the treatment field as a clinical therapist and has her Master’s Degree in Clinical Counseling Psychology from the American School of Professional Psychology.

Site Description:

Timberline Knolls is one of the nation’s premier treatment centers for women and girls who are struggling with eating disorders, alcohol abuse, drug addiction, and other co-occurring disorders.

Housed on 43 wooded acres in Lemont, Illinois (just a few miles southwest of Chicago), Timberline Knolls is a place of hope and healing where clients receive clinically superior treatment in an atmosphere of serenity and tranquility.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on February 28, 2015
Reviewed and Updated by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 11, 2021
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