Like most things during active addiction, proper diet and nutrition often fall by the wayside. Instead of spending time, money or energy on maintaining a healthy lifestyle, those suffering from addiction use these resources to perpetuate their destructive drug or alcohol habit.
As an addicted person continues to neglect their nutrition it will begin to interfere with the body’s overall well-being and ability to function. Often, the effects of poor eating habits take a heavy toll on the body, mind, and spirit, causing low energy, vitamin deficiencies, tooth decay, depression, and compromised heart health.
The body needs a variety of vitamins and minerals to thrive. While carbohydrates are great for a short-term burst of energy, the body also needs proteins and healthy fats to preserve for other essential functions. Maintaining a balanced diet is key to creating a healthy lifestyle in addiction recovery.
When an addict is new to treatment, one of their first visits is with Fiona, our in house dietitian, who, along with assessments from the rest of our care team, creates a nutrition care plan that addresses a resident’s varied needs to bring them back to nutritional health. Most of the dietary plans follow these common focal points, and our partnership with Gordon Food Services enables us to ensure that all our residents have access to quality ingredients and meals to help their nutritional health.
- Limit Processed Items – A diet low in refined and processed foods, and rich in fresh foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and protein from legumes, fish, poultry and lean meats, will provide the most effective and easily absorbed nutrients for a healthy mind and body.
- Establish a Routine – For newly sober individuals, getting into the habit of eating at regular times is as important as the quality of the food they’re eating. Following a routine creates much-needed personal discipline, a skill vital to relapse prevention.
- Drink More Water – Water is the most important macronutrient for the human body. It plays a role in almost every bodily function. Water eliminates toxins from our organs, aids in digestion, improves focus and concentration, and increases energy. Proper hydration is also essential during detox and addiction withdrawal to quickly and efficiently rid the body of toxic substances, and to combat the common substance abuse symptoms that cause dehydration – vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, and malnutrition. In general, doctors recommend drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day, but a doctor will advise residents about conditions requiring more or less than this.
- Always Carry a Snack – Having snacks on hand allow you to maintain energy levels when you have to be on the go or haven’t had the chance to eat in a while. Healthy snacks, comprised of some carbohydrates with protein, can provide energy, improve mood, and alleviate hunger between meals.
- Limit Sugar – Keeping blood sugar levels stable is crucial for addicts in early recovery to prevent relapse. It’s not uncommon for people recovering from drug and alcohol addiction to become addicted to sugar. Sugar is a powerful stimulant similar to cocaine and methamphetamine. Like these drugs, eating sugary foods causes a surge in the amount of dopamine in the brain, creating a feeling of euphoria. These spikes are quickly followed by an energy crash, and the craving for more sugar.
More specific dietary recommendations are also advised based on the individual addiction. For example, those who use alcohol are often deficient in B vitamins, which help the body produce energy from food, and severe deficiencies can cause permanent damage; vitamin D, which regulates calcium absorption, for bone health; and minerals like thiamine and vitamin B, which is important for healthy neurological functions. A diet of lean proteins, nutrient-rich vegetables, and higher fibre carbohydrates like whole grains are recommended. Users of stimulants like meth and cocaine, which suppress appetite, can be severely malnourished, dehydrated, and have a serious electrolytes imbalance. Opioid users suffer with gastrointestinal problems, vomiting, and constipation. A high fibre diet including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes will help these issues.
Together We Can’s dietitian Fiona works closely with our Kitchen Manager and Chefs to create a weekly meal plan that meets the nutritional needs of our diverse resident base. Our Kitchen Manager Lynne creates a menu for the week and Fiona makes recipe adjustments and substitutions that balance carbs, fats, fibre, vitamins and minerals for maximum benefit. They also work closely to create alternative options for our residents with dietary restrictions or allergies, like celiac disease, low-carb options, or vegetarian options.
As residents continue on from Primary treatment to one of our Sober Living Residences, the nutritional journey remains supported, with Gordon Food Service supplying the majority of food items to the over 20 houses across our network. Everyday staples like fresh fruit and vegetables are always available, delivered fresh, as well as pastas, sauces, and seasonings so that fresh, nutritious meals and snacks can be made at any time. Between primary treatment and our network of residences, GFS helps us to provide over 900 meals a day.
This past holiday season, Gordon Food Service also provided everything needed for each of our Sober Living Residences to make a feast to help celebrate the holidays. Thank you Gordon Food Service for your dedication to nutrition in recovery. As the exclusive vendor for all of Together We Can’s food and nutrition programs, Gordon Food Services works tirelessly to help our kitchen staff plan delicious, nutritious and satisfying meals. Each resident is taught the value in nutrition and the importance of how maintaining physical health is crucial when recovering from drug and alcohol addiction.
A selection of meals prepared by Mark Oliveira, chef at our Elevate Life program. Mark uses fresh ingredients and works with our Registered Dietician to meet the complex nutritional needs of our residents. For more information on Mark, click the link: Mark Oliveira
Fiona Kwan is a Registered Dietician and provides our residents with advice on ways to meet their nutritional needs after meeting with them to discuss their unique needs. Fiona also helps to shape the nutritional components to each meal served to our residents by working closely with our Kitchen Manager. For more information on Fiona, click the link: Fiona Kwan
Gordon Food Service is a nationwide food distribution service relied upon heavily by the healthcare and restaurant industries, and has been a longtime partner of Together We Can for the majority of it’s items. For more information on Gordon Food Service and the items they have available, click this link: Gordon Food Service
A portion of our blog post refers to these publicly available studies on nutrition:
https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa63/aa63.htm – Alcohol’s damaging effects on the brain
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28806640/ – The importance of nutrition in aiding recovery from substance use disorders