Six Easy Ways to Eat Healthier for Addiction Recovery
Healthy eating is one of the key lifestyle changes that will support a strong recovery from addiction. There are many reasons healthier eating is important. One is that addiction and poor nutrition often go together, typically from neglect but also because alcohol impairs your digestive system’s ability to absorb nutrients. This malnutrition can have many negative health effects and should be corrected as soon as possible.
Second, prolonged substance use increases your risk for a variety of medical problems, including heart disease, stroke, liver disease, diabetes, and certain kinds of cancers. Although you may not be able to fix these problems with a healthy diet, you can certainly reduce your risk. Finally, many studies have found that healthy eating reduces your risk of depression, which is a major driver of addictive behavior and affects about 20% of people with substance use disorders.
Adopting a healthy diet can help you feel better, be healthier, and have a stronger recovery, but it’s also challenging to change long-standing eating habits. The following are some relatively easy ways you can improve your diet quickly.
1. Write Down What You Eat
First, it’s crucial to actually know what you’re eating. Our memories tend to be very selective about what we eat so spend a week or two recording everything you eat as you eat it. Either write it all down in a notebook or use an app like MyFitnessPal. The latter has the advantage of being more accurate and recording nutritional information automatically, and it’s free. You may be surprised to see what your eating habits are really like.
2. Make One Change at a Time
One mistake people often make is trying to completely overhaul their diet right away--maybe going totally whole-food plant-based or totally keto or something else. That’s a lot of work up front, you encounter a lot of friction from friends and family, and you’ll be lucky to make it a week using that strategy.
Instead, focus on one small change at a time. There are two ways to approach this: You can either start by making an easy change and gradually make more challenging changes, which helps boost your confidence, or you can start with a change that will make the biggest difference in your health and mood. Say, for example, that after writing down everything you eat and drink, you realize you’re drinking more than two liters of Coke every day.
That’s nearly 800 empty calories and more than 42 grams of sugar, while the American Heart Association recommends no more than 36 grams of sugar a day for an adult male. Therefore, tackling that one habit is going to have huge benefits in terms of a better mood, less inflammation, and maintaining a healthy weight.
3. Make Healthy Substitutions
A common mistake people make when trying to quit any bad habit is to just try to stop doing it. This leaves a sort of void and it’s very easy to slip back into the old habit. A better approach is to replace the bad habit with a good or neutral habit. Changing food habits is no different. Leaving something off your plate is hard; replacing it with a healthier option is much easier. In the example above, maybe you habitually pour yourself a glass of Coke every time you sit down to eat.
There are many easy substitutions that are much healthier. Water or unsweetened iced tea would be ideal, but you could also go for flavored sparkling water, or even a soft drink with less sugar would be a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, fruit juice is often just as bad as soda in terms of sugar but a lot of people believe they’re choosing the healthier option.
You can make many different kinds of easy substitutions in order to eat healthier. You can eat baked or grilled chicken instead of fried, get the vinaigrette dressing instead of ranch, and get the baked potato instead of fries. Substitutions--especially those that favor whole foods--are an easy way to eat healthier without feeling deprived.
Add One Vegetable
Another tactic that you can use by itself or in combination with substitution is to just add one vegetable to every meal. That way you’re increasing your fiber and nutrition while only adding a few calories to your meal. It works with anything. For example, which is healthier: a burger and fries or a burger and fries and a carrot? Obviously, it’s better to have meals composed entirely of healthy whole foods, but it’s also important not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good and an easy way to do that is just to add a serving of vegetables to every meal.
Learn to Cook One Easy Meal
There’s a lot of research showing that people who cook more meals at home are healthier and closer to their ideal weight. There are a number of reasons for this but perhaps the biggest is that commercial foods tend to have more sugar and fat than the equivalent foods you make at home. Unfortunately, most people don’t have a big culinary repertoire and they don’t have time to cook every meal.
Start by learning to cook one easy thing that you don’t mind eating frequently. For example, rice and beans are super easy and you can make one batch and eat it all week. Even a sandwich is fine if the ingredients are fresh and healthy. You can buy frozen vegetables and pop them in the microwave for a couple of minutes and they taste fine. Figure out a few easy go-to recipes. The more meals you make at home, the healthier you’ll be.
Follow the 80% Rule
Finally, observe the 80% rule, which is that you should stop eating when you’re 80% full. It takes a few minutes for your stomach to signal your brain that it’s full because the hormonal signal has to diffuse through your body. As a result, by the time we feel full, we’re often overstuffed. You can eat only healthy foods and still make yourself unhealthy by eating too much of it. It’s easier to observe the 80% rule if you pause occasionally while you’re eating to let your food settle. This gives the “full” signal a chance to reach your brain.
At The Foundry, we know that healthy lifestyle changes make everything else in addiction recovery easier. That’s why we emphasize a healthy diet, as well as exercise, mindfulness, and social connection as part of our holistic approach to treatment. There are no shortcuts to living a healthy lifestyle, but we can get you off to the best possible start. To learn more, call us today at (844) 955-1066.