Nutrition matters. What we put in our bodies has an effect on what we can expect out of our bodies. But as substance abuse accelerates, it becomes the primary focus. Relationships, career, health — none of these are priorities during active addiction.

Many people don’t eat enough or well, and poor nutrition compounds the physical toll addiction takes, with many arriving at treatment with health issues related to their substance use. Immune systems may be weakened, muscle tone compromised and nutritional deficiencies are common. Skin tone, energy levels and sleep patterns may all be negatively affected. In order to have the strength to do the work of recovery, patients need to begin rebuilding their physical health immediately. This starts with proper nutrition.

Putting the Brakes On a Fast Food Lifestyle

Today’s quick and cheap American diet often revolves around processed foods, empty calories and sugar. Fast food is affordable, convenient and filling, but its low nutritional content means regular consumption can damage your health, leading to weight gain, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular conditions. In the US, it’s estimated that fast food restaurants rake in somewhere in the neighborhood of $208 billion a year — and revenues increased by about 1.2 percent between 2010 and 2015. That’s enough to end world hunger forever. And the No. 1 vegetable in America remains the French fry.

It’s no wonder balanced meals are not a priority during addiction. It’s also why they’re even more important during treatment and into recovery.

A Priority On Nutrition

Proper nutrition is a key component to living a full and healthy life, and focusing on nutrient-dense food early on in treatment helps to restore health and prepare the body for lifetime of recovery.

The American Dietetic Association (ADA) has officially recognized the connection between addiction and poor nutrition, saying, “Many debilitating nutritional consequences result from drug and alcohol abuse. Chronic nutrition impairment causes serious damage to the liver and brain, which reinforces the craving for more drugs and alcohol and perpetuates the psychological aspect of addiction.”
If poor nutrition and lack of exercise can have negative effects on an otherwise healthy person, imagine what they can do to someone battling an addiction. “Nutrition makes a difference in the rate and quality of physical recovery, which prepares individuals to function at a higher level in treatment — cognitively, mentally, and socially,” according to the ADA.

What you eat during treatment can play an important role in recovery. The healing properties of organic, fresh foods allow the body to reach a balance that helps to reduce cravings, create strength, calm emotions and bring clarity of mind. Quality foods provide the nutrients a healthy body needs to restore cellular function and build and maintain health. Then, as you begin to return to physical wellness, you are better able to address the issues that drove your substance abuse.

A New Habit of Self-care

Good nutrition is about more than just eating well, it’s also an act of love and self-care. Addiction can be very damaging to the body, and to repair that involves not just changing old habits, but also accepting your own worth.

You can’t be truly healthy if parts of you are still sick. While nutrition may not seem like an obvious component of treatment, it is an important one.