Diets these days are all about the NOs. NO carbohydrates, NO sugar, NO caffeine, NO dairy, NO gluten, NO meat, NO fruit. There are diets that are NO food diets, except shakes and snack bars all day. We have heard enough NOs – we need to find the YES in our relationship with food.
During new and ongoing recovery, good nutrition is essential. Most likely, people recovering from chemical and other addictions have not eaten well during their using days. Many have sustained physiological damage as a result of their behavior. Both the brain and the gut are starved for nutrients. Getting the necessary nourishment to rebuild the damage done to both the body and the mind through well-chosen foods is imperative. But getting the necessary vitamins, minerals and other important building blocks does not have to be the result of restrictive “healthy” diets. No more NOs!
Recovery is a lifestyle change and a big one! Nutrition plays an important role. Diets that limit certain foods or amounts for the sake of weight loss or increased muscle are usually temporary fixes. As we don’t just go to a few meetings and “get fixed”, our relationship with food doesn’t heal through dieting. For example, eliminating all carbohydrates is not realistic, freeing or sustainable. Our relationship with food heals through slow, moderate and conscious choices that listen to the YES from our body.
Foods that say YES:
Dark chocolates: A small amount every day is wonderful!
Veggies: Any and all that feel good in your body!
Fruits: Mangos, papayas, apples, berries and pears
Whole grains: quinoa, brown rice, whole wheat and sprouted grains
Lean proteins: lentils, beans, chicken, fish, turkey and quality beef
Fats: coconut oil, olive oil, nuts, nut butters, organic butter and avocado
Ethnic foods: Thai, Indian, Mediterranean, African, Peruvian, authentic Mexican, and other cuisines that tend to have more vegetables, less saturated fat and more diversity of ingredients
Remember to listen to your body, not the instantaneous response from the taste buds or the brain. Our brains obtain a temporary rush from processed or sugary foods. Our taste buds get a jolt from intense flavors. Unfortunately, the body and brain will soon experience a crash as the overstimulation from sugars and big flavors dissipates, perhaps kicking in cravings or acting out, and then a shame cycle may start. After we eat overly processed foods, such as fast foods, our bodies sometimes do not respond in a positive way. We may feel tired, cranky or have stomach cramps. Listen to your body; pay attention to the effects of food on your body. If you really want a burger and fries – have them. Just don’t eat them all the time and remember to surrounded them with YES foods.
Pay attention to the foods that cause your body to respond positively. If that is meat, go ahead and eat it! Eat it and then continue to listen; your body may tell you just what it needs next. That doesn’t mean you need to eat meat at every single meal of every single day. Your body’s needs change, just as other personal needs change.
If you feel energized for a few hours after certain foods, or you notice your mood is lighter, listen to that feeling in your body and mind. Notice what you ate. Maybe it was the protein you had with your breakfast. You felt more productive and happier throughout the morning. Listen. That voice is your body telling you YES! If you slept great last night and woke up easily, listen to that. Make a note of what you had for dinner the night before. If you aren’t craving sugar or caffeine as much, pay attention to how you may have shifted your food choices.
Just as your recovery constantly changes and deepens, so too can your relationship with food. Try new things, take a cooking class, buy a cookbook and once a week try something you have never eaten before. Go to new restaurants. Listen to what feels good. You and your body deserve it.
Victoria Abel, MA, MNT, is the founder and owner of Center for Addiction Nutrition. She has worked in the addiction counseling field for 20 years as a family, primary, eating disorders and trauma therapist. She is also a nutrition therapist working with people healing from addiction, mood disorders, cancer and other chronic illnesses. She teaches at Prescott College in Prescott, Arizona, and lectures nationally on addiction nutrition.