Food and Mood: Healing the Addict Mind with Proper Nutrition
Addicts and alcoholics in recovery often turn to highly rewarding and emotion numbing foods that can provide a temporary reprieve from feelings of uncertainty, inadequacy, and shame.
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The journey through sobriety can create an overwhelming amount of psychological discomfort that may force one into a physical condition that may compromise health and recovery. For example, a newly sober individual is often confronted with new or unfamiliar emotions that may send the body into a highly depressive state where sadness or guilt produce stagnation or complacency. And, for the addict or alcoholic, stagnation or complacency can halt spiritual growth and increase the likelihood of relapse. Anxiety, anger, aggression, guilt, and remorse are other common mood disturbances that can place undue stress upon an individual in early recovery and may jeopardize their ability to fully participate in their spiritual program of action.
Addicts and alcoholics in recovery often turn to highly rewarding and emotion numbing foods that can provide a temporary reprieve from feelings of uncertainty, inadequacy, and shame. Unfortunately, these foods are often the most toxic and can create more instability in the body, mind and spirit. Foods rich in stimulating substances such as sugar and caffeine, in addition to those made from highly refined grains, flours, and vegetable oils, destabilize blood sugar, ignite inflammation, and deplete the brain of essential neurotransmitters that play a large role in mood and mental health.
There is a solution! From a nutritional perspective, an individual in early recovery can improve mood and fight off depression, anxiety, and stress by incorporating foods that contain an ample amount of omega-3 essential fatty acids, complete proteins, and antioxidant and anti-inflammatory vitamins and minerals.
Omega-3 essential fatty acids - such as those found in salmon, mackerel, grass fed beef, walnuts, flax seeds and green leafy vegetables – promote brain health by aiding in neurotransmitter and prostaglandin formation, both of which are impaired by acute or chronic substance abuse. An added bonus, omega-3’s also have a suppressive effect upon cardiovascular disease, cancer, inflammation, and autoimmune disease to promote health and longevity.
Proteins found in food are built from a series of amino acids, which are used in the production of neurotransmitters (NTs) such as dopamine, serotonin, and beta-endorphine. Neurotransmitters such as these are critical in preventing and treating conditions associated with mental ill-health such as substance abuse because they promote feelings of happiness and well-being. The best sources of protein in the context of mental health and neurotransmitter production are animal foods that include organic grass-fed, free-range, and hormone- and antibiotic-free beef; organic, cage-free, and antibiotic-free eggs and poultry; and wild caught seafood.
Antioxidants and anti-inflammatories fight free radicals and quell inflammation, which are implicated in virtually all disease processes. A healthy body is naturally capable of neutralizing and eliminating free radicals and inflammation to a certain extent, but addiction feeds production and proliferation of highly unstable molecules and excites an immune response that requires a fair amount of nutritional support in order to combat. The most antioxidant and anti-inflammatory rich foods are dark, leafy greens such as kale, chard, mustard greens, dandelion greens, and collard, but all fresh fruits and vegetables contain an abundance of these highly therapeutic substances.
In addition to incorporating more natural omega-3 essential fatty acids, complete proteins, and antioxidant and anti-inflammatories, an individual in recovery should try to minimize or completely avoid foods that promote psychological lability. Excessive amounts of stimulating substances, highly refined carbohydrates, and industrial fats promote depressive disorders, mood instability, and impaired cognitive function, especially for those in recovery from substance abuse. The single greatest source of all these substances are processed and packaged food-like substances that are engineered to stimulate the brain’s reward system and produce artificial feelings of serenity and calm.
An amazing recipe that embodies these ideals is my Massaged Kale and Avocado Salad. This salad is a powerful combination of omega-3s, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatories that, when paired with a modest serving of wild salmon or bison, has a profound effect upon mood and perspective. It’s also incredibly quick to prepare and involves ingredients that can be found at any major chain grocery store or your local health food store. Enjoy!
Massaged Kale and Avocado Salad
1 bunch kale, rinsed and chopped
2 ripe avocados
Juice from 1 lemon
½ tablespoon sea salt
½ tablespoon black pepper
½ teaspoon red chili flakes
Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and “massage” avocado, lemon juice and spices into kale until well incorporated. Add more lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.
Eating real, whole, unrefined foods such as fresh vegetables, ethically sourced meats, and healthy fats while avoiding those that are highly rewarding, processed, and stripped of their nutritional value will help stabilize mood and promote feelings of happiness and well-being. A body, mind, and spirit that is happy and well will be better able to participate in life and a spiritual program of action.
Matthew Lovitt is a Nutrition Therapy Practitioner – Candidate specializing in nutrition for those in addiction recovery. He works extensively with clients in long-term treatment for substance abuse disorders and maintains a private practice where he teaches clients how to plan and prepare healthy, therapeutic meals. You can follow him and his work at TwelveWellness.com, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.