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Recovery Nutrition for Mind and Body

Easy-to-follow steps for using nutrition and mindful eating to help heal the damage caused by substance abuse.

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By Matthew Lovitt

05/15/14

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Proper diet and nutrition are highly complex and multifarious ideas that can elude even the most knowledgeable health and wellness practitioners. Every individual is so incredibly unique in their nutritional needs that misapplying generally accepted healthy dietary advice could have catastrophic consequences. Throw in the wrinkle of addiction and the task of providing proper nutritional guidance becomes even trickier with greater physical, psychological, and spiritual risks.

However, there are a few simple guidelines that we, as addicts in recovery, can follow in order to restore the mind and body from the grip of substance abuse. Building a dietary philosophy that helps restore health and accommodates our unique nutritional needs is as easy as:

Eating Real Food,
Indulging Mindfully, and
Never Counting Calories Again!

Real Recovery Food

The idea that eating real food can have a powerful impact upon health is not new, but it has become more difficult to accomplish in our convenience-based society. Foods purchased from a drive-through window or in a box have become so normal that preparing a homemade meal has become a novelty and something reserved for special occasions and the holidays. Unfortunately, the trend towards quick and easy foods has encouraged the physical and psychological deterioration of an entire generation and makes the journey towards complete recovery more treacherous.

Real food is that which is consumed in the form that closely resembles how it is found in nature. For example, a baked sweet potato, fruit salad and roast chicken breast are all real foods with only a few degrees of separation between farm and fork. Other real recovery foods include items such as fresh fruits and vegetables; unrefined whole grains; healthy fats like olive oil, coconut oil and butter; and animal foods like beef, poultry, pork, and fish. It is important to note that real foods are largely absent all the nasty additives that food manufacturers utilize in order to improve production and profitability.

Food-like substances that we want to avoid in our new recovery diet include Hot Pockets, Twinkies and McNuggets. These and similar products contain an excessive amount of highly refined grains, which also happen to be found in items like white rice, white bread, and ready-to-eat breakfast cereals; added sugars and oils like those hiding in packaged cookies, cakes, candies, chips, and crackers; and chemical preservatives, flavor enhancers, pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics, which are often utilized in the production of packaged goods, conventional produce, and farmed animal foods.

Let's not forget to include on the not real food list anything that is purchased through a drive-through, at a local carnival, or that requires a microwave to be edible. Of course there are exceptions to these rules, but they are few and far between and typically require an advanced nutritional degree to identify, so better safe than sorry.

Fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and high-quality animal products are a powerful source of therapeutic nutrients that are essential in healing the mind and body during the early stages of recovery.

Mindful, Healthy Indulgence

The majority of what we will need to eat to heal the body and promote a more fulfilling recovery will need to be healthy and prepared in our own homes. However, this doesn’t mean that we can’t indulge in the occasional treat or less-than-ideal snack. In fact, it may become a necessity when we find ourselves in unforeseen circumstances or without healthy alternatives. The trick in such situations is to employ mindfulness and moderation to help avoid any physical or psychological consequences that may result from indulgence.

Instead of carelessly inhaling a super-sized bag of Doritos during this weekend’s big game, pull out a handful or two and throw it on a plate next to some carrots, celery and asparagus spears. Or, if dessert is your thing, instead of serving yourself a full slice of double chocolate chip cake, pull out a half slice and lay it next to some of your favorite fruit like berries or an apple.

A healthier way to satisfy that sweet tooth or indulge in the occasional treat is to make them at home following recipes that contain only modest amounts of sugar and processed white flours. There are many healthy dessert options that utilize things like almond or coconut flour, fresh fruit, and honey that are very tasty and will easily satisfy a sweet tooth. Similarly, there are many ways to convert traditionally unhealthy foods like French fries, buffalo wings, and pizza into healthier versions that are well able to contribute to the repair process necessary for complete recovery.

Allowing ourselves the occasional modest indulgence can be of tremendous value in maintaining a positive and healthy perspective in diet and in life. If we become overly consumed with eating only the healthiest foods, we may miss out on the celebrations of intimate moments that enrich life and greatly contribute to the recovery process.

Count Calories No More!

As we experience relief from the dramatic swings in mood, energy, and health when the body remembers how to utilize the healthy nutrients provided by a real food recovery diet, we can stop counting, weighing or measuring what we eat.

Many companies have made a name for themselves out of showing people how to count calories, grams, or points in order to lose weight or restore health. Surprisingly enough, this approach appears to actually work for some for a short period of time. However, the fact of the matter is that this approach to eating healthfully can be quite detrimental to the body, especially for those in early recovery. Meticulously counting calories, grams, or ratios with the idea that there is a perfect number that applies to every individual in every circumstance can set the body up for nutrient deficiencies, compromise organ function and impair the healing process.

The body will begin to recognize its nutritional needs once we start integrating more nutrient-dense foods and eliminating those that are detrimental to the recovery process so that we can eat less and be nourished more. Learning to recognize and respond to the signals that the body sends in response to food is a skill and does require some practice, but it may be the most important component in the real food recovery diet. We can eat all the healthy foods in the world, but if we don’t learn to listen to the body’s signals we may unintentionally hinder the repair and recovery process.

By developing the ability to feed the body with real food, observe its reaction and adjust our eating behavior accordingly, following the real food recovery diet will restore vital organ function, improve metabolism, and ease the elimination of stored toxins so that a healthy body and weight is more easily obtained and maintained.

Proper diet and nutrition can be an extremely complex and confusing matter. However, healing the mind and body from the damage caused by substance abuse and addiction is often as simple eating fresh, real foods; practicing a little mindful moderation; and learning to listen and heed the body’s signals. Maintaining a real food recovery diet to support physical, psychological and spiritual health is one of the best ways to heal the body and enjoy recovery and life.

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+.

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