How To Eat To Support Your Recovery

By Maggie Ethridge 12/06/18

A breakdown of healthy foods to eat that will help rebuild the health of those in recovery.

woman preparing a meal to eat in recovery

Getting clean and sober is a huge accomplishment, one that needs all the support it can get. The foods you eat can dramatically impact the quality of your sobriety, so choosing to eat for the health of your brain is hugely supportive to long-term recovery.

After initially getting clean, many people struggling to stay that way find themselves understandably binging on sugar, caffeine and white bread products to calm the storm within. Unfortunately, the immediate satiation leads over time to worsening coping mechanisms – the opposite of what is needed in early sobriety.

Whole foods (simply meaning foods that have been minimally processed and are free from additives such as preservatives, added sugars, etc.) are the best choice, as nutrients in those foods can increase brain health (which assists in elevating and steadying mood), alleviate some of the symptoms of withdrawal, and speed the body and brain healing process. Organic, whole foods have the benefit of being without pesticide sprays which may put a further burden on an already stressed brain.

US News reports that many rehab clinics serve foods geared toward rebuilding the health of the client. There are specific nutritional elements particularly helpful in this goal. Tyrosine is an amino acid that converts dopamine during the digestion process.

Dopamine is a “feel good” neurotransmitter which is often at abnormally low levels in early recovery. This lack of dopamine is concurrent with low energy and motivation, apathy, a depressed mood and intense substance cravings. Eating tyrosine-rich foods will increase dopamine levels. High-tyrosine foods include bananas, sunflower seeds, soybeans, lean beef, lamb, pork, whole grains and cheese.

L-glutamine is an amino acid that offers immune and antioxidant benefits and can help reduce sugar cravings. L-glutamine heavy foods include dark, leafy greens like kale, spinach and parsley, and beets, carrots, beans, Brussels sprouts, celery, papaya and protein-rich foods like beef, chicken, fish, dairy products and eggs.

Antioxidants in general help to rebuild your immune system and speed the body's detoxing process during withdrawal. Antioxidant-rich foods include berries like blueberries and strawberries as well as leeks, onions, artichokes and pecans.

GABA is good for lessening early recovery struggles with anxiety, restlessness and insomnia. Kefir (a fermented yogurt-like drink), shrimp and cherry tomatoes are some GABA-rich foods.

Tryptophan is another essential amino acid in the body that helps create serotonin, the famous neurotransmitter that brings an uplifted mood. It is found in a number of foods, including cheese, turkey, lamb, pork, tuna fish, oat bran, and beans and lentils.

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Maggie May Ethridge is the author of Atmospheric Disturbances: Scenes From a Marriage (Shebooks, 2014) and the recently completed novel, Agitate My Heart. She is a freelance writer published in Rolling Stone, VOX, Washington Post, The Guardian and many others. Find her at her blog Flux Capacitor or on LinkedIn or Twitter.