How many of you paid attention to what you were eating in active addiction? Not many I bet. I certainly didn’t. When you’re in active addiction, the only thing that matters is chasing the next high. As soon as it wears off, it’s right back at it. The vicious cycle keeps repeating itself and everything else becomes irrelevant. For me, I remember not eating for days at a time so I could buy cigarettes, alcohol and drugs. When I ate, I often gobbled down comfort foods, usually from fast food joints. My relationship with food was completely dysfunctional. In sobriety, just like I had to relearn behaviors in other aspects of my life, I had to develop healthy habits regarding my relationship with food.
Eating at the First Step
In the first year of sobriety, I missed my drugs of choice, alcohol and cocaine, and the lifestyle that came along with them. I hate to admit that but it’s true. It’s a scary thing to take the first step and surrender. Surrender caused me great anxiety and trepidation. In my first six months of sobriety, I ate my fear and put on a substantial amount of weight. I was admitted to rehab at 140 pounds; I left 28 days later at 177 pounds. I continued to put weight on during the first six months of sobriety. It was a smart trade off as I used food, mostly carbohydrates, to help take the edge off. It’s fine in early recovery as you can always take weight off: You cannot undo an overdose. So using “comfort foods,” ice cream, and other goodies, made sense as a bridge from active addiction to sobriety.
Over time though, I realized these foods were not healthy and I could not continue to eat this way. I became very interested in nutrition and began to spend time studying it. I began to realize that my body (and yours) has an amazing capacity to heal if I treat it with respect and give it the nutrients it needs to function properly. The more I paid attention to what I was putting into my body in the context of food and beverages, the better I began to feel. It became very important to me to understand why.
The Substances in Food and How They Impact the Body
Let’s quickly define what vitamins, minerals and hormones are, examine what they do in the body, and why they are so important for people in recovery. Vitamins are nutrients that your body needs to function and fight disease. Minerals are substances necessary for the maintenance of life and good health. Some are essential components of bodily substances, such as the calcium in bones and the iron in hemoglobin, whereas others help regulate the activities of metabolism. Hormones are chemical substances that affect the activity of another part of the body. Think of hormones as messengers controlling and coordinating activities.
Vitamins and minerals combine in the miracle of nature to permit your body to create hormones, enzymes and other important substances to regulate organ function. Without eating these nutrients, simple yet critical functions either cannot occur or can only occur with substantial effort and stress on internal organs. Over time, with proper nutrients, you can empower your body to repair much of the damage caused by your days in active addiction. You also reduce stress on organs and enhance your body’s ability to function at optimal levels in sobriety.
Many common ailments in the recovery community have a direct correlation with nutrition. Type 2 Diabetes and Hyperglycemia are among the most prevalent. But other ailments, such as depression and anxiety, are also directly impacted. Feeling lethargic and depressed can have a lot to do with what you are eating (or not eating). When I used to eat a lot of sugary foods and drinks, I would get bursts of energy and then crash. I would then have lots more sugar, get more energy and then ultimately crash all over again. I started to realize that the way I ate and the ups and downs in mood had a lot in common with how I used alcohol and drugs. By reducing the amount of sugar in my diet, I noticed a positive change in both my mood and energy levels. The highs and lows were dramatically reduced in favor of more consistency.
Anxiety is also directly impacted by the foods you eat. For example, if you are already an anxious person, try to avoid caffeine and sugar as it speeds up metabolism and can exacerbate a genetic pre-disposition towards anxiety. If you combine eating the proper foods with regular exercise, you amplify the benefits that you would otherwise receive and further stimulate production of “feel good” hormones like endorphins, dopamine and GABA. Sounds like a lot to manage right? Well it actually isn’t if you learn how to integrate food and nutrition into your 12-step recovery. Just like step work is exercise for the brain, eating right and working out is step work for the body.
Achieving Spiritual Adrenaline
Spiritual Adrenaline is a lifestyle that I designed to be practiced along with the 12 steps of recovery. The goal of the program is to avoid white-knuckling abstinence in favor of true happiness in sobriety. Spiritual Adrenaline integrates two outside issues, exercise and nutrition, into your step-based lifestyle.
If you visit our website, www.spiritualadrenaline. com or Facebook page, you’ll find helpful information about what nutrients are important and why. We also offer practical advice on how to optimize your 12-step practice by integrating outside issues that directly impact how you think, look and feel. Every week we release a video or text blog on this subject. Later this year, my book Spiritual Adrenaline: Strengthen and Nourish Your Recovery, will be released by Central Recovery Press. If you purchase the book you’ll have everything you need to know in one place. We recommend meal and exercise plans and lists of “recovery super foods.”
Join the Spiritual Adrenaline community and learn to use what were traditionally known as “outside issues” to enhance your chances of success in recovery.