Your Food, Your Sobriety

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It is common knowledge that people with addiction problems usually are considered to have more sensitive brain chemistry than those who don’t.

As a nutritionist, I believe that chemically-dependent people need to eat more carefully for biochemical balance and comfortable sobriety. It is surprising that most chemically-dependent people have never considered the impact of what they eat on their sobriety.

Up until now, little emphasis has been given to the role nutrition plays in supporting sobriety, even though research found a connection in the 1950s and again in the early 1080s. Clients struggling with addiction report seeing the positive effects healthy foods have in their long-term sobriety.

During times of alcohol and drug use, the body becomes deficient in nutrients. You may experience this deficiency as increased cravings, anxiety, depression, insomnia and restlessness. The solution lies in rebalancing the biochemistry of the body and the brain. This can only be achieved be eating real foods instead of processed foods.

Eating small meals helps maintain balanced blood sugar and alleviates the likelihood of experiencing panic, anxiety, cravings or insomnia.Why the distinction? Real foods (chicken, steak, eggs, butter, olive oil, nuts, green beans, broccoli and sweet potatoes) balance the brain chemistry and nourish the body. However, the preservatives, chemicals, artificial sweeteners and refined ingredients in processed foods (donuts, chips, French fries, and margarine) stress the nervous system and potentially compromise sobriety.

Working with people with addiction problems, I have found that healthy food is not the first thing on their minds. Let’s face it: it’s usually a cup of coffee and a cigarette, or a Mountain Dew® and a donut. Those lifestyle habits certainly do not support sobriety. In fact, research shows that those choices directly relate to an increased risk of relapse.

If you’re looking for long-term sobriety, let’s start with the most important meal of the day: breakfast. Does your breakfast set you up for success or for problems?

  • A balanced breakfast of eggs, potatoes and peppers sautéed in butter is the best.
  • On the other hand, donuts and coffee will ultimately leave you feeling anxious and craving more sugar and/or alcohol.
  • Not eating breakfast can result in irritability, fatigue and cravings for sugar or alcohol.
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A balanced breakfast is critical for stable brain chemistry and long-term sobriety.

Most people with sensitive brain chemistry feel best when they eat five to six times per day. Eating small meals helps maintain balanced blood sugar and alleviates the likelihood of experiencing panic, anxiety, cravings or insomnia.

If these symptoms sound familiar, you may be waiting too long between meals to eat. A simple nutritional solution to maintaining sobriety is to eat several times a day. This may sound simple, but many find it hard to put into practice.

We suggest this tasty, easy-to-follow menu:

  • Breakfast: 2-3 eggs, bacon, and hash browns cooked in butter.
  • Morning snack: 2 slices of deli turkey (chemical free), cream cheese, nuts.
  • Lunch: 4 ounces of meat, a salad with 3-4 cups of greens and raw veggies, olives or avocado, with olive oil dressing (such as a Chicken Caesar salad).
  • Afternoon snack: cottage cheese, blueberries and slivered almonds.
  • Dinner: 4 ounces of meat, 2 cups cooked vegetables, rice, 1-2 tablespoons butter (salmon, green beans, one-half sweet potato).
  • Bedtime snack: apple with real peanut butter or almond butter.

The benefits of such a menu include more energy, a clear mind and balanced moods. You will also have fewer cravings for sugar, alcohol and other drugs. In other words, changing what you eat will make you feel more comfortable in your own skin and in your sobriety.

Another important habit to change is what you drink; the perfect beverage is water, which transports nutrients to every cell in your body. Carrying a water bottle and drinking eight to ten glasses of water per day will prevent dehydration, which can be another risk factor in maintaining sobriety.

To see how nutrition can support your sobriety, follow the suggested eating plan for two weeks and see how much better you feel. Observe what happens with your cravings.

By eating real foods in balance several times each day, you are giving your body nutrients it needs to support sobriety and stabilize brain chemistry.

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Darlene Kvist, M.S., C.N.S., L.N., is a licensed nutritionist and certified nutrition specialist. She cofounded Nutritional Weight & Wellness, based in the Twin Cities.

This article was first published in the January 2007 issue of The Phoenix Spirit.

Last Updated on August 10, 2022

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