Diet and Recovery

A bowl of cereal and fruit - eating a healthy diet in recovery

by Barbara Stevens

A Recovery Diet

Early recovery from active addiction can be a difficult time. Our bodies may feel uncomfortable, we may have a lot of unfamiliar and unpredictable emotions. It is easy to transfer addictions to activities like overworking or watching television, and it is also easy to use food to make us feel better. Or we may overeat sugary foods, especially if we were abusing a drug like alcohol that has a high sugar content or narcotic pain medication which is correlated with cravings for sugar.

Why Eat Well

It’s easier to maintain your recovery when you feel good, and eating a healthy diet will help you feel better physically, mentally, and emotionally. If you eat a regular, balanced, and healthy diet, you’ll have fewer health problems, your energy will improve, you’ll think more clearly, and you won’t have as many mood swings. Eating isn’t just for people in recovery. Eating well is great for everyone!

A bowl of cereal and fruit - eating a healthy diet in recovery

Improving Your Diet

Eat regular meals. If you skip meals, your blood sugar will drop, leaving you vulnerable to eating sugary foods or relapsing. (Hunger is a common relapse trigger.)

Drink water. Coffee and tea are also good, in moderation. Other drinks aren’t so healthy. You may crave sugar, but if you can limit your sweets, you’ll feel better in the long run.

Lean proteins are best. Choose chicken and turkey over beef and pork, vegetable proteins like tofu, peanut butter, and nuts. Get enough protein, though. Protein helps your body rebuild if you haven’t been taking care of yourself because of addiction or other difficulty.

Choose whole fruits like apples or pears over candy or doughnuts. Fruit is also better than drinking juice.

Snacks are fine. It’s best to include whole grains, fruits or vegetables, and healthy proteins.

Try to eat whole grains such as brown rice and whole wheat pasta or bread. Refined grains don’t fill us up as well because they have less nutritional value, so we eat more of them.

Healthy fats are important, like olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocados.

Eat lots of vegetables and fruits. Good for you at all times, when recovering from an active addiction, the vitamins and minerals they contain help rebuild your system.

Other Health Tips

Get enough sleep (6 to 8 hours).

Find a physical activity you enjoy, such as walking, running, working out, or playing soccer. Build up gradually and exercise regularly. You may find it helpful to exercise with a friend.

Learn to relax. You could try meditation, yoga, prayer, or gardening. Watching television and using the computer may seem relaxing, but they stimulate our nerves rather than calm us down.

Find a support group or see a spiritual director or counselor.

Explore your spirituality. Find a way to get closer to your Higher Power. A religious community can give you a lot of support and improve the quality of your life.

Making Healthy Eating Affordable

Buy produce in season, such as tomatoes in the summer and cabbage in the fall. Produce will be cheaper then. Look for vegetables and fruit on sale (but don’t buy them if they’re wilted or old).

Shop at farmer’s markets. You may be able to get deals on produce.

Don’t buy processed foods. They are expensive and have little food value.

Buy in bulk whenever possible. Rolled oats or nuts in the bulk bin are cheaper than packaged.

Learn to use bulk herbs and spices instead of relying on packaged flavorings. If you need jars to hold your seasonings, buy them packaged the first time, then fill them with bulk herbs and spices next time.

If you have time, make your own mayonnaise, ketchup, and barbecue or other sauces. They’ll be healthier, tastier, and cheaper.

Cooking From Scratch

It takes hardly any more time to cook a cake or muffins from scratch than from a mix. If you bake a lot, you can mix up a big batch of muffin mix or cake mix. For healthier treats, use whole wheat pastry flour.

Soups are much better home made and significantly less expensive. You will have to plan ahead, but you can cook up a big batch and freeze some for another day.

In the freezer, save the trimmings from vegetables like onions, carrots, celery, and sweet potatoes. Then, when your bag is full, simmer it for a few hours in a pot with water and chicken or beef bones. You’ll have an tasty, inexpensive stock for your homemade soup.

Use dry beans instead of canned. Once you’re used to cooking them, you’ll find they’re easy to make. If you add epazote (just a pinch or the beans will be bitter) or kelp (a six-inch strip) to the beans, they’ll produce less gas.

Instead of expensive boxed cereals, make porridge (such as oatmeal). Not only is it a lot healthier, but you’ll save a lot of money.

You may like making bread, pizza dough, or crackers from scratch, especially with children.

If you feel pressed for time, make big batches and freeze them. Learn how here.

Learn to Cook

Sometimes cooking even simple things can seem daunting, and what if you don’t have time to spend in the kitchen? Cooking from scratch doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Try a class or cookbook.

Here are some websites that offer healthy, inexpensive recipes that have been tested so you know they work. (Sometimes online recipes don’t work well, so if you don’t have experience cooking, start with one of the sites below or use a recipe book.)

Oregon State University Extension Service

Food Hero (part of OSU)

Basic cookbooks are available at your local library, so you can try them out before buying them. The ones below, along with dozens of others, are at the Multnomah County Library.

The Fannie Farmer Cookbook

The Fannie Farmer Junior Cookbook

The Joy of Cooking

Feed Yourself, Feed Your Family