Rehab and recovery may feel like an exercise in what not to put in your body, to the point that what you should consume becomes an afterthought. But eating well and minding your nutrients is important, even critical, from the moment you decide to quit using. During detox, a boost of carbohydrates, amino acids and vitamins that you may be deficient in (D, C, A, E, B1, B6 …) can help ease the physical difficulty of withdrawal. In sobriety, adding certain foods will help keep your energy sailing, reduce cravings, and get your body and mind in shape.
What You Want
Feeling more energetic, sleeping more soundly, getting a handle on your mental health: These are a few incentives for getting sober—and no one is going to tsk-tsk you for adding "banking money" and "looking hotter" to that list, either. Why not maximize these recovery perks by eating right, along with the other fantastic steps you're taking? Oh, and by the way: With that money you're saving, you can dine like royalty, once in a while. Caviar for omega-3, truffles for antioxidants!
Eating well in recovery isn't so different from eating a healthy, balanced diet, broadly. But some compounds and components of your diet, especially in early recovery, can help restore brain health and shore up your systems that have suffered from nutrient neglect.
U.S. News & World Report's recovery specialist recommends whole (as opposed to processed) foods of all staple varieties: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy. Specifically, antioxidant-rich foods are a must for rebuilding your immune system; pick up some blueberries, strawberries, pecans, beans and, yep, dark chocolate. The amino acids tyrosine and tryptophan produce dopamine and serotonin, respectively, two neurotransmitters essential to staying energetic and feeling positive. Find both tyrosine and tryptophan in foods like chicken, turkey, fish, peanuts, milk, cheese, pumpkin seeds and soy/tofu products.
Granted, different substances strain different systems of the body and cause their own dietary deficiencies, but in general, plenty of carbohydrates, some proteins, and limited sugar and fat intake can be helpful in making you whole. Nutritionist magazine Today's Dietician provides a good rundown of how alcohol, opioids, stimulants and more can deplete you in specific ways, and how to right your ship with food and fluids. Often, in early recovery, nutritional and vitamin supplements are useful as well.
What To Watch Out For
One dietary bugbear seems to turn up in recovery no matter the substance, even long after rehab: sugar cravings. They can arise from out-of-whack blood sugar levels or simply the desire for a hit of pleasure tugging at your sleeve. Counselors may give you the wink-and-nod on candy and ice cream therapy; nutritionists, not so much. If you want to avoid sharpening your sweet tooth, get plenty of complex carbohydrates, which the body breaks down into glucose. Pass the bread, cereal and pasta, potatoes, peas and corn. The amino acid L-glutamine can also reduce sugar cravings. Find it in chicken, fish, dairy and lentils.
Three Meals a Day, One Day at a Time
If you're a whiz in the kitchen, or want to be, we highly recommend trying All Sober recipes by The Sobremesa for sticky peach cake, buffalo chicken mac and cheese, homemade almond butter, and scallion-caper smoked salmon toast. Beyond that, consider a meal-planning app to help you meet your dietary goals each day, and if you're rediscovering the joy of eating, why not make your own list of dream dining destinations? The world is your vitamin-B–packed, omega-3–rich, zinc-loaded oyster!