As a recovering addict, eating a healthy diet is part of your journey. But dieting can sometimes serve as a substitute for addiction, and eating disorders and addiction are sometimes connected. Eating healthy foods in moderation is a necessary learning curve for recovering addicts.
Many people struggling with addiction stop eating healthy meals for a number of reasons. Some substances suppress appetite while others make you hungry. Also, when your life revolves around a substance, you don’t put much thought into what you’re eating or when you had your last meal.
Further complicating things is that eating disorders share common causes and symptoms with addiction. You will need to be careful that obsessive dieting does not become another outlet for your addiction tendencies.
Why is healthy eating important for recovering addicts?
Recovering addicts need to eat healthy and regular meals because of multiple factors. For one thing, physical health and mental health are closely connected. Since an addict’s lifestyle is generally very unhealthy, addicts in rehab need to work on improving their physical health. After leaving rehab, maintaining that physical health is an important defense against relapse.
Furthermore, bad eating habits are linked, for many people, with shame. Some people are ashamed of a perceived lack of willpower, while others are ashamed of how they perceive their body. Shame can be a trigger for many addicts.
Having a healthy eating schedule also contributes to a steady routine, which is helpful for managing life and cravings out of rehab.
But healthy eating cannot become an obsession. Here are some tips for healthy eating in moderation for recovering addicts.
1. Create eating habits, not fasting habits
When people talk about dieting, they generally refer to self-denial. However, for recovering addicts, healthy eating habits need to be built around eating, not fasting. In other words, instead of deciding on which foods you shouldn’t eat, your eating plan can be built on what foods are healthy.
Yes, eating tons of fast food and junk food is not healthy. But simply telling yourself not to eat these things is not a solution. Rather focus on creating a routine that gives you both the sustenance and pleasure you need from food. The fast food and junk food that don’t fit into this plan don’t need to be off limits entirely, but include them as occasional treats.
2. Make it personal
One of the major problems with fad diets is that they are one-size-fits-all. But individuals’ physical realities and needs are often very different. So, while a low-carb high-protein diet might be healthy for some people, it can cause real problems for anyone deficient in nutrients present in carbs.
Another issue is that people have different preferences and routines. An intermittent fasting diet may well be sustainable for people who have very structured days. However, for someone who goes out to dinner with friends regularly, has irregular shifts at work, or simply loves snacking, intermittent fasting is unlikely to be sustainable.
Rather than following a fad diet, as a recovering addict you are best served by seeing a nutritionist or dietitian. You can work with them to create a personalized meal plan that includes both foods that you enjoy and from which you need particular nutrients.
3. Lose the scale
When you step onto a scale you get one of two outcomes: you either feel bad about yourself or get a dopamine boost. For a recovering addict, both of these outcomes can be dangerous.
As we’ve mentioned, shame is generally harmful to addiction recovery. But the alternative can be as dangerous. Seeing your weight loss on a scale feels good in a very particular way. It rewards a certain behavior that, in excess, can be extremely harmful.
Dieting can become addictive, especially when judged in weight. The scale’s reward has no context. Whether you lost weight by exercising, eating healthy, or starving yourself, the scale will only give you a number.
Weight loss is simply not a helpful way of measuring your dietary health. As a recovering addict, losing the scale is one of the first things you should do.