You ARE What You Eat – How Nutrition Helps the Therapeutic Process


Working in the field of addiction, it is not uncommon for me to hear people say; “I should be able to indulge in all the sweets, fats and junk food I want.” There is a shared belief that “treating themselves” to processed foods is better than using their drug of choice. This, however, is proving to be detrimental to recovery. Researchers are discovering that the foods we consume affect our moods, cravings and even long term sobriety.


The Nutritional Dilemma Faced by People in Recovery

  • The very act of ingesting drugs or alcohol has probably wreaked havoc on the body.
  • And alcohol interferes with nutrient breakdown resulting in nutritional deficiencies.
  • Opiates tend to cause gastrointestinal issues.
  • Stimulants suppress appetite, which can lead to an insufficient intake of calories and vital nutrients.

A person in active addiction is less likely to eat healthily. Some drugs can cause you to eat too much and some drugs cause you to eat too little. It is not unusual, at the height of addiction, for as much as 50 percent of the daily caloric intake to come from alcohol.


How Nutrition Helps the Therapeutic Process:

Proper nutrition has the potential to make people in recovery feel better both mentally and physically. Proper nutrition provides:

  • Energy to the body
  • The needed help to build and repair organ tissue
  • The necessary nutrients to strengthen the immune system

For many people in recovery, there can be damage to vital organs during the course of active addiction. Good nutrition can provide the nutritional components needed to help restore potentially damaged tissues.


Good food for recovery

A favorite “excursion” to the Fulton Street Farmer’s Market…


Mood Regulation…

Nutrition also plays an important role in mood regulation. Research suggest that changes in diet can alter brain structure both physiologically and chemically. These changes can influence behavior. The consumption of certain foods has been tied to an increased production of key neurotransmitters like serotonin. Serotonin assists in mood enhancement.


Does this mean that people in recovery can use food to feel better?

  • Physically: Proper nutrition can repair earlier damage and assist in operating at a more optimal level
  • Mentally: Certain foods can enhance mood and overall well-being.


For many in recovery, feeling better can help reduce the risk of relapse. And Research suggests that those in recovery with insufficient dietary lifestyles are at higher risk of relapse.


The Sugar Saboteur:

It is not uncommon for people in early recovery to become addicted to sugar. Colorado-based master nutrition therapist, Patricia Farrell suggests that recovering alcoholics are especially prone to sugar addiction. And the highs and lows that accompany it. Eating in a way that may cause blood sugar spikes and crashes can be detrimental to the recovery process. When crashes occur the body craves more sugar. To the alcoholic brain, a sugar craving can translate to an alcohol craving, and the strong craving could be disastrous to sobriety.


Research has shown that by regulating blood sugar, those is recovery can minimize the sugar highs and lows that can lead them to reach for a drink.


Nutrition specialists suggest you should eat a minimum of 10 to 15 grams of proteins with each meal. And also several snacks throughout the day. To prevent sugar crashes, have healthy snacks available throughout the day to promote stable blood sugar levels.


At Sanford House, we know that after years of dietary neglect due to active addiction, promoting a healthier dietary lifestyle creates a pathway to better health.  And better overall health will promote a pathway to sobriety.






Author Lynnel Brewster (RN,MA, NCC, LPC, ADS, LLMFT) brings a compassionate, holistic perspective to her work. With more than 20 years combined nursing and counseling experience, she is has had plenty f time to develop her style. Lynnel is a Registered Nurse as well as an Acupuncture Detoxification Specialist. Her diverse background includes cross-cultural experiences in Indonesia and Africa. Lynnel spends her free time with her family (especially her grandchildren...) and loves to hike and read. As Clinical Director of Sanford Addiction Treatment Centers, she loves her job helping individuals rediscover themselves in recovery.