How Healthy Eating Can Help Your Recovery

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Healthy Eating at Hope Rehab

The topic at a glance:

  • Healthy eating at Hope Rehab

  • The dangers of comfort eating

  • How an unhealthy vs. a healthy diet can impact your recovery from addiction

  • What is mindful eating and how do people in recovery benefit from it

Healthy Eating at Hope Rehab

Lunch Buffett at Hope Rehab

We recently expanded and renovated our kitchen. We did this because we recognize the importance of mealtimes for our community. Clients need to work hard to get the most out of their time with us, and a suitable diet gives them energy to do what is needed. Of course, there is more to eating than just putting fuel in the body, so we do all we can to make mealtimes something to look forward to.

Healthy eating is a key part of the program here at Hope Rehab. We are lucky to live in a part of the world where fresh, nutritious ingredients are abundant. Our menu includes salad, veggie, meats, fish and much more. We do not commit to providing special or individual diets for practical reasons, but our selection of dishes is varied enough to appeal to a wide variety of tastes and needs.

Please Note: To keep your treatment costs at a minimum we cannot provide special or individual diets for any reason, however, clients needing extra attention will be given the opportunity to organise this themselves by going to the very good supermarket in town or the local vegetable market at their own cost. Hope provides healthy balanced diet 3 x daily and will do whatever we can within reason to assist clients with special dietary needs. 

At Hope Rehab we take eating very seriously. Food is our body’s fuel, its sustenance and its medicine, it effects our mood however it should taste great too, and that’s where we have got it right. The emphasis is on fresh, tasty local produce cooked to perfection by our lovely kitchen team. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are prepared in our open plan kitchens, so you can see your meal being prepared before it reaches the table. There many different food options at every meal, tasty salads, fruits, barbeque and many local dishes. We also make sure there is a balance of western dishes to.  – Simon Mott

Say Hello to our wonderful kitchen staff, the girls are all from the same remote village up in the hills on the boarder of Burma. They cook all your tasty food, make sure your room is clean and fresh and are generally very gentle and kind people.

Hope Girls
  • Our buffet lunch includes an impressive mix of salad, vegetables, fish, and meats – all of it prepared from scratch with fresh ingredients. Clients regularly rave about the delicious food.

  • Our breakfast includes lots of fruit, a selection of yogurts, and eggs (boiled, scrambled, or sunny-side up) for protein.

  • Our clients get to enjoy 100% natural juice smoothies that are made on-site and contain no added sugar.

  • Our menu includes a good mix of Thai and Western food – all of it made using fresh ingredients by our wonderful kitchen crew.

  • We encourage clients to consume our electrolyte drinks throughout the day, so they stay hydrated and energized.

  • We discourage excessive caffeine usage, and we don’t allow energy drinks.

  • We limit ‘naughty food’ to Saturday nights when clients get to relax with a pizza (we make up for it by having plenty of salad available as well).

  • Healthy snacks are available throughout the day for clients who are feeling a bit peckish.

Why is a Healthy & Balanced Nutrition Important in Recovery?

Lunch Buffett at Hope Rehab CenterLet’s face it, if the choice is between a relapse and an ice-cream, even the staunchest ‘healthy eating’ advocate would find it hard to fault you for going with the ice-cream. It wouldn’t be wise though to see this as a ‘free pass’ to eat what you want.

The reason for this is simple: What we eat impacts our physical as well as our mental health. Consuming too much of the wrong kinds of food can leave us feeling anxious, depressed, tired, or irritable. We don’t give up drugs to feel bad. We might also be tempted to use it as an excuse to relapse if we continue to experience negative emotions due to poor diet.

Healthy eating, on the other hand, can increase our energy levels, improve our mood, and makes it easier for us to feel good about ourselves. If our overall well-being improves, it strengthens our commitment to change. Therefore, nutrition can play a crucial role in recovery.

It is sometimes argued that ending an addiction is challenging enough without adding in extra demands such as healthy eating (pun alert – you already have enough on your plate). You can even find endorsement for overindulging in junk food in the recovery literature:

We live in tricky nutritional times. I do not have all of the answers. What I do know is that we can use nutrition for empowerment, rather than disempowerment. We can teach people in early recovery how to eat for nourishment rather than simply for ‘reward’ (stimulating dopamine activity). This practice can slowly rewire the brain, change the palate, and prepare the individual for a lifetime of wellness.

– David Wiss, founder of Nutrition in Recovery (“Why Do Rehabs Neglect Good Nutrition?“)

Not Overly Rigid Nor A “Free Pass”: It’s All About Finding A Middle Way

However, there are very compelling reasons for watching what you eat in early recovery that we will discuss below.

Before we get to the benefits of healthy eating in recovery, though, a few words of caution: It is best to avoid an overly rigid approach when it comes to diet. The occasional chocolate bar, pizza, or Full English Breakfast is unlikely to cause too much harm. The problem starts when you are overindulging in junk food on a regular basis, and this is what we want to avoid. In other words, there is no ‘free pass’ when it comes to diet in early recovery, but there can be allowances.

The Dangers of Poor Diet vs. the Benefits of a Good Diet in Early Recovery

  • What you eat impacts your physical & mental health. Eating junk food can result in feeling down.

  • It is common for people in early recovery to be dealing with nutritional deficiencies (e.g. alcoholics can have deficiencies in B1 and B6 vitamins).

  • A poor diet leads to low energy. This can mean you are unable to do the things you need to do to maintain your recovery.

  • Comfort eating can lead to obesity which can then be used as an excuse for self-loathing and low confidence.

  • Electrolyte imbalances can arise due to poor diet, and these can quickly become life threatening. *

  • Good nutrition increases energy levels.

  • It makes it easier for the body to repair the damage caused by addiction.

  • It improves mood.

  • It lowers the risk of relapse.

  • It can mean we begin to feel better about ourselves.

  • It helps the immune system function, so we are less likely to get sick.

  • It can ease the ‘mental fog’ that many of us experience in early recovery.

  • Complex carbohydrates and fiber can reduce cravings.

*Many clients who come to rehab in Thailand will not be used to heat and humidity. This can be dangerous because when we sweat, we not only lose water but also electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, and chloride. Therefore, we always encourage clients at Hope to regularly drink the rehydration fluids we provide.

What is Healthy Eating?

Your meals represent a series of choices. Each choice is like a step that takes you in a particular direction. Over the years, similar choices, or habits, can lead you far in one direction.

– Donald Altman (“Meal by Meal“)

There is so much nutritional information available these days that it all becomes a bit confusing. To make things worse, there can be disagreement between the experts as to what we ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ be eating. The good news is: We don’t have to become experts in nutrition to begin eating a healthier diet. Let’s keep things simple by just implementing a few time-tested tips including:

  • Limit your consumption of processed food as this usually has poor nutritional value.

  • Avoid overindulging in sugary food as these trigger mood fluctuations.

  • Get a good supply of fiber as this will help your digestive system work efficiently.

  • Adding more protein to your diet can help you rebuild muscle, but if you have liver damage, you need to seek medical advice first as too much protein could be dangerous for you.

  • Drink plenty of water, so you stay hydrated and consider adding electrolyte powder if you are in a hot country. Consuming lots of water can also reduce the likelihood of overeating.

  • If you suspect you are dealing with nutritional deficiencies, it is recommended that you get a blood test.

  • Limit caffeine as it is a diuretic so it causes us to lose fluid. Too much caffeine can also worsen the insomnia that many of us experience in early recovery.

  • Understand that it is possible to be eating a lot, and putting on weight, yet still be dealing with nutritional deficiencies if your diet is unbalanced.

  • Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables.

Some of us find it easier to put our focus on eating healthy food rather than avoiding certain foods. As we start to feel the benefits of more wholesome food, we just naturally lose interest in the stuff that is bad for us.

The Dangers of Comfort Eating in Early Recovery

Comfort eating is sometimes described as an attempt to eat away our emotions. This is habit picked up in childhood when adults give us food (often sugary stuff) to make us feel better. We begin to associate eating certain foods with comfort, and this becomes a habit that follows us into adulthood. This can mean that when we no longer have alcohol or other drugs to turn to for comfort, food becomes the obvious replacement.

Comfort eating is a danger in recovery because it means we are still trying to avoid dealing with our emotions. It is just exchanging one form of escapism (drugs) for a new one (food). Of course, you could argue that comfort eating has less of a negative impact than drug abuse. However, on the long run, it can destroy our lives in much the same way.

Mindful Eating for People in Recovery

Mindful eating is all about learning to give our body what it wants rather than relying on habitual behaviors such as comfort eating (see above). By learning to observe how our body reacts to food more objectively, we begin to effortlessly make better food choices.

It is because we are unaware of the impact the unhealthy stuff is having on our body (mindless eating) that we continue to crave it.  It is because we are out-of-touch with the process of eating that we continue to eat even when we are not or no longer hungry.

Here are a few tips to help you eat more mindfully:

  • Give your full attention to eating – taste and enjoy your food.

  • Before grabbing something from the fridge, check to see if you are actually hungry, or if you are just doing this out of habit.

  • Avoid eating in front of the TV or computer, and this encourages mindless eating.

  • Observe the impact different types of food has on your body and mind.

  • Stop eating as soon as you feel full.

Did you find this information on ‘healthy eating in recovery’ helpful? If you did, please help us by sharing it on social media.

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