Hands-On Nutrition for Addiction Recovery

Last updated on November 4th, 2019

During recovery from substance use disorders (SUDs) individuals may experience excessive weight gain and exhibit dysfunctional eating patterns, contributing to an increased incidence of chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and hepatic disorders.

Current research has identified an overlapping neurological connection between overeating, food addiction, and substance abuse (Hone-Blanchet & Fecteau, 2014). Both highly palatable processed foods and substances of abuse stimulate the same dopaminergic neurological reward pathways in the brain. Due to this brain “reward” and pleasure center activation, once the drug of choice is removed, a person in recovery often turns to highly palatable foods to fill that void and to subsequently self-medicate with food.

…once the drug of choice is removed, a person in recovery often turns to highly palatable foods to fill that void and… self-medicate with food.-David Wiss, Kristie Moore

Lack of Nutrition Education in SUD Treatment Facilities

Drug addicts and alcoholics in early recovery tend to prefer highly palatable convenience foods that are filled with sugar, salt, and fat, meanwhile containing limited health-promoting nutrients. In SUD treatment facilities it is common to have an abundance of easily accessible processed foods readily available to patients at any time of day or night. Eating a moderate amount of foods rich in refined sugars and fats may certainly be appropriate when trying to get past the immediate crisis of detoxification, however chronic exposure can produce undesirable effects on the body and brain.

Fast FoodResearch has shown that clients in early recovery tend to gain excessive weight only to become self-conscious and unhappy with their appearance, which may lead to anxiety and depression. These potent emotions may cause stress for the individual, putting them at jeopardy of relapse.

Notwithstanding the recent research regarding health concerns and the healthcare burden associated with the SUD population, it is still not common practice for patients in treatment facilities to receive nutrition education and counseling in addition to common therapeutic and psychosocial interventions. Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) can play a vital role in offering these services to recovering drug addicts and alcoholics. Many people entering treatment lack basic knowledge of food and nutrition as well as essential life skills that would allow them to care for themselves as they continue further into recovery.

Hands-on Nutrition and Cooking

Nutrition education and counseling will help to provide a more holistic form of treatment, guiding individuals to make healthier food choices as a way of healing the damage that has been done to their mind and body.

Currently we are working on a research project proposing a specific nutrition intervention that will take place at Breathe Life Healing Centers in Los Angeles. The intervention will include a weekly session of nutrition education followed by a hands-on culinary component where a pre-selected number of clients will prepare a healthy meal for all of the clients in the house. The purpose of this intervention is to assess participant’s nutritional attitudes and beliefs, nutrition knowledge, and their level of confidence in relation to food preparation and culinary skills at the beginning and end of the program.

The intervention will include a weekly session of nutrition education followed by a hands-on culinary component where a pre-selected number of clients will prepare a healthy meal for all of the clients…-David Wiss, Kristie Moore

Current evidence supports nutrition interventions offering nutrition education and food preparation skills as having a positive impact on recovery outcomes contributing to healthier eating habits and an overall healthier lifestyle (Cowan & Devine, 2012). Continued research is needed in this area to promote the presence of these types of programs in all treatment facilities, making it the rule rather than the exception.

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