‘You are what you eat’
is a maxim with which we are all familiar. The adverse effects of our fast food, processed food diet are well documented. Healthy eating is vital to us all but is especially relevant to addicts. Most addicts have poor diets and appetites. Alcohol addicts also may have damaged the stomach, pancreas and liver and absorb nutrients properly. Supplementation may be required (see the neurobiology section) but a balanced diet is equally important.
In many ways it is just as important what you do not eat as opposed to what you do. A varied diet rich in protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals is essential for recovery. We provide wholesome, healthy, appetising food. Eating healthily does not have to be a chore!
Whilst a full analysis of dietary requirements is beyond the scope of this article, there are important points to stress. A high protein diet is provided, chicken, fish, eggs, pulses etc feature in our meals. Complex carbohydrate is provided; the use of refined white flour and refined white sugar is discouraged. Brown rice, wholemeal bread and limited amounts of brown sugar are offered. The consumption of healthy fats (omega 3 and 6) are vital to the efficient working of the nervous system. An adequate supply of vitamins and minerals, essential for neurotransmitter synthesis, is provided by serving a variety of fresh green leafy vegetables.
Alcohol addicts have a definite need for a balanced diet. It is still poorly recognised that up to 90% of alcohol addicts have increased sugar sensitivity which results in hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar). Sugar promotes the release of beta-endorphins which boost self-esteem, increase pain tolerance and promote a feeling of well-being. Sugar boosts serotonin levels, alleviating depression and creating peace of mind, optimism, creativity and sound sleep. Conversely low sugar and low beta-endorphin causes a sense of low self-worth, feelings of isolation, tearfulness and depression; low serotonin causes impulsive behaviour, depression, aggression and lack of concentration. These symptoms are typical of the ‘dry drunk’ syndrome, commonly seen in recovery. In fact irritability, cravings, mood swings, exaggerated response to minor stresses and insomnia are almost taken for granted in recovery. These symptoms can be combated by alcohol and sugar. Why then do we not encourage sugar intake? The answer is that this is a quick fix with major drawbacks. Excess blood sugar causes the body to pump insulin into the blood stream to lower the levels. Blood sugar then falls too low (hypoglycaemia) and the body pumps adrenaline and cortisol into the blood to raise sugar again. These wild swings in blood sugar levels cause wild swings in behaviour which can eventually deplete the adrenal hormones resulting in adrenal ‘burn-out’, depression, exhaustion and ultimately suicidal thoughts. The aim of our dietary plan is to encourage as much stability in blood sugar as possible. This is achieved by encouraging low glycaemic index foods, replacement of white flour and refined sugar with unrefined carbohydrate. Breakfast is said to be the most important meal of the day. Porridge is an excellent source of slow release carbohydrate. In addition mid-morning and afternoon healthy snacks help to keep blood sugar constant, heightening wakefulness and well-being. This diet, along with a reduction in stimulants, such as caffeine, lessens stress on the adrenal glands.
Healthy fats (omega 3 and 6) are essential for proper nervous system function. This can be derived from good nutrition, particularly fish and fish oils along with olive oil and oily vegetables, cheese and yogurts. Flax seeds and flax seed oil are particularly rich in omega 3.
Fruit, providing it does not contain too much sugar is an excellent source of Vitamin C and a plentiful supply is offered.
In general fried foods, rich in saturated fats are avoided. Instead brown rice and boiled potato, sweet potato and root vegetables are preferred.
Snacking on convenience foods is discouraged.
We try to provide a varied, balanced, healthy diet but we do bear in mind that for some people changing life-long habits can be difficult. We encourage but do not demand!