The point of detoxing is to rid your body of harmful toxins. While removing toxins is the primary objective in any detox program, it’s only addressing half of the problem. The other half of detox is replacing poisonous substances with nutritious foods and plenty of liquids.
While some sweet or savory foods might feel comforting in the moment, your body will feel better overall if you’re eating food full of nourishment. Drug detox isn’t solely about quitting the use of a substance, it’s also about replacing the bad with the good.
Why Diet Matters During and After Detox
Substance abuse often enables poor dieting choices like late night eating, skipping meals and poor food choices. Many drugs, when abused, may also prevent your body from receiving the proper nutrients it needs from foods. Abusing drugs can reduce your daily nutrition intake, making detox and a proper diet even more significant to your full recovery.
While detox withdrawal symptoms vary based on the substance, one of the more common symptoms is a lack of appetite that’s usually accompanied by nausea and vomiting. When you find the strength to keep food and liquids down again, it’s crucial to feed your body the proper nutrients. According to the National Library of Medicine, a balanced diet is important for those abstaining from drugs and alcohol, as a healthy diet positively impacts your overall mood and health and can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
The Negative Nutritional Impacts of Drugs and Alcohol
Drugs and alcohol won’t provide the best nutritional value to your diet. Alcoholism is known to impair your body’s digestive enzymes as well as it’s control over glucose levels, among multiple other nutritional deficiencies. Opioid abuse may also result in slower digestion that can lead to constipation. Many stimulants often lead to eating disorders as well as create negative side effects like insomnia, anxiety and malnutrition.
What Your Body Needs
The nutrition your body needs will vary depending on the substance you’ve been using. Here are four common addictions and what to eat for each:
Opioid Addiction Foods
Opioids like Oxycontin and heroin affect the digestive system. Individuals addicted to these substances will often deal with constipation, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. Because of this, individuals with opioid addictions typically have electrolyte imbalances. Focusing on a high-fiber diet will help decrease the chances of gastrointestinal problems, helping regulate electrolyte imbalances. Some foods that are rich in fiber include:
- Vegetables like broccoli, spinach and lima beans
- Whole grains like barley, bulgur wheat and rye.
- Beans like navy beans, black beans and lentils.
Alcohol Recovery Foods
Although alcohol is more accessible than other drugs, it can certainly be just as damaging to the body (if not more so). Alcohol has lots of empty calories and the lack of nutrition that develops with prolonged alcohol use shows.
Alcoholism usually causes deficiencies in vitamin B6, thiamine and folic acid. Individuals with alcoholism also often have an imbalance of fluids, electrolytes and protein. All of this can lead to a damaged liver and pancreas, as well as high blood pressure and seizures. Taking a good multivitamin can help to replace some of the deficient nutrients that commonly occur with alcoholism.
Someone in recovery from an alcohol use disorder will need a well-rounded diet to combat the often severe malnutrition. Women who have been heavy drinkers for a while will often benefit from calcium supplements because they may be at a higher risk for osteoporosis.
Stimulant Addiction Foods
Stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine give a high that reduces appetite and the need for sleep. Because of this, your body will likely need lots of liquids to combat dehydration and may need increased calories to replace the energy that is lost with stimulants. Staying up for extended periods can cause several problems for your health and heavy stimulant abuse can cause permanent memory damage.
Marijuana Use Foods
Unlike other drugs, marijuana can increase your appetite. However, this often means eating foods high in fat and sugar. During detox, your focus will be on reducing your caloric intake and finding balance with foods that nourish your body.
Why Junk Food Won’t Work
There are many reasons to select foods that are nutrient-dense to support your overall health and recovery journey. Here are a few.
1. Your Body Needs Nutrients to Heal
Addiction can make it difficult to recognize when some severe nutritional deficiencies have developed. Providing your body with those missing nutrients like Omega-3 fatty acids and B vitamins is going to be crucial to helping it cope with withdrawals. Additionally, when you’re feeling better it’s easier to ignore cravings.
2. Your Body Needs Fiber
While a multivitamin does help replace some nutrients if you’ve been eating poorly, it can’t sustain you long-term. Make sure you’re getting lots of vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Not only will the fiber keep your digestive system functioning properly, but it also helps to regulate your blood sugar, which means fewer mood swings and irritability.
3. You Don’t Want to Replace Your Addiction
Many people in recovery use sugar and caffeine to keep feeling awake and alert. Over time, your brain will expect the food to taste sweet and the healthier foods won’t taste as good. Eating foods with high-sugar content can become a problem if you’re using sugar as a substitute for your addiction.
Detox Food and Dieting Best Practices
Detox foods are foods that empower your recovery. These foods are usually low in carbohydrates, sugars, and fats, though this can vary depending on the person and their substance abuse. Some great examples of these foods include:
- Fruits and raw vegetables like avocados, blueberries and beets
- Whole grains like quinoa, farro and sweet potatoes.
- Seeds like hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds
- Nuts like almonds, macadamia nuts and pine nuts.
It’s important to eat regularly scheduled, balanced meals containing proper caloric and nutritional values. Many people struggling with substance abuse often possess some nutritional deficiencies, which may contribute to depression and anxiety. Dehydration is also common during detox. Staying hydrated can help you avoid several negative side effects, like muscle cramps, headaches and fatigue. Limiting caffeine intake is also recommended in detox dieting because it can trigger neurotransmitters in the brain and lead to increased stimulation, something that is best avoided during the detox process.
Detox Meal Planning: The Basics
Deciding to detox is a difficult step for many people. But having a plan in place can make things go much smoother. Here’s what to remember when you’re planning your meals.
- Water. Drink lots of water and avoid sugary drinks like soda and fruit juice or caffeinated drinks like coffee.
- Eat Your Fruits and Veggies. Aim for 5 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. There are tons of different types of fruit out there. Not big on apples? Try mangos. Hate celery? A spinach salad with strawberries, chopped walnuts, and a light vinaigrette is easy to make and delicious.
- Protein. Protein is a building block for a healthy body. You don’t need much — medical experts suggest 46 grams of protein for women and 56 grams for men each day. Protein isn’t just in meat; beans and yogurt are also good sources of protein.
- Multivitamins. A multivitamin can be extremely beneficial to kick-start your detox. Many people in recovery can benefit from a multivitamin that at least contains zinc, vitamin A, vitamin C and B-complex. However, be sure to talk to your doctor before adding vitamins to your diet. Every person’s body is different and you may need more of one nutrient than another. Also, certain vitamins can be harmful depending on what else you’ve been taking. Learn more about the best detox vitamins.
It’s Not the Drug Cravings, You’re Just Hungry
Many people who have been using drugs for a long time have forgotten how hunger feels. Once their body begins recovering, those feelings may come back in full force. It is suggested to stay on a regular meal schedule during and after detoxing, as this will teach your body when to expect food and can help keep the hunger under control.
Learn How to Cook a Few Meals
You don’t need to become a master chef to cook healthy food. You may be surprised how learning just a few basic meals can benefit your overall nutrition levels. EatingWell has a great collection of Cooking 101 tutorials, but there are many other resources available online. You might even consider investing in a slow cooker. With a slow cooker, you put the ingredients in, turn it on and let it cook, and a few hours later you have a hot meal waiting for you.
Healthy Habits to Include with Your Diet
While proper nutrition can serve as a significant benefit to your recovery, some of these other healthy habits may influence a healthier lifestyle:
- Stay away from cigarettes. Cigarettes not only contain harmful carcinogens but may also act as an addiction trigger.
- Remain positive. We’ve all heard, “mind over matter,” and it’s true. Staying positive in stressful situations will place you miles ahead of where a negative attitude will.
- Get enough sleep. Sleep is important. It’s a time for your body to recover and recharge. Without the proper amount of sleep, you’re only making it harder on your body to perform normal daily functions.
- Exercise. Exercising is great for you physically and mentally. When you exercise your body is burning fat, strengthening your heart and muscles, all while your brain is producing endorphins.
Sample Meal Plan
A meal plan can help you structure a healthy way of living. It’s important to remember to balance protein, fruits, vegetables and whole grains throughout the day. An example of a meal plan for each meal could include:
It’s called the most important meal of the day for a reason. Try scrambled eggs with some chopped bell peppers and onion to get your protein and some vegetables. If you are still feeling hungry you can cut up some fruit, spread some almond butter on toast and have a mid-morning snack.
There are plenty of pre-made salad mixes that have all the ingredients ready to go. Look for dark leaves like spinach or kale for the most nutrition. For an afternoon snack, you can have some nuts, string cheese or organic applesauce.
Choose a protein, whole grain and vegetable. This easy salmon recipe takes 15 minutes to make and you could pair it with some quinoa and steamed broccoli. It all just takes a few minutes to complete and afterward you’ll feel better than if you had eaten a fast food burger.
If you’re used to having dessert you can make some healthier indulgences. Try blending some frozen bananas, milk, and nut butter into “nice cream.” Top it with some cacao nibs or small pieces of dark chocolate.
Getting Professional Help
Addiction and substance abuse affect nearly all aspects of life. At the Recovery Village, our multidisciplinary staff and registered dietitians specialize in treatment programs that include safe, medically assisted detox through supportive aftercare programs, with carefully designed meal plans to complement your recovery. Call now to speak with a representative about supervised medical detox and if detoxing in a medical facility is the best option for you.
EatingWell. “Healthy Cooking How-To’s.” 2019. Accessed May 23, 2019.
National Institute of Health. “Substance Use Recovery and Diet.” May 8, 2019. Accessed May 23, 2019.
Foroutan, Robin. “What’s the Deal with Detox Diets?” Eatright, April 26, 2017. Accessed May 23, 2019.
Klein, A. V. & Kiat, H. “Detox Diets for Toxin Elimination and Weight Management: A Critical Review of the Evidence.” Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, 2014. Accessed May 23, 2019.
Bode, Christiane & Bode, J. Christian. “Alcohol’s Role in Gastrointestinal Tract Disorders.” Alcohol Health and Research World, 1997. Accessed May 23, 2019.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.