Proper nutrition can serve as a significant benefit to your recovery. It’s important to eat regularly scheduled, balanced meals during and after detox.
Substance abuse can take a significant toll on your body and often leads to poor nutrition. Making sure that you’re taking care of yourself and setting your body up for success is crucial. Drug detox isn’t solely about quitting the use of a substance. It’s also about replacing the bad with the good. To this end, it is important that you plan healthy dietary choices as you start your drug-free life.
Article at a Glance:
- Substance abuse can enable poor dieting choices, lower your appetite and prevent your body from receiving the proper nutrient intake.
- When you are trying to break from drug addiction, you may have a tendency to consume too much sugar as a way to trigger the brain’s reward center.
- It’s important to eat regularly scheduled, balanced meals containing proper caloric and nutritional values and stay hydrated during detox.
- A meal plan can help you structure a healthy way of living during and after detox to improve your chances of long-term recovery.
Why Diet Matters During and After a Drug Detox
Substance abuse often enables poor dieting choices like late-night eating, skipping meals and unhealthy 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 vital to your full recovery.
While detox withdrawal symptoms vary based on the substance, one of the more common symptoms is a lack of appetite, usually accompanied by nausea and vomiting. When you find the strength to keep food and liquids down again, it’s crucial to hydrate and feed your body the proper nutrients.
A balanced diet is important for those abstaining from drugs and alcohol: a healthy diet positively impacts your overall mood and health and can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety felt during early recovery.
When you are trying to break from drug addiction, you may have a tendency to consume too much sugar. Sugar has an effect on the brain’s dopamine levels, triggering the reward center of the brain. Addictive drugs like opioids or stimulants also trigger the brain’s reward center, so the body may crave sugar for a fast dopamine release during early recovery.
While a limited amount of sugar is fine in addiction recovery, people in recovery are in danger of replacing a drug addiction with a sugar addiction. Overconsumption of sugar can also be a health risk for obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and other serious issues. It is for these reasons that experts warn about consuming unlimited quantities of sugar and instead recommend opting for a healthier diet.
When you detox from drugs, your body and mind go through some drastic changes. A drug rehab center will help ease the transition with medication-assisted treatment where necessary, but you will still be subject to some physical and emotional effects.
Some people suddenly become incredibly hungry once they have completed the detox process. This is likely a positive sign since you may be underweight or in poor health. The difficulty is that many of the food cravings are for sugary substances, which are not necessarily the best choice.
Eating too much sugar will just lead to more sugar cravings. This is a familiar addictive cycle that you would probably like to avoid. Instead, you can control these cravings and rebuild your health by eating regular meals that are rich in protein and nutrients.
Some of the healthy meals that you might eat in a drug rehab include:
- Breakfast: Yogurt, omelet, or oatmeal
- Lunch: Chicken breast, deli sandwich, ham steak, or tacos
- Dinner: Salmon, pork chop, top sirloin, whole grain pasta, or chili – with vegetables and salad
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. Abstaining from smoking is linked to sobriety.
- 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 for 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.
Nutritional Deficiencies From Drug Use & What Your Body Needs
Drugs won’t have provided the best nutritional value to your diet. The nutrition your body needs will sometimes vary depending on the substance you’ve been using. Here are some common addictions and what to eat for each:
Opioids like oxycodone 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, especially if the person is starting medication-assisted therapy with methadone or buprenorphine to stay sober. Some foods that are rich in fiber include:
- Vegetables like broccoli, spinach, carrots, cauliflower and celery
- Whole grains like barley, bulgur wheat and rye
- Beans like navy beans, black beans and lentils
Stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine are linked to reduce appetite, so your body may need increased calories to help you gain weight if you are too thin. Methamphetamine can also cause dental problems that can make it hard to chew. Due to the risk of malnutrition, it is important for a healthcare provider to evaluate you for nutritional deficiencies. Leaving these uncorrected may cause additional drug cravings. You will likely need to increase your intake of nutrient-rich foods like:
- Fruits & vegetables
- Nuts & seeds
- Whole grains
It may be tempting to take these broad categories and try to fit junk food into them, but nutrient-dense foods are always the better option.
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.
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.
Detox Food and Dieting Best Practices
Certain foods help promote detoxification and recovery. These foods are usually low in carbohydrates, sugars and fats, though this can vary depending on the person and their substance abuse. Some 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 can impact neurotransmitters in the brain and 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.
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.
Junk food is full of empty calories and few nutrients. Addiction can make it difficult to recognize when nutritional deficiencies have developed. When you are healing from addiction, providing your body with missing nutrients is important to maintain your overall health. Important nutrients include:
- Omega-3 fatty acids: These nutrients can help neurotransmitters function and may help relieve depression and anxiety during withdrawal.
- Carbohydrates: Carbs play a role in the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in mood.
- Iron: Low iron can cause fatigue.
Junk food is low in fiber. Fiber is important for a healthy digestive tract, especially if you are recovering from an opioid addiction, which commonly causes gastrointestinal side effects during withdrawal.
Many people in recovery use sugar and caffeine to keep feeling awake and alert. However, this can cause swings in blood sugar levels that may lead to drug cravings. Also, eating foods with high sugar content can trigger a physiologic reaction similar to drugs in that it triggers the brain’s reward system. Instead of getting healthier, you run the risk of trading one addiction for another.
It’s Not the Drug Cravings, You’re Just Hungry
Many people who have been using drugs for a long time forget how hunger feels. Once their body begins recovering, those feelings may come back in full force. Nutrition experts recommend staying on a regular meal schedule during and after detox, as this will teach your body when to expect food and can help keep 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.
The Basics & Sample Meal Plan
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. Dehydration is common during the detox process, so it is important to drink up.
- Fruits and Vegetables: Aim for 5–9 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. Foods like papayas, bell peppers, strawberries, pineapple and oranges are all high in vitamin C and many other vitamins.
- Protein (Low in Fat): Protein is a building block for a healthy body. You don’t need much — just 0.36 grams of protein for every pound of body weight. Protein isn’t just in meat: beans, nuts and yogurt are also good sources of protein.
- Multivitamins: A multivitamin may help to kick-start your detox. Many people in recovery can benefit from a multivitamin, especially one that contains B-complex, zinc, and vitamins A and C. However, be sure to talk to your doctor before adding vitamins to your diet. Learn more about recommended detox vitamins before starting.
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:
- Breakfast: 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.
- Lunch: 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 applesauce.
- Dinner: 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 meal.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 and evidence-based treatment 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.
Related Topic: Getting Help for Addiction with Teletherapy
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Salz, Alyssa. “Substance Abuse and Nutrition.” Today’s Dietitian, December 2014. Accessed October 18, 2020.
Pendick, Daniel. “How much protein do you need every day?” Harvard Health, June 18, 2015. Accessed October 18, 2020.
Foroutan, Robin. “What’s the Deal with Detox Diets?” Eatright, April 26, 2017. Accessed October 18, 2020.
EatingWell. “Healthy Cooking How-To’s.” 2019. Accessed October 18, 2020.
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 October 18, 2020.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with 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 providers.