What is nutrition therapy for addiction recovery?

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What is Nutrition Therapy for Addiction Recovery?

The goal of nutrition therapy is to restore micro- and macronutrient deficiencies that are commonly associated with substance abuse. Regular feeding of highly nutritious foods will be of paramount importance for restoring cognitive function. Nutrition In Recovery owner David A. Wiss, MS, RDN, CPT is an expert at understanding the effects of individual substances on nutritional status. Alcohol, drugs, and poly-substance abuse can lead to alterations in eating behavior that can be drastically improved during early recovery, a critical time for the development of new habits. Many individuals will not be ready to make drastic dietary changes in early recovery, and Nutrition In Recovery understands these barriers. We believe that nutritional needs should always be assessed on an individual basis, and that realistic weekly goals lead to the best outcomes.

Nutrition Therapy for Addiction vs. Eating Disorders

Nutrition therapy for addiction recovery is not the same as nutrition therapy for eating disorder recovery, although often times there is overlap. Most patients with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa often have an unhealthy preoccupation with food. Many eating disorder patients have extreme rules that govern their eating behavior, and these rules can compromise their quality of life.¬†Treatment for these conditions often requires attempts to eliminate “black-and-white thinking” and learn how to channel that energy into something useful. One of the goals in eating disorder treatment is to help the individual think about food less or differently, and therefore often times standard nutrition education is contraindicated. A treatment goal for eating disorder patients is typically flexibility, moderation, and the adaption of the philosophy that “all foods fit”.

Much like eating disorder patients, many individuals with a history of substance abuse have body image issues, and frequently these issues surface or resurface once sobriety has been achieved. It appears that many clinicians are tempted to classify drug addicts as having eating disorders, because co-occurrence of these disorders is well documented. However, Nutrition In Recovery believes that substance use disorder is associated with it’s own distinct pathology and should be addressed accordingly. Meanwhile, there are many similarities between the two, including body image issues, night eating syndrome, binge eating in some cases, with potential for compensatory purge behavior such as excessive exercise.

Nutrition In Recovery believes that drug addicts should not be treated like eating disorder patients. Rather, addicts should become educated about nutrition and should learn to express concern for what they put into their body. A drug addict should be allowed to have certain food rules, such as not drinking sugar-sweetened beverages, as many contemporary foods are highly triggering to the addicted brain.

Understanding Nutrition Education

Individuals in recovery from substance abuse should be empowered with nutrition information in order to make informed choices. Stressing “moderation” to addicts in early recovery can be a very confusing message, as prefrontal cortex function is severely impaired by addiction. Moderation is a good long-term goal but may not be the best initial nutrition intervention for individuals with a long track record of poor regulation. All foods do not necessarily “fit” for addicts. Meanwhile, the first goal in addiction treatment is to get the individual past the immediate crisis, so there is plenty of room for flexibility. Many individuals in recovery require several months of continued effort before successfully implementing changes in nutrition behavior.

Nutrition & Addiction Resources:

  • Mr. Wiss has written a chapter on nutrition therapy for eating disorder, substance use disorder, and addictions. The chapter addresses the disorders separately and co-occurring, and will be available soon through Springer Publishing.

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