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The Mind-Body Connection: Why Good Nutrition Is Important to Substance Abuse Recovery

A growing body of scientific research confirms what grandparents have been saying for centuries: “Healthy body, healthy mind.”

This connection between our physical and mental health is of dire importance for addicts and alcoholics early in recovery, when we are at our most vulnerable. It’s no secret that substance abuse generally leads to poor nutrition. Good nutrition helps us restore our physical and mental health, which sets us up for success in recovery.

Let’s look at the mind-body connection and how good nutrition is important to recovery.

The mind-body connection is not a theory

This report published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information documents just some of the ways that stress affects physical health:

  • White blood cells don’t do their job against virus-infected cells or cancer cells
  • Wounds heal slower among stressed-out people
  • Various autoimmune diseases become worse in times of stress

“There is no real division between mind and body because of networks of communication that exist between the brain and neurological, endocrine and immune systems,” said Oakley Ray, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, Psychiatry and Pharmacology at Vanderbilt University, in a different study published by the National Institutes of Health.

And as Gareth Cook from Scientific American points out:

“Our mind can play an important role in healing our body — or in staying healthy in the first place. . . There are now several lines of research suggesting that our mental perception of the world constantly informs and guides our immune system in a way that makes us better able to respond to future threats.”

To those who have been battling substance abuse disorders — to whom the world appears unjust and cruel, abstinence seems next to impossible and life is terrifying and not worth it — just being awake can feel like a “future threat.” Eating right and restoring physical health is a vital part of preparing us to face our pasts and do the type of soul-healing work we need to achieve long-term sobriety.

Good nutrition for bodies damaged by substance abuse

According to Today’s Dietitian, a journal for registered dietitians and nutrition professionals, proper nutrition does more than help heal sick bodies. It can also:

  • Reduce cravings for drugs and alcohol
  • Improve mood
  • Reduce stress
  • Mitigate co-occurring medical conditions
  • Promote recovery and a healthy lifestyle

The nutrition guidelines for addicts and alcoholics in recovery look a lot like the healthy eating guidelines for humanity in general. The USDA publishes healthy eating guidelines based on ongoing research; visit ChooseMyPlate to learn the latest. Other good resources include Mayo Clinic and Healthline.

There are, however, several important callouts for those recovering from a substance use disorder. Those include:

Avoid sugar. Fluctuations in blood sugar levels can make you feel depressed or anxious, which may lead to relapse.

Limit caffeine. High levels of caffeine are often attractive when you’re new to recovery because you can get a rush without having to get a new sobriety date. But there’s a crash on the other side that can set you up for relapse.

Eat a variety of foods with lots of vitamins and minerals. Addicts and alcoholics are usually malnourished by the time they seek help. Eat a balanced diet that offers a wide range of the nutrients you’ve been lacking. Talk to a doctor about taking a daily supplement, too.

Establish a healthy eating routine. For most of us, our previous lives were marked by an “anything goes” mentality. Now is time to establish healthy habits, draw healthy limits for yourself and start taking care of yourself. Regular mealtimes are part of a greater commitment to self-care and healthy decision making.

Cornerstone Healing Center Offers Nutritional Therapy

At Cornerstone Healing Center in Scottsdale, Arizona, clients are provided with nutrition therapy as part of a comprehensive treatment plan for substance abuse. Under the guidance of a nutrition professional, you will learn how to make healthy food choices and create weekly menus. For more information about our mind-body approach to addiction treatment, please contact us online or call Scottsdale Cornerstone Healing Center at (800) 480-1781

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