You have been discharged from a substance use disorder (SUD) treatment facility; you feel terrific and are excited to begin your new life in recovery. It is time to apply those skills you learned, follow up with outpatient providers, attend meetings, and find a sponsor if you do not already have one. All of these are important in helping you maintain sobriety. However, a healthy diet and exercise are two additional tools that can strengthen your relapse prevention plan and have you feeling your best.
How a Healthy Diet Can Affect Recovery
Chronic substance use can affect nutritional status and body composition due to decreased intake, altered nutrient absorption, and disruption of the mechanisms that control food intake and satiety. Poor nutritional quality negatively affects mental and physical health, making it harder to abstain from substances. On the other hand, eating a healthier diet can improve your mental and physical health and make it easier to avoid using substances.
Proper nutrition fuels the mind and body while providing needed vitamins, minerals, and nutrients your body needs to repair itself and improve your immune system. A person with substance use disorder is more likely to relapse with poor eating habits. You may have forgotten what hunger feels like, and mistaking hunger for substance cravings may put you at risk for relapse. That is why it is essential to eat three balanced meals daily and include healthy snacks in your meal plan.
Exercise and its Benefits for SUD Recovery
Along with a healthy diet, exercise can be an extremely effective tool to help you stay sober. According to Claire Twark, MD, in the Harvard Health Publishing article Can exercise help conquer addiction, animal studies indicate that regular exercise can help maintain abstinence. In these studies, regular swimming decreased morphine consumption in opioid-dependent rats. In addition, cocaine-dependent rats given access to an exercise wheel showed a decrease in self-administration of the drug.
There are several reasons exercise can help you avoid relapse:
- Exercise causes the brain to produce endorphins (our “feel-good” chemicals)
- Workouts can help provide structure to your day
- Working out can provide a distraction when you experience cravings
- If you join a gym or a group, social connections and friendships can be formed
- After you have been exercising for a while, you start to feel better and stronger. You may begin to want to feel better more than you want substances and the negative consequences they bring.
Where Do You Begin?
The safest way to begin eating a healthy diet and exercising is to start with a trip to your primary care provider (PCP). It is important to begin by discussing your plans with your doctor to ensure you proceed safely, especially if you have any chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, kidney or liver problems, respiratory conditions, or musculoskeletal injuries. Your PCP may refer you to a dietitian or nutritionist who can help you with your dietary needs.
It is okay to begin slowly and with minor changes such as:
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- When shopping, park further away from the store to get more walking in your day.
- Begin exercising by walking a few minutes a day and gradually increasing time, speed, and distance.
- For strength training, begin with light weights or resistance bands. You can even start with bodyweight exercises. Just make sure you practice good form to avoid injury.
- Incorporate rest days and active recovery days into your exercise program.
- Slowly replace sweets with fruit.
- If you dislike a lot of raw vegetables, try cooking them in different ways and using various seasonings to make them more enjoyable. Then, slowly add more to your meals.
- Healthy soups are an excellent way to incorporate more vegetables into your diet, especially if you are not especially fond of them, since the seasonings and other ingredients in the soup can mask some of the taste of the vegetables.
- If you eat a lot of red meat, replace fattier cuts of meat with leaner ones.
- Enjoy nuts, seeds, and healthy fats in moderation. Grab a few lightly salted almonds, walnuts, or peanuts when you are craving crunchy salty snacks like chips.
- Try slowly adding more fish, chicken, and other healthy proteins into your meals.
- Use a tracking app to track exercise and food intake.
- Invest in a fitness tracker to help you monitor your activity and steps.
What Can You Do if You Are Short on Time?
In today’s world it seems like we are constantly busy, busy, busy and always short on time. Is it even possible to eat healthy and exercise when there is so little time in the day? Yes. It is possible, but to be successful it may require some thought and planning. Some tips for eating healthy on the go are:
- Keep healthy, portable snacks such as nuts, carrot slices, fruit, and string cheese stocked and ready.
- Frozen fruits and spinach are perfect for a quick green smoothie. Add some protein powder to help keep you feeling full longer.
- Make a large batch of your favorite healthy soup and freeze it small containers for later.
- Find healthy crock pot recipes so you can put your ingredients in it and let them slow cook while you go on with your busy day.
- Air fryers and instapots can be great tools to help you cook healthy recipes quickly.
- Keep healthy protein bars on hand for an occasional meal or snack. Just look out for the sugar content and calories.
- Do shorter workouts on busier days.
All of the effort and planning will be worth it when you start feeling great and staying sober is a little easier. Adding exercise and eating a nutritious diet help you maintain sobriety.
There are many strategies to help you maintain sobriety. Two critical strategies that are often overlooked are eating a healthy diet and exercising. The Sober Life staff believes that both are extremely important to relapse prevention. Our programs include yoga to help you begin moving your body. For patients who need it, we also have groups that focus on teaching life skills such as planning and making healthy meals. We understand the importance of treatment, including skills and strategies that will work out in the “real world” outside the treatment environment. Our programs allow you to remain in the community and practice what you are learning in treatment in real-time. Find out more about our effective and flexible treatment programs at our beautiful San Diego location, or ask about virtual treatment options for even greater flexibility. Call Sober Life today at (619) 542-9542.