Nurturing Your Recovery – Nutrition

By Annette Demeny

Active addiction can deplete the body of its naturally nutrients and healthy microbiome. Many people in early recovery face malnutrition and depression due to the lack of nutritious foods or an over abundance of really unhealthy foods. As with sobriety, changing our behaviors can be difficult. Changing the way we eat and what we eat to heal our bodies is no different and can take patience and time. If you’ve ever been in treatment or know someone who has attended drug or alcohol treatment, you may have heard of the saying, “one day at a time“. It holds great meaning about being present and live each day as it comes to remain sober. So, when advising someone in recovery, we have to be mindful of that sacred phase and approach rebuilding their health one day at a time. The first step is probably the most important…gaining the knowledge of “why is eating healthy important to my recovery?”.

The connection between gut health and mental health is important to understand before we go any further. The gut is known as the “second brain”. It communicates messages back and forth to our brain in two ways; through the vagus nerve and through hormones and neurotransmitters. These messages can be affected by viruses and bacteria that live in the gut called “gut microbiome”. These microbiomes can be helpful or can be harmful. Through good nutrition, you can build an army of helpful bacteria.

So, that’s the physical side. Now what about the mental side? There’s a strong relationship with having mental health problems and having gastrointestinal issues, such as; pain, constipation, and acid reflux. Depression can cause changes to the “good bacteria” in the gut microbiome. These changes can increase inflammation in the gut and cause problems with the signalling to the brain. This can cause symptoms that look like Parkinson’s, anxiety and depression.


Did you know? 90% of serotonin and 50% of dopamine is produced in the gut! These two neurotransmitters (the relaxation and happy hormones) are needed to regulate our moods.


Okay, so why is this important? To heal the gut, you heal the body and the mind. That’s where healthy eating comes into play! During recovery, you want to aim to balance the levels of serotonin in the brain. This can be done through eating a combination of clean (organic, if possible) complex carbohydrates like beans, lentils, root vegetables (potatoes, carrots), pastas and breads (sourdough bread is fantastic for the gut), moderate proteins like fish (salmon, tuna), grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, and healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, and seeds. Keep in mind, these are general recommendations because each person’s nutritional needs are very individual (allergies to certain foods, likes and dislikes of certain foods, etc). Right now, we want to look at starting this journey of discovery at a very basic level and again…”one day at a time”.

Below are a few nutritional tips for recovery and actually, helpful for anyone looking to improve their health…


  • Limit sugar and sweets. Sugar contributes to inflammation and harmful to the diversity of gut bacteria.


  • Drink plenty of water. Your body is composed of about 60% water. The functions of this fluids include; digestion, transporting of nutrients and absorption, to name a few. Water is super important!


  • Cut back on processed foods. Packaged foods have been modified or artificially processed and have very little health benefits. In fact, they can do more harm than good.


  • Eat a variety of foods from all of the food groups (fruits, vegetables, meat, grains, dairy). Eat the rainbow! Orange, green, yellow…


  • Eat foods high in fiber (beans, fruits, vegetables, oats, flaxseed). Good gut bacteria love to snack on fiber.


  • If eating fast food, select healthier choices (grilled chicken, salad)


  • Cut back on caffeinated drinks such as; soda and coffee. The acidity can disrupt the lining of the gut. Shoot for 1-2 cups a day.


  • Ask your doctor about taking a quality multi-vitamin and other supplements. Supplements can really be beneficial for those in recovery who have lost vital nutrients.


  • Move your body! If only for a walk in nature or stretching (yoga). Aids in digestion and so good for the soul!!!


Again, these are very basic tips of healing the body through nutrition. Talk to a physician or Register Dietitian for advice designed for your individual needs.


“Nutrition is the only remedy that can bring full recovery and can be used with any treatment. Remember, food is our best medicine!” Bernard Jensen


In the upcoming weeks, we will look at other modalities of nurturing the body, mind and spirit throughout recovery.



1Mussell, M, et al. Gastrointestinal symptoms in primary care: prevalence and association with depression and anxiety. Journal of Psychosomatic Research. 64(6): 605-612.

2Posserud I, Agerforz P, Ekman R, Björnsson ES, Abrahamsson H, Simrén M. Altered visceral perceptual and neuroendocrine response. Gut. Aug 1;53(8):1102-8.


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Blog: Radical Transformation Project


What would you add? I would love to hear what has benefited you in your recovery…



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