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How to Diet and Exercise to Support Addiction Recovery

Diet and exercise. It’s no secret that these two go together like peanut butter and jelly. Milk and cookies. Hall and Oates… You get the idea. And, for recovering addicts, the importance of diet and exercise as part of an ongoing addiction recovery plan cannot be understated. To find out why, check out The Raleigh House guide to diet & exercise in addiction recovery. Here we go!

Diet & Addiction Recovery: What to Eat and Why

Assortment of fruits, vegetables and exercise equipment representing the importance of diet and exercise in addiction recovery.

Drug and alcohol addiction saps our bodies of the essential vitamins and nutrients we need to stay healthy and feel our best. In this post, we’ll show you how to eat a healthy diet for recovering addicts and what foods to avoid at all costs. Here’s what you’re about to learn:

  • What to eat to help your brain work better
  • What to eat to help your body feel better and run more efficiently
  • What to eat for a stronger immune system
  • What to eat for long-lasting energy throughout the day

What Should Recovering Addicts Eat?

Foods high in protein

Habitual drug use wreaks havoc on the way our brains produce and respond to the neurotransmitter, dopamine. Amino acids like the ones found in protein are essential for neurotransmitter production and for nurturing a recovering brain. Protein is also great for building muscle mass, especially when combined with plenty of exercise.

Assortment of food, including salmon, avocado and eggs, which are great for an addiction recovery diet
Foods like salmon, avocado and eggs are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are great for the body and brain.

How to get it: Meat is probably the most obvious source of protein. If you’re a carnivore, try to choose leaner meats like fish and poultry, but even an occasional steak or burger is ok. If meat is not your thing, double down on walnuts and other nuts.

Foods rich with omega-3s

This essential fatty acid is known for its anti-inflammatory effects. It can also help improve depression, anxiety and ADHD. It’s not just good for your mental health, either. The benefits of omega-3 fatty acids extend to other parts of your body like your heart and eyes.

How to get them: Certain types of fish are chock full of omega-3s. Salmon, tuna, pollock, mackerel and cod contain some of the highest levels. Not a seafood person? Avocados, eggs and olive oil are your next best bet.

Foods high in vitamin C

Vitamin C has long been known as an important component of a healthy immune system, but it also offers tons of other health benefits. Vitamin C is good for heart and eye health, and it may also help protect us from cancer and stroke.

How to get it: Citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruits are all great sources of vitamin C. But, believe it or not, red and green peppers actually contain more of this essential vitamin than any of those citrus fruits.

Foods containing iron & vitamin E

People who are iron-deficient may have a harder time with memory and attention span. Iron also helps us metabolize protein, reduce fatigue and increase our energy levels. Vitamin E, on the other hand, is great for protecting the brain and body from harmful free radicals.

How to get them: Most of us know we’re supposed to eat our veggies, and there’s a very good reason to do so. Dark green vegetables like kale and spinach are loaded with both iron and vitamin E. Not a fan of green, leafy things? Try some sunflower seeds. They may be tiny, but they pack a powerful punch of vitamin E.

Foods packed with antioxidants

When it comes to neutralizing free radicals and preventing damage to our DNA, antioxidants are where it’s at! Plus, they’re also great for heart health, eye health and warding off dementia.

How to get them: Antioxidants are found in lots of foods, most notably “superfoods” like blueberries and acai berries. But, you can also get them from coffee and dark chocolate containing at least 70% cacao. Yum!

What NOT to Eat During Addiction Recovery… or Ever

Close up shot of delicious, deadly bacon.
While delicious, bacon is loaded with saturated fat, nitrates and tons of sodium. It’s also a known carcinogen.

This list probably won’t be too surprising to you. And, these foods aren’t just bad for recovering addicts, they’re bad for everyone. Eating too much of this stuff can increase our chances for all kinds of problems, from cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure to cancer. Just to refresh your memory, here are few things to watch out for the next time you hit the grocery store or go out for a bite to eat.

  • Anything containing high-fructose corn syrup: It’s fake sugar with real health consequences
  • Anything containing trans-fat: Also called “Partially Hydrogenated Oil”
  • Foods high in sodium & nitrates: Sorry bacon, that goes for you too!

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Exercise Tips for Recovering Addicts

Addiction physically changes the reward center of the brain, causing it to demand more of the neurotransmitter, dopamine. Addiction also changes the brain’s communication patterns, structure, functioning and natural balance. This is why the benefits of exercise in addiction recovery are so important. In this post, you’ll learn how exercise boosts your brain, and what you need to do to start experiencing these benefits for yourself. Let’s get scrolling!

Benefits of Exercise in Recovery

Exercise, along with diet, can help repair the damage addiction causes to our bodies and minds. How does exercise help during addiction recovery?

  • Exercise relieves stress
  • Exercise fights depression and anxiety
  • Exercise restores brain chemistry
  • Exercise boosts self esteem

If all that sounds good to you, let’s take a closer look at what’s really going on.

How Exercise Helps with Stress

Stress is unavoidable; it’s just a part of daily life. How you react and respond to stress, however, is completely up to you. Regular exercise can actually help us prepare for the normal, everyday stressors that come with being human. And, if you start to feel overwhelmed, a few minutes of intense physical activity is a healthy way to burn off some steam.

Try This: Next time you’re feeling stressed out, get your heart rate up and your endorphins flowing with some high-energy activity. Running, swimming, dancing, cycling… heck, you could even dust off those old rollerblades you haven’t touched since rollerblading was cool. Rollerblading was cool at some point, right? Never mind.

How Exercise Fights Depression & Anxiety

Exercising doesn’t just boost your heart rate, it also boosts your mood. Believe it or not, some research suggests that incorporating exercise into your routine can help treat clinical depression nearly as well as prescription medication.

Try This: Yoga is great for improving your flexibility, strength and balance. It’s also an excellent way to reinforce the practice of mindfulness, which helps you disrupt those negative, repetitive thoughts. Hear that? That’s the sound of you becoming one with the universe.

How Exercise Restores Your Brain Chemistry

3D model representing the effects of addiction on the brain
Drug addiction changes how the brain responds to dopamine.

Drug or alcohol addiction messes with your ability to feel pleasure, satisfaction and happiness without relying on harmful substances. Regular exercise promotes natural levels of endorphins and, over time, retrains your body to regulate mood and brain chemistry in a natural way.

Try This: Make exercise part of your routine. Sign up for a gym membership, join a cycling club or exercise with a buddy who will hold you accountable. Whatever you do, however you do it just… do it. (Sorry, couldn’t resist).

How Exercise Boosts Self Esteem

As your body starts to feel healthier and your brain begins to recalibrate itself, you’ll probably notice a feeling of accomplishment and pride. This is a direct result of your hard work and dedication! The more goals you set for yourself and the more of them you achieve, the higher your self-confidence will rise.

Try This: Take little steps. Lots of ‘em. Look, we all want to be the next Chuck Norris, but it doesn’t happen overnight… unless, of course, you’re Chuck Norris. That guy can do anything. But for the rest of us mortals, we need to set realistic, attainable goals. Setting the bar too high, especially early on, can be a recipe for failure.

For more tips, check out our blog post: 8 Dimensions of Wellness for Recovering Addicts.

Make Diet & Exercise Part of Your Ongoing Addiction Recovery Plan

Drug addiction rehab and recovery isn’t just about your use of drugs and alcohol. It’s about changing your whole lifestyle – from the way you cope with your emotions to the way you eat. This is why our addiction treatment program address the person as a whole, including things like diet, exercise, relationships, co-occurring conditions and much more. If you or someone you care about is struggling with addiction, there’s hope at The Raleigh House.

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