Food as Medicine: 5 Healing Ingredients of a Detox Diet

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Image credit: www.istockphoto.com/portfolio/NikkiWatarz

Whether your sobriety journey has been a sprint to the finish line or a sustainable slow jog, your body will likely crave the tender-loving care of post-marathon recovery. If you’ve proudly claimed the title of “substance-use disorder survivor,” you’ll need to replenish your system starved of vital nutrients and healthy lifestyle choices. So, where to begin? Those recovery rookies should start by customizing a detox diet, which can restore your body’s ability to fight relapse and cravings. 

In the throes of substance-abusing tendencies, an individual’s risk of malnutrition often skyrockets. To add insult to substance-use-disorder-induced injury, the abnormal sleeping patterns characteristic of drug-using lifestyles may lead to late-night snacking, where those in recovery will binge on comfort food and feel generally disinterested in meal prep or cooking. 

Though drug detox rids your body of harmful toxins, it doesn’t help restock your body’s vitamin and mineral storage. That said, a carefully curated diet rich in fruits, vegetables can heal the body that sustained blows from drug-abusing habits. 

Depleting your body’s nutrient stores isn’t the only significant toll substance abuse can take on your body. During episodes of binging or excessive use, your body rewires the way it uses food. If you tend to eat less while using, your body will learn to run on less, finding ways to ignore the need for vital nutrients to keep you alive. Because your body has trained itself to cut corners when performing critical bodily functions, leaving you with diminished organs and broken neural pathways. 

If you tend to pack on the calories while using, your body may become overloaded with simple carbohydrates and fats rather than vital nutrients. As you continually gain weight while using, your organs have to work overtime to keep your bodily functions running, putting heavy stress on an already stressed-out body.

These abnormal eating habits can also result in bouts of vomiting and diarrhea when your body purges food without absorbing any helpful nutrients. Either way, your body learns to run on a less-than-adequate diet to keep your blood pumping. This damage to your gut and neural pathways makes rebuilding your digestive system during recovery difficult.

Fortunately, if you commit to detox and subsequent recovery, your body can relearn how to use vitamins and nutrients, and food can help you heal from the inside out. Note that the detox experience can vary depending on how you decide to begin. Whether you are quitting drugs cold turkey or using a slow taper method, these five detox diet ingredients will help get your body back to fighting shape.

Hydration

While H2O’s life-sustaining properties are widely broadcasted, it may come as a surprise to know that adequate hydration is the number one thing your body needs to complete a proper detox. Alcohol is a dehydrator, and when your body doesn’t have enough hydration to digest your food and rid your body of waste, your detox can be ineffective. 

For one, your body needs water to sweat: a critical element to ridding your body of pollutants–like illicit substances. After your detox is complete, it is crucial to keep up a good hydration level to maintain your health. Try hydration additives to your water, like Liquid IV or Gatorade, to give your body a boost of electrolytes as well.

Proteins

Proteins are the building blocks for muscle in the human body. You can absorb proteins from animal and plant sources broken down into amino acids that help repair damaged cells. Not only does your amino acid intake increase with added protein, but animal sources are also a great source of iron and vitamin B-12. It is simple to incorporate protein supplements into your diet as well. Flavored protein powder can easily be blended into shakes and smoothies, while unflavored protein powder can be mixed into cooking or swallowed in a capsule. 

Antioxidants

Antioxidants need to find their way into everyone’s diet. When ingested, antioxidants inhibit oxidation and neutralize highly reactive molecules, called free radicals, that can cause diseases and some cancers. Certain antioxidants are needed for your liver to function correctly. While you go through detox, your liver works overtime to free your body from toxins. 

A diet rich in antioxidants helps facilitate an effective detox by supporting your liver and neutralizing free radicals that may have formed during periods of substance abuse. Antioxidants aren’t just in acai berries either. You can get your daily dose from beets, kale, and even dark chocolate.

Complex carbohydrates

Carbs are energy, and during detox, your body will need a lot of them. Bread, rice, oats, potatoes, beans– they all contain the fiber you need for digestion. Digestion and detox go hand and hand, so get those carbs into your diet. Carbohydrates keep your blood sugar at a functional level so you can focus on getting well while your body flushes toxins from your body. There are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Complex carbs pack more nutrients, like fiber and starches, and are digested slower, giving your body energy for a prolonged period. 

Simple carbs are loaded with sugar, which spikes your blood sugar quickly but is digested rapidly and doesn’t give you lasting energy. You can find complex carbohydrates in whole grains, fiber-rich fruits such as apples, and leafy greens. Avoid carbs that come wrapped in plastic because they often contain more sugar and preservatives while skimping on fiber and good starches.

Greens

Nature’s greens contain all the vitamins and nutrients you may need in your newfound, balanced diet. Look for dark, leafy greens rich in folic acid, vitamin B6, and beta-carotene. The healthiest salads will have kale, microgreens, swiss chard– leaves with a deep, rich color. Dark leafy greens are packed with nutrients that fight inflammation while giving your immune system a kickstart, all things that your body needs during a recovery period. Greens are also easy to incorporate into shakes and smoothies, giving you an added health kick in your cup.

Planning

Eating healthy to aid your recovery sounds simple, but when you get down to the nitty-gritty, it can be hard to find your footing. It is easy to forget about what you eat until it’s time to eat, but if you start to think of food as medicine, something your body needs, meal planning becomes part of your routine. While grocery shopping, spend time in the fresh-foods section. Greens, fruits, vegetables– all ingredients in a nutrient-packed meal. When you move into the dry-foods area, look for the words “whole grain” and “organic” on the packaging. Oh, and speaking of packaging, try to avoid food that comes sealed in plastic if you can. These plastic-packed quick eats often contain high levels of salt and sugar, along with preservatives that keep them on the shelves a lot longer than what is natural. 

Healthy habits

Life beyond detox can feel like a rerouting of your entire routine. While you supplement your recovery with food, you have to be cautious about replacing one addiction with another. Sugar and salt are highly addictive additives that creep into your food without you realizing it. Before you know it, your cravings for drugs and alcohol can be replaced by cravings for unhealthy foods. 

Caffeine is often a sneaky addiction, so try to keep your caffeine intake to a minimum while rebuilding your system. Sticking to regular mealtimes can help your body fight cravings over time, and getting enough sleep helps your body find its routine to aid in your recovery. Periods of excessive drug use and subsequent detox can leave your body depleted, but using food as medicine during recovery is key to rebuilding a healthy system.

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