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Nutrition in Recovery: An Opportunity to Repair and Refocus

a black male and a black female stand at a kitchen island smiling while they cut vegetables for a salad, the bowl is in front of them

The importance of nutrition in recovery is vitally important in order to repair your body and refocus your mind. During the time of substance use, your body is directly harmed by the substance. However, the substance use also indirectly harms other aspects of your life, including relationships and lifestyle choices, such as nutrition, exercise, sleep habits, etc. A positive prioritization on diet and focus on nutrition are essential for individuals of any age, socioeconomic status, and life path. 

The most effective recovery strategies involve specialized treatment and complete lifestyle changes to establish long-term recovery. We support you in your recovery through ongoing treatment and maintaining access to community/social support, but also by prioritizing nutrition through the nutrition therapy program.

How Substance Use Can Harm the Body and Its Systems

Individuals living with a substance use disorder often neglect several areas of their lives while using. Along with important relationships, careers, and self-care, nutrition and diet are a low priority for those in the throes of addiction. 

It’s important to understand how substance use can harm your body and its operating systems in order to understand how nutrition in recovery is a crucial part of rebuilding. 


When substance use is the primary focus in one’s life, a nutritious diet is not often a concern. Individuals living with substance use disorder may find themselves not eating enough, eating a low quality diet, or binge eating. 

Neglecting to consume proper nutrients often leads to a breakdown in how your body functions. Malnutrition can have devastating effects such as: 

  • Depression
  • Irregular heart rate 
  • Muscle Atrophy
  • Cognitive Impairment 
  • Irregular body temperature
  • Vitamin deficiency

While these are some of the most common side effects of malnutrition, the specific substance being used may also have other related side effects. 

eating right in recovery


The chronic overconsumption of alcohol may damage the stomach lining, which impairs the body’s ability to intake nutrients, including vitamins and minerals. This could lead to a vitamin deficiency which could cause Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. This condition occurs when the body is not getting enough thiamine. Due to the bodies inability to absorb this vitamin, thiamine deficiency is common in those living with alcohol use disorder. Wernicke-Korsakoff is irreversible and may result in permanent memory loss, difficulty creating new memories, and psychosis. 

Alcohol use disorder can also damage the pancreas, leading to digestive enzyme deficiency. Enzymes aid in the digestion of proteins, carbohydrates, and other hormones. Damage to the pancreas can result in “alcohol-induced pancreatitis”, an irreversible condition that can lead to death without proper treatment 


Stimulants, such as cocaine or amphetamines, are known to suppress a person’s appetite. This can lead to dehydration and vitamin deficiencies, putting them at a particularly high risk for malnutrition. 


Over 80% of individuals with opioid use disorder report suffering from opioid-induced chronic constipation. Opioids paralyze the stomach causing constipation – this is often very uncomfortable and individuals turn to laxatives to find relief. However, overusing laxatives can create additional problems such as electrolyte imbalance, vomiting, and gastrointestinal issues. 

Electrolyte Imbalance 

As shared above, it is difficult for the body to absorb nutrients while under the influence. Dehydration, as well as minimal consumption of foods that contain natural electrolytes (strawberries, bananas, vegetables, beans, nuts, dairy, foods including sodium and chloride, etc.), can create an imbalance.

Severe electrolyte imbalance can cause vital systems in your body to malfunction and may lead to comas, seizures, or even cardiac arrest. 

Lowered Immune System

Substance use may harm the immune system directly or indirectly. The way the substance is ingested, or even the substance itself, may contribute to an increased risk of infection as well as a decreased immune response.


Substance use can have a significant impact on weight. Substance use can cause significant weight loss or weight gain. Losing or gaining too much weight can present severe health concerns.

Chemical Imbalance 

Substance use without a proper diet can cause deterioration of brain health. The brain’s neurotransmitters regulate the body’s general functioning, moods, and ability to handle stress, all of which are essential for recovery.

The Importance of Nutrition in Recovery

Substance use is very physically taxing on the body. The body is working overtime to rid itself of the harmful chemicals, and may not have the right amount or balance of nutrients from food to help it with detoxification.

In early recovery, every day is crucial in the repair of the body. While you may have taken the first step by entering treatment and/or remaining abstinent, the body still has a long journey ahead to recover from the detriments of the historical substance use. 

During this mending period, the body needs essential nutrients that it was deprived of or unable to absorb before. Early recovery is the most important time to make new habits and the importance of nutrition in recovery is key to reversing the effects substance use had on your mind and body. 

Nutrition Therapy at Integrative Life Center

Nutrition in recovery can be challenging for a slough of reasons – some of which most individuals, in recovery or not, struggle with. However, the challenge may feel greater if you’re living with a substance use disorder. We designed our nutrition therapy program to address the complex psychological, emotional, nutritional, and biochemical components of addiction.

We believe that physical nutrition must be part of your daily activities and integrated into your community. After all, food brings people together. 

Our Beliefs

  • We build a sense of community by bringing people together through cooking, sharing, and exploring new foods. 
  • A lot of emotion and meaning goes into the foods we eat and enjoy. Similarly, we may take a lot of your frustration, anger, and anxiety out through diet or nutrition neglect. 
  • We affirm that all foods fit into a healthy lifestyle and that all bodies can be healthy and deserve to pursue health – regardless of weight, shape, or size. 

Nutrition Services 

Nutrition in recovery is vital to maintaining your mental health. Clients with substance use disorder will have access to educational groups with a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist as well as individual nutrition therapy as an additional service. 

Our Morning Star residents plan, prepare, and participate in community meals and shopping. Resident advisors, as well as the dietitian, are available to support clients with whatever they need – even learning to cook or budget. Meal planning and weekly grocery shopping is facilitated by the staff. As clients gain confidence, they’ll move to our Music Row center where they’ll be responsible for continuing their meal planning and preparation with less intervention and structure. 

Nutrition in Recovery Quick Tips

  • Drink plenty of water to maintain hydration.
  • Focus on including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and proteins in each meal.
  • Create and maintain consistency in mealtime routines.
  • Be mindful when snacking. Make nutritious selections.
  • Maintain proper vitamin and mineral intake.
  • Understand that there will be setbacks. Do not punish yourself, but instead recognize and learn from mistakes.
  • Find a buddy to join you on your nutritional journey in recovery. This will help increase motivation to succeed and maintain accountability.
  • Support your body by consuming the foods from your nutritional plan and also taking time to nourish your body and mind through physical and mental exercises.
  • Address physical needs as well as social and emotional needs surrounding meal times.
  • Speak with your doctor or Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist before beginning a new diet or making major changes to nutritional habits.

If you’re needing help with an eating disorder or disordered eating tendencies, prioritize yourself and your future by contacting a member of Integrative Life Center today.


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