Learn / Nourishing the Recovering Body: Nutrition in Rehab

Nourishing the Recovering Body: Nutrition in Rehab

Kayla Gill
 November 8th, 2022|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Rajnandini Rathod

Key Points

  • There’s a direct link between gut health and mental health.
  • Nutrition helps repair your brain and body from the effects of substance abuse.
  • Many luxury rehabs now focus on nutrition and healthy meal planning.

Eating well is a huge part of feeling well. Food doesn’t just support wellness—it can also be a source of joy. When you go to rehab for addiction or mental health treatment, great meals can be the thing you look forward to.  

Food is both a source of pleasure and an important tool for long-term recovery. Addiction and chronic stress deplete your body and compromise its ability to absorb nutrients. That’s why it’s crucial for your treatment plan to include healthy meals. And in some luxury rehabs, nutrition is a major part of the program. 

Nutrition and Addiction

Addiction takes a toll on the body and mind. As the experts at Siam Rehab know, “if your body is healthy, you have a healthy mind with it as well.” Healing—both physically and mentally—starts by learning how addiction affects your eating habits.

How Substance Use Depletes Nutrients

Malnutrition is common among people with addiction.1 While you’re actively using, drugs and alcohol might be a higher priority than your diet.2 In some cases, drug use can even damage the organs that absorb nutrients. Different types of addiction have different effects on the body:

Diet During Detox and Withdrawal

When you’re ready to recover, detox is often the first step. You can expect this process to have immediate physical and emotional effects. For example, you may have digestive symptoms during withdrawal,8 like nausea, stomach pain, and a reduced appetite. Eating well supports your body’s natural healing abilities. 

Eating Well in Early Recovery

Drug cravings are a normal part of early sobriety. Food cravings might be, too. Data shows that your appetite can increase in your first 6 months of sobriety.9 You may even have more of a sweet tooth than usual. As a result, weight gain is common during inpatient rehab.10

For some clients, weight gain and body image become mental health issues. Gaining weight can even be a trigger for relapse.11 And experts believe that women in particular “increasingly report weight-related concern as motivation for drug use.” Some people even develop disordered eating habits during treatment.12 Without proper medical care, these issues can work against your long-term physical and emotional health.

With the right treatment, food can support your recovery—not undermine it. Eating balanced meals and learning about nutrition can help you heal from addiction.13 Plus, most people’s cravings and appetites return to healthy levels 6 months into addiction recovery.14 That’s especially likely for people who use structured eating plans. 

Food as Aftercare and Relapse Prevention

Good nutrition is important in every stage of recovery—even after you complete treatment. Eating well improves your physical health, of course. But that’s just the beginning. Poor eating habits also increase your risk of relapse.15 Studies link good nutrition with ongoing sobriety,16 overall mental health.

Nutrition and Mental Health

Balanced meals are a powerful way to boost your mood.17 As nutritional therapist Julia Ross writes, “this is the law of malnutrition: when your food quality or quantity deteriorates, your mood is the first casualty, even before your physical health begins to deteriorate.” Ross and many other experts report a link between food and emotional well-being.

The Gut-Brain Axis

There’s a direct line of communication between your gut and your brain.18 Experts call this the “gut-brain axis,” and it’s key to your mental health. Gut health impacts your mood, “motivation, and higher cognitive functions.”

Stress and changes in diet can affect digestion19 by harming the bacteria in your gut. That can cause a range of issues, from inflammation to leaky gut syndrome. Researchers have linked these conditions with depression and anxiety. On the other hand, several studies show that healthy digestive bacteria can improve your mood.20 

Eating Right for Your Brain

Studies indicate that people with certain mental health issues are very likely to have nutrient deficiencies.21 Those with depression, bipolar disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder are especially vulnerable. But, research also found that patients’ mental health improved when they took certain supplements. 

If you have any of these diagnoses, you can talk to your doctor or nutritionist to learn more. Make sure to get an expert opinion before taking any over-the-counter supplements. They may interact with other medications, or impact other parts of your recovery plan. 

Eating Disorders

If you’re healing from an eating disorder, good nutrition is a vital part of recovery. Because these conditions change your eating habits, they often damage your physical health. The exact risks vary, depending on your specific symptoms. 

Most eating disorder treatment programs include nutrition education,22 meal planning, and therapeutic meals. These activities bolster your skills around healthy eating, and give you the nutrition you need to fuel physical and emotional recovery. 

Studies show a strong connection between eating disorders and the need for control.23 This can make it feel especially scary to enter a treatment control. But, by learning to trust a team of professionals to help you heal, you’re working to take back control of the rest of your life. And good nutrition can empower you to do the hard work of building better habits.

Improve Your Energy and Clarity

Recovery takes effort. And in the early stages of treatment, you might not be used to keeping a strict schedule. You’ll also be working through heavy emotional issues, which can be tiring. Good nutrition boosts your energy and improves mental stamina, helping you focus on treatment. Certain nutrients are especially important for regulating energy and preventing fatigue:24

  • complex carbohydrates
  • fats
  • minerals like iron, magnesium, and zinc
  • vitamins like B vitamins and vitamin C

Because of the link between addiction and poor diet, eating well might feel like a big change when you enter rehab. This is also an issue during mental health treatment. For instance, studies show a link between depression and low vitamin levels.25 

Your mental health can impact your dietary requirements, and vice versa. But everyone’s needs are different. Your care team may advise a meal plan, IV therapy, or even fasting. Ask your admissions team about their approach to nutrition, and how that will impact your treatment plan. 

Explore Chef-prepared Meals Treatment Centers

How Do Rehabs Provide Proper Nutrition?

Because nutrition is such a large part of both recovery and everyday life, it can affect every aspect of rehab. Every center has its own way of integrating nutrition into the healing process. 

In-House Nutrition Experts

Many luxury rehabs employ nutrition specialists or other food experts. For example, you might work closely with a nutritionist or dietitian. These specialists create balanced meal plans, which they can tailor to meet each client’s needs. They may also give you vitamins, minerals, or other supplements. And when talented chefs design the daily menu, you can look forward to every meal. 

At Soberman’s Estate, a men-only luxury rehab in Arizona, culinary excellence is a big part of the healing process. Using local ingredients from their on-campus greenhouse, their executive chef creates meals that are “as good as or better than most five-star restaurants,” as one previous patient said. 

If you have a refined palate, dietary restrictions, or other food-related needs, talk to your rehab’s admissions team about their ability to accommodate you. 

Designing Your Meal Plan

Addiction and mental health issues affect everyone’s body differently. Some rehabs create individualized meal plans to bring your body back into balance. They may take a blood test as part of your initial screening to see what nutrients you’re lacking, then work to remedy that throughout your stay. 

At Istana, a 1:1 rehab with locations in Bali, Barbados, and Ibiza, menus are designed to “address deficiencies in your diet and strengthen your body’s nutrition.” Each meal plan is designed by their team of professionals to meet clients’ unique dietary needs.

You’ll also have regular check-ins with the nutritionist to track how your body responds to meals throughout treatment. They can then make changes based on real-time feedback. By taking part in this process, you’ll learn about your own evolving needs and practice listening to your body. And when you leave the center, you’ll be more empowered to eat healthy and respond to your body’s needs.

Planning for Long-Term Recovery

Recovery doesn’t end when you leave rehab. Many centers offer nutrition education, so you can learn life skills before finishing treatment. This helps clients make long-term plans for their ongoing nutritional health. 

You can continue to benefit from proper nutrition on your own after learning about balanced eating from professionals. Inpatient treatment centers like Paracelsus Recovery in Switzerland help you set up long-term nutrition plans. These aren’t fads or quick fixes. Instead, they’ll show you how to care for your body and mind sustainably, using food as a tool.

Some centers even help find support for you closer to home in your aftercare. Rowland Tweedie, the center’s Health and Fitness Manager, explains, “I often try to find a local person that [clients] can be supported by: a personal trainer or nutritionist. Someone locally they can go to, to help them maintain or reinforce what they’ve been doing during the program.” 

Find Joy in Nourishing Your Body

Recovery isn’t just about moving away from unhealthy habits. It’s also about learning how to enjoy your life in a healthy way. And for many people, food can be a positive, healthy way to find that joy. Eating a tasty, nourishing meal can be a source of pleasure, no matter what else you’re dealing with.
Explore our searchable list of luxury rehabs and filter your search by dietary preference, see centers that offer gourmet dining, and more.

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