Fuel Your Sobriety: Do’s & Don’ts
Our first guest blog ever comes from the lovely Nadia Sheikh! (No really, have you talked to this lady? She’s awesome!) We hope you enjoy her insight as much as we do.
By: Nadia Sheikh
In the throes of addiction, my desire to use drugs eviscerated my survival instincts—I didn’t bathe, I didn’t sleep, I didn’t eat.
Addiction impacts our brain chemistry. Typically, eating your favorite meal or getting a hug from a friend lights up the rewards center of your brain with a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which makes us feel good. Alcohol and drugs, on the other hand, can release two to ten times the amount of dopamine as these natural rewards.
When we abuse substances, we condition our brain to expect huge surges of dopamine and we lose the ability to feel pleasure in other things. Neurotoxins can be released by the substances we take and, over time, they deplete our brain of neurotransmitters. If our brains can’t transmit those feel-good chemicals, we might be liable to return to using substances to find pleasure.
For addicts and alcoholics, our brains need to recover; we need a balanced diet to properly nourish our bodies, but we must understand some diets are liable to keep us in an addictive mindset. What can you eat to fuel your sobriety?
DON’T Over-Do It on Sweets
When I went to treatment, counselors and sober supports alike recommended that I keep candy with me to help with cravings, that I treat myself to junk food and sweets because “getting clean is hard enough.” It’s true, sugar can help with cravings because alcohol and drugs are metabolized by the body as sugar.
But, high-sugar foods light up the same area of the brain as drugs like cocaine and heroin, engaging our rewards center with dopamine surges. Sugar can be an addictive substance, too. The blood-sugar spikes and crashes can leave an addict or alcoholic with powerful cravings, which our brains can misread as a craving for alcohol or drugs. With sugar, we continue to condition our brains to expect huge dopamine surges to feel good.
DO Get Your Dose of Fruits and Veggies
One of the goals in recovery is for our brains to heal and return to normal functioning. Our brains need to learn to release dopamine naturally again, and regain the ability to experience simple pleasures. Apples, bananas, berries are particularly good choices because they contain the amino acids quercetin and tyrosine, which stimulate dopamine production. Vegetables that are rich in folate, like broccoli, spinach, and cauliflower, also stimulate dopamine production.
DON’T Eat Too Much Fast Food
It’s alright to treat yourself to some fast food every once-in-a-while, whether it’s for convenience sake or to soothe your French fry cravings. But, pay attention to how fast food makes you feel, because those cravings are very real.
Studies have shown that, in addition to sugar, high-fat and high-calorie foods also affect the brain like cocaine and heroin. In one study, rats consuming these foods in large quantities developed compulsive eating habits resembling drug addiction. Like substances and sugar, junk food overloads the brain’s pleasure center. Once we feel the crash, we have to seek more in order to feel good.
O Eat Enough Protein
Healthy, lean proteins are essential to a balanced diet, keeping us full and energized. Proteins are incredible sources of amino acids, which our brain can use to create the neurotransmitters that we’ve depleted in our addiction. Beef, chicken, and turkey are great sources of tyrosine, which helps to stimulate dopamine production.
Fish are an especially good choice for boosting dopamine production. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish like salmon, tuna, rainbow trout, and halibut have been shown to elevate dopamine levels in the brain. Our brain is 60% fat, so the more sources of healthy fats that you can feed it, the better!
DON’T Drink Too Much Caffeine
I still start every morning with my cup of coffee, maybe I have an energy drink in the middle of the day, and I probably have some tea at night. Up to 400 mg of caffeine in one day is considered safe for most healthy adults, but one 24-ounce energy drink can have over 500 mg of caffeine!
Caffeine is considered a psychoactive drug, one of the only legal stimulants that most of the world uses daily. Studies have shown that caffeine shares properties with other stimulants in its effect on our brain—large surges of dopamine, followed by a crash and a craving for more.
DO Drink Lots of Water
We all know that drinking water is important, that we all should be drinking more of it, that our bodies are mostly made of water. Staying properly hydrated also helps to balance our mood, and improves our cognition and memory. Most importantly for our healing process, brain cells require the proper amount of water in order to operate efficiently. If we’re hoping to nourish our brains back to health, we have to be patient and we have to stay properly hydrated.
These nutritional choices can help our brains balance again, and provide our bodies with healthy nutrients at the same time. The less we continue to consume foods and drinks that reinforce our brain’s addictive patterns, the more we fuel our sobriety.
What’s Your Sober Diet?
Nadia Sheikh is a content writer and web developer for Sober Nation. She loves words, grapes, and outer space.