Kirsty Armstrong is a Therapeutic Worker in our Sheffield Residential Service; she has a Level 3 qualification in Nutrition and Dietary Planning and works with Community Members in Sheffield to introduce the benefits of healthy eating in recovery. She works with clients one on one to develop diet plans and facilitates groups on several topics related to diet and lifestyle change.
To launch our cookbook, Ready Steady Recovery we asked Kirsty to write a few word on why eating a varied and balanced diet is crucial to maintaining good health in recovery.
We often hear what we SHOULD do to be healthier - drink plenty of water, eat three balanced meals a day, cut down on caffeine, eat your five a day, get plenty of sleep, watch out for too much sugar. You may have also heard some of the positives of this - weight loss, increased energy, improved mental functioning, reduced risk of disease, and so on.
Knowing this information is one thing, however, understanding how to make long term sustainable change is another, especially for people who may have had years of using substances, chaotic living, with physical and mental health taking a backseat and proper nutrition being the last thing on their mind.
When people come into recovery it is important that they take back control of their overall health and wellbeing. Different substances effect physical health in different ways; however, all are similar in that they impact the body’s ability to take in and process vital nutrients. In early recovery the immune system is often low and needs building back up. It is likely that the body has been deprived of important vitamins and minerals due to poor nutrition, lack of appetite, organ damage or digestion problems.
Though the physical effects of poor nutrition are more noticeable, the mental effects can often be overlooked, there is a strong relationship between what we eat and how we feel. Eating a healthy, balanced diet can help to regulate our mood, thoughts and feelings.
When we eat certain food, dopamine receptors in the brain are activated and feelings of gratification, pleasure and reward are experienced. In early recovery, it is normal for people to crave things such as fizzy drinks, chocolate and sweets, sugar laced foods release dopamine in the brain making people feel energised and elevating mood. However, eating sugar causes a temporary spike in blood sugar and when the glucose levels drop back down it causes feelings of irritability, tiredness and low mood. The body uses up essential B Vitamins when processing large amounts of sugar and low levels of B Vitamins can cause of depression. Choosing slower releasing foods such as fresh fruit and whole grains will keep blood sugar levels stable helping to balance out mood and energy.
Other foods which are known to help our mental health include those containing omega 3, such as fish, nuts and seeds. These essential fatty acids, promote brain functioning and can help to reduce depressive symptoms. Certain nuts, such as almonds contain high levels of magnesium and have been linked to reducing insomnia and anxiety. Foods containing tryptophan for example avocados, turkey, green vegetables and oats help to increase serotonin (the feel-good hormone) levels in the brain and in turn improve mood.
Most berries, including strawberries, raspberries and blueberries contain antioxidants and folate; more mood boosting vitamins and minerals
It is not just about food either, Keeping an eye on what we drink is also important to health in recovery. Drinking plenty of water helps to remove toxins out of the body and helps the body absorb nutrients more efficiently. Dehydration makes it harder to concentrate, and can cause feelings of lethargy and low mood. Caffeine in large quantities, as well as causing dehydration, can also increase feelings of anxiety and irritability.
With the strong links between eating healthily and improved mood it seems like a no brainer to cut out the junk food and bring in some healthy changes, right? Often that is easier said than done though and it is knowing how to make these changes and keep them up.
These are my top tips for good nutrition in recovery:
Keep fuelled: Try to eat 3 healthy balanced meals a day and include two snacks. Your car wouldn’t work without fuel so you can’t expect your body to.
Give yourself a weekly budget: Healthy eating doesn’t need to be expensive. Write down a weekly budget and plan your meals so that you know exactly what you are buying when you go shopping.
Meal prep: Choose a few meals that you fancy and then bulk cook them. This is a good way of saving money and cutting down on cooking every day.
Visit markets: You will likely grab a bargain on fresh produce by visiting your local market and will also be able to buy smaller quantities of food if living alone. This will cut down on food waste.
Portion and Freeze meals: Buy take-away style food containers so that you can easily portion out your bulk cooking and freeze for your very own healthy convenience food.
Water bottle: Invest in a reusable water bottle so that you can drink plenty on the go.
Sharing meals with others: When cooking for others or eating in a group is a great way to get those positive hormones flowing! When we eat communally, our brains receive messages that we are safe and happy.
Mindful eating: Pay attention to how you feel when you eat. This helps you to gain control over your eating habits.
Download the Ready, Steady, Recovery cookbook here:
Ready, Steady, Recovery: https://www.phoenix-futures.org.uk/files/adf87aa19ab1281b32ec90e095d0e775.pdf
Ready Steady Recovery is a collection of recipes from the people that use our services, volunteers and staff, we asked people from around Phoenix to send us their favourite feel good recipes to inspire others to bring a variety of food, fun and creativity into their kitchen. Why not have a go at a few yourself, send in any pictures to email@example.com we would love to see how you get on.