Why Nutrition is Important for Mental Health and Addiction Recovery

nutritious food

When most people think of nutrition they think in terms of their physical health, but nutrition is also a fundamental component of one’s mental health as well.  A healthy mind and body are essential elements in coping with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, as well as with a substance use addiction. Nutrition often plays an underutilized, undervalued and overlooked role with respect to mental health and addiction recovery.

To better understand the link between mental health and nutrition, it is first important to understand some ways in which mental health impacts an individual’s well-being.  Mental health issues can cause individuals to lose appetite or under-eat, subsequently depleting the body and brain of necessary nutrients; mental health issues can exacerbate medical conditions; mental health issues are related to neurochemical imbalances in neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, or norepinephrine; mental health issues can lead to macro- and micro- nutrient deficiencies, and overall malnourishment; mental health issues can lead to individuals being overweight or underweight; mental health issues can negatively impact one’s sleep cycle, and have far-reaching implications in one’s ability to sleep in recovery.

Having understood some of the key ways in which mental health impacts one’s well-being, let’s discuss some of the benefits of proper nutrition in mental health and addiction recovery.  Proper diet can reverse depletion of key nutrients, and can heal and nourish the body and brain; certain foods, or lack of certain foods, may make you more likely to experience mood imbalances; certain foods can stabilize mood and reduce stress, improve sleep, and significantly improve one’s experience in recovery; the right foods can address medical conditions that are co-occurring or have resulted from mental health issues or addiction; and with respect to substance abuse, proper nutrition can reduce urges and cravings, reduce post-acute withdrawal, and promote physiological and psychological healing.

The struggle to restore personal health after the damage caused from an untreated mental health condition or from alcohol and drug abuse can be extremely challenging.  Developing a whole foods plant-based nutrition plan can significantly help those recovering from a mental health issue or from an addiction. Simply changing what is on the end of your fork or spoon is part of making better lifestyle choices in recovery that will help encourage self-care and ultimately lead one to living a healthier and happier life.  Eating well will not eliminate or treat any mental health condition on its own, but rather is part of a holistic approach that is meant to be utilized in tandem with other behavioral changes that promote self-care, well-being and healing.

Lin Anderson & Aaron Sternlicht

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