The Importance of a Healthy Diet
“You are what you eat”
It was in 1826 that French physician and removed father of the Paleo and low-carb diets Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote: Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es. "Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are."
The phrase 'You Are What You Eat' means that if you want to be healthy, eat healthily.
By the time many of us seek help, many of us are malnourished, in part, because we haven’t been eating well, and in part, because a poor diet wreaks havoc on the body’s ability to absorb nutrients.
The type of malnourishment can depend upon the depth of poor eating habits. Symptoms of malnourishment vary. Magnesium loss often shows up as weakness, insomnia and anxiety, while a lot of younger women show signs of early-stage osteoporosis due to calcium loss.
Just some examples: B vitamin deficiencies manifest as anaemia (low red blood cell count) and can show as shortness of breath, headaches, fatigue and insomnia.
Vitamin K deficiencies manifest as clotting problems and slow-to-heal wounds. Vitamin C deficiencies and mineral deficiencies may also result in slow wound healing and immune system challenges.
Nutrition in Recovery
While vitamin and mineral supplements can be helpful in a diet that specifically supports your body, “real food”, or wholefoods, and their wide spectrum and combinations of vital nutrients are an important inclusion in the daily diet for long-term recovery. Whole foods can be defined as foods that have been processed or refined as little as possible and that are free from additives or other artificial substances. Other simple but crucial elements to consider when changing to a diet that supports your healthy eating process are:
Good quality Water — a lot of spring water flushes out toxins and supports many more vital functions in the body.
Less Sugar — Staying away from sweetened foods and drinks (anything with added sugar counts) will help stabilise blood sugar levels, which will help with mood swings, anxiety and depression.
Fewer refined carbohydrates — Choose whole grains instead. These still have the outer layer, the bran, which contains a lot of fiber important for gut health as well as many vitamins and minerals.
More protein — The amino acids in proteins serve as building blocks for neurotransmitters, which are often lacking in addicts. Choose for instance eggs, or plant sources like Spirulina that have a higher protein content than meat and are easily digestible.
More fiber —helps begin to heal the digestive system, found in fruits, vegetables, and wholegrains.
More healthy fats — Good fats help the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins. Choose olive oil, flaxseed oil and omega-3s (found in fatty fish, nuts and flax seeds).
Less caffeine — Caffeine can worsen insomnia and anxiety, which are especially prevalent when one changes their dietary habits.
The importance of keeping blood sugar levels stable cannot be overstated. There is a strong connection between mood swings and blood sugar changes, as well as depression and nutritional deficiencies. Blood sugar, also known as blood glucose, comes from the food you eat. Your body creates blood sugar by digesting some food into sugar that circulates in your bloodstream. Blood sugar is used for energy. The sugar that is not needed to fuel your body right away gets stored in cells for later use.
What happens when you eat?
Your body breaks down everything you eat and absorbs the food in its different parts. These parts include:
Vitamins and other nutrients
The carbohydrates you consume turn into blood sugar. The more carbohydrates you eat, the higher the levels of sugar you will have released as you digest and absorb your food. Carbohydrates in liquid form consumed by themselves are absorbed more quickly than those in solid food. So, having a soda will cause a faster rise in your blood sugar levels than eating a slice of pizza.
Fibre is one component of carbohydrates that is not converted into sugar. This is because it cannot be digested. Fibre is important for health, though.
Protein, fat, water, vitamins, and minerals do not contain carbohydrates. These components will not affect your blood sugar levels.
What are high-carbohydrate foods?
The foods that generate the biggest spike in your blood sugar are those that are high in processed carbohydrates. These foods include:
white grain products such as pasta and rice
cold processed cereals
If you’re watching your carbohydrate intake, you don’t have to avoid these foods. Instead, you will need to be careful about portion size. The more food you eat, the greater the amount of sugar you will absorb. Eating mixed meals is helpful. Protein, fat, and fibre help slow down the digestion of carbohydrates. This will help reduce spikes in blood sugar after meals.
Why reduce spikes in blood sugar?
After every high comes a low. A high blood sugar level will make you feel energetic and give you a good mood (this is why we like to eat sugary foods). As it is dangerous for the body to have high blood sugar levels in the blood, the pancreas must work hard on lowering the levels drastically. Thus, this leads to a low blood level sugar right after a heavy meal. You will feel tired, low in energy or moody. Instinctively you want to avoid that feeling and are craving for sweets or coffee after a meal. Again, the pancreas has to work hard to balance the blood sugar level. In this way you generate an unstable blood sugar level which creates mood swings.
The gastrointestinal system (stomach/intestines) is the seat of where health is and where physical health strongly interconnects to mental and emotional health. If the gut is not healthy it can lead to inflammation, immune system abnormalities, allergies and a lot of other related health problems. At the same time, it can lead to depression, anxieties and panic attacks.
What to Expect
The main challenge when making changes in your diet is posed by the habit to satisfy your food cravings instantly. This is due to the pleasure-seeking habit of the brain for processed foods with added sugar, salt and fat as well as for refined carbohydrates (bread, pasta, dough, cookies, cakes). However, the more wholefoods you include into your diet such cravings should become less frequent over time as your body adjusts to a new diet. Most people find it easier to make changes in their diet step by step and gradually transition to a healthy way of eating and relating to food. For instance, you could begin by including fresh organic greens into your lunch meal or eat meat only twice a week. This also ensures that the sluggish liver and digestive system that most people have after years of eating a processed diet or taking drugs is not overburdened and further weakened by a dietary change that is too sudden and too intensely cleansing.
It takes time to understand what a healthy diet looks like, and the first step to change something about your diet is to be curious about food. Investigate, start preparing your own food, especially if you are used to fast food options or restaurants. New eating habits can have a great impact on your new lifestyle, no matter how small the changes are!
We believe that education on how to support the recovery process through the foods you eat is crucial. Nowadays there is a plethora of information easily available to us. Although this is great to help you re-claim your power over your life and the choices you make, the vastness of information out there can seem overwhelming to someone new to the subject. We suggest that you start simply, and the key points mentioned above should give you a good starting point. It is helpful to notice when cravings for sugar, caffeine, or refined carbohydrates emerge, and simply substitute for a healthier option. Recovery is not about supressing anything but reminding yourself that you sit in the driver’s seat and are able and allowed to make healthy choices for yourself.