A balanced diet is essential for the body and the brain to function normally. Unfortunately, most Americans do not receive proper nutrition education, and have difficulty consistently eating a well-rounded diet of nutritious, whole foods. Now, imagine that you not only do not know the information, but you also struggle with a substance use disorder (SUD). Individuals who suffer from SUDs often dedicate their finances, energy and time to using. Substances can cloud the brain’s ability to make clear decisions and prioritize self-care, thus sweeping food and nutrition to the wayside. The lack of adequate nutrition and the effects of substances compound each other, leading to increased risk of malnutrition, depression, decreased immunity, muscle wasting, decreased cognitive function, altered digestion, altered hunger and fullness cueing, and severe organ damage.
In recent years, nutrition has been recognized as a key player in SUD treatment facilities. Many who enter into treatment do not only suffer from substance use, but they also have co-occurring conditions such as depression, anxiety and possibly disordered eating patterns. Depending on the severity of malnutrition, the re-nourishing process can be quite intensive and require specific meal plans, supplements and hydration. Once the individual is stabilized, the real process of healing begins.
During treatment, individuals are relearning how to conduct productive lives without the haze of substances. They are making new relationships, gaining introspective tools for mindfulness and most importantly getting out of their previous harmful environment. This makes treatment an ideal time to educate on nutrition and its importance in the long-term recovery process. When your body has the nutrients you need, it has the ability to repair damage to organs, strengthen the immune system and help the brain recover and focus. Nutrition can help with mood regulation, brain function (chemically and structurally), and it can have a huge influence on behavior. Nutrition education and a proper diet have been shown to lower SUD relapse rates. In some ways, it’s a no-brainer: when you eat better, you feel better, and you’re then less likely to fall back to substances.
Back2Basics, Flagstaff’s men’s addiction recovery program, has always had a robust culinary program, and has recently added a holistic nutrition curriculum led by a registered dietitian and experienced chef. It includes meal planning to ensure adequate nutrition during the recovery process, cooking classes and a weekly educational series. The series includes education on the biochemistry of food, macro- and micro-
nutrients, gut health and the microbiome, portion sizes, kitchen skills and mindfulness with food, nutrition and the body. This integration of mindful eating principles with nutrition science is critical, as without proper education, individuals with SUDs can replace their substance use with other unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as disordered eating patterns.
The goal of B2B is to help residents transition into long-term, productive, healthy lives without substance abuse. The development of these nutrition skills and knowledge not only help with treatment and recovery, but also impact the nutrition choices and overall health of themselves and their families for years to come. FBN
By Abby Chan, RDN
Back2Basics Outdoor Adventure Recovery combines residential therapeutic counseling with experiential outdoor adventures to treat individuals with substance and alcohol addiction and lead them through rehab and recovery into long-term sober living. The program is highlighted by spending time in the beautiful serene wilderness where individuals are physically challenged, their minds are cleared and they learn ways to defeat old addictive thinking patterns through various outdoor adventures.
Back2Basics is an adventure recovery program, up to 6 months, for young adult males, from 18-30, with substance abuse issues looking for a positive and meaningful life. In our program, clients are exposed to a weekly combination of both wilderness adventures and residential programming.
Abby Chan, RDN, is the co-owner of EVOLVE Flagstaff and a registered dietitian for Back2Basics Outdoor Adventures.