As we practice staying sober one day at a time, it’s important to prioritize our health. Attending 12-step meetings, an intensive outpatient program, or another recovery program, in addition to working or caring for a family can take up a majority of our time. When we’re focusing so much of our energy on our sobriety, it’s easy to put staying healthy on the back burner. But by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and forming new habits, especially in the early days of sobriety, we set ourselves up for success.
You have already made the hard decision to stay away from drugs and alcohol. Making healthy food choices will only support your decision. Additionally, a healthy diet can help you manage stress and anxiety and maintain your overall health.
Choose fresh, plant-based foods when possible.
Maintaining a healthy diet plays an important part in stress management, which can help support sobriety. Choosing plant-based proteins, eating whole grains, and limiting red meat are all ways to give your body the vitamins and minerals it needs to stay healthy.
When heading to the grocery store, stock up on the items in the produce section. Choose a variety of dark green, leafy vegetables and add a salad to all of your meals. Dark greens can even be enjoyed for breakfast by blending them into a smoothie. Next, go for a variety of fresh vegetables that you enjoy, are easy to prepare, and that you can easily add to your everyday meals. Leafy greens such as spinach, or vegetables such as mushrooms or broccoli can be sautéed alongside or in place of your normal meal choices.
Fresh fruit can help stave off cravings. Although people sometimes shy away from fruit because of the sugar content, it can be a healthy alternative to sugary snacks. (Always follow the advice of your physician and adhere to your dietary needs). Sugar cravings especially in early sobriety are very common for a variety of reasons. When we stop drinking, we might crave sugar to trigger the dopamine release we were getting from alcohol. In addition, sugar may be a way to just alleviate boredom. Either way, choosing fresh fruit over sugary snacks will support your hard-earned recovery and help maintain a healthy body.
Try making plants the center of your meals or skip the meat altogether. Beans, legumes, and soy-based products can become a healthier alternative to meat-based products. At least two-thirds of your plate should be filled with vegetables, whole grains, and fruit. The remaining one-third can be a lean animal or plant-based protein.
Choose simple, healthy recipes.
Stir fry fresh veggies with brown rice or cauliflower rice or sauté them and serve with whole wheat or gluten-free pasta. Many produce sections carry pre-cut, pre-washed veggies for ease of preparation. Although these can sometimes come at a higher price, the money saved on preemptive health care and wellbeing are well worth it. (Think of all the money you once wasted on drugs and alcohol). For a bonus, try to make these dishes extra colorful. The more colors in your meals, the more nutrients you’ll nourish yourself with.
Fresh spinach blended into a smoothie with a banana, almond milk, and other fruits can be quite satisfying and will add extra nutrients into your day. For an added bonus, add chia or flax seeds to your smoothie, which are rich in fiber and nutrients. Nut butters can also be added as well for extra protein. Be creative and mix in what you enjoy. The more dark green vegetables you can incorporate into your diet, the more nutrients you will take in, which will support your overall health. In addition, leafy greens satisfy your hunger and support your digestive system.
If you’re taking care of family members while trying to work from home, it can be difficult to find time – and energy – to cook. Planning simple healthy meals is a good way to make it easier on yourself. Double the recipe and prepare multiple meals at once. Or, use a slow cooker for added convenience.
Have kids at home? Involved them with simple, age-appropriate tasks in the kitchen. Preschool-aged children can wash produce, and teens can prepare full meals.
Stay hydrated, drink water.
Staying well-hydrated is essential to staying healthy. Drinking enough water – about eight to ten glasses or 64 ounces a day – can also help ward off cravings. Thirst can often be mistaken for cravings for other things such as alcohol or other substances. If your having cravings, try 16 ounces of cold water or hot herbal tea. Or better yet, stay ahead of your thirst to help avoid having to fight off cravings. If you’re choosing flavored water, make sure it has zero calories. Find water tasteless? Try adding a little fruit, which will bring vitamins, antioxidants, and flavor to your beverage. Try putting seltzer with a little bit of fruit juice in a fancy glass.
Creating new habits and rituals can help distract you from cravings. Avoid drinking beverages with an excessive amount of caffeine and/or sugar. While in moderation these are not harmful in recovery, in excess they can contribute to mood swings and stress. Diet drinks can be substituted on occasion, but they do not contribute to an overall sense of wellbeing which when achieved will help maintain sobriety.
Wear life like a loose garment and be gentle with yourself.
As a wise man once said, “Progress not perfection.” This includes maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It is healthy to indulge in unhealthy food and non-alcoholic “unhealthy” beverages on occasion. The most important part of recovery is to stay away from a drink, drug, or behavior one day at a time. This blog is meant to be suggestive. By maintaining a healthy lifestyle, you give yourself more support and self-care. In order to start down a road of self-improvement, it will be a lifelong process and will require being gentle with yourself and taking baby steps to improve your life.
About the Author
Lisa D’Agostino, MSW, CSW, 200 RYT is a clinical therapist at Wasatch Crest, where she facilitates individual and group therapy. Lisa holds a Master of Social Work degree from Fordham University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology from the Catholic University of America.
Lisa has interned as a middle and high school drug and alcohol prevention and intervention counselor in Croton, NY. She has also worked as a clinical therapist at Family Services of Westchester in Yonkers, NY. Lisa has completed mediation training at the Ackerman Institute for the Family in New York City and Utah Dispute Resolution. She has also practiced pro-bono mediation for individuals in small claims court.
Lisa has been sober for over 27 years and draws on her long-term sobriety to guide individuals in early recovery. She enjoys helping clients gain insight and discover new perspectives on their lives.
In addition to a clinical therapist, Lisa is a yoga and ski instructor. In true Wasatch Crest spirit, Lisa loves outdoor adventure. She enjoys road and mountain biking, trail running, hiking, and camping. She’s also an alpine and cross-country skier. An avid runner, Lisa ran the New York City Marathon twice, once as an Achilles International guide for her brother who has MS. Her longest race was 50 kilometers in the Tillamook Forest outside of Portland, OR. Lisa grew up in Manhattan.