For many, the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we see and think about food. Plant-based diets became popular during COVID-19. As people moved towards a plant-based diet, those with a substance use disorder began to notice and change their diet to reflect their body’s nutritional needs.
COVID-19 and Food
During the pandemic, people were adhering to stay-at-home regulations. Restaurants closed their doors, causing a shift in how people ate. Stores experienced shortages in paper goods, dairy, and meat. People stockpiled water and yeast for bread; homemade food became essential. Along with the change in eating habits and food availability, the deficit in meat opened the door to a plant-based diet.
The findings of Food Insight’s 2020 survey of people’s eating habits found 85% of those who participated in the study said they made changes to their diet. People continued to cook at home, including simple and healthy dishes. Many of these recipes can consist of frozen, canned, or staples like rice or pasta. Foods that are easy to access and affordable can increase the trend to prepare healthy meals. The increased attention to simple meals and the decrease in meats cultivated the interest in learning how to shift meals from meat-centered to plant-based. The increase of ready-made plant-based meat substitutes also helped increase the interest in meatless meals.
Plant-based diets, vegan, vegetarian, and diets that include some meat can reduce cardiovascular disease and diabetes risk. A plant-based diet can improve the health of those who have a substance use disorder, for example:
- Alcohol use disorder can benefit from a plant-based diet because their alcohol consumption increases their risk of cardiovascular disease, malnutrition, and diabetes.
- Marijuana: One of the side effects of marijuana is the urge to eat. An increase in appetite can increase the consumption of unhealthy foods.
- Opioids affect how the body metabolizes food and functions. Common side effects of opioids are constipation and weight loss.
- Methamphetamines lead to dental problems and weight loss in meth addiction.
Depression is affected by a diet high in harmful fats, fast food, and processed food. Research shows those who reduced their consumption of unhealthy foods while increasing their intake of fruits, nuts, beans, and vegetables decreased their depressive symptoms. Studies show a healthy diet comprising plants, nuts, and lean meats can improve mental health.
Barriers to Healthy Eating
Healthy eating is not easy for some. Several factors can derail a person’s choice to adopt healthy habits into their daily routine once they complete addiction treatment.
- Social and economic disparities can create an inability to access healthy, affordable food.
- The cost of healthy food is another barrier. Processed food or fast food is often cheaper and more accessible.
- Becoming healthy takes commitment and support from those around the person. Maintaining positive changes when the people you live or socialize with don’t lead a healthy lifestyle can decrease the chance of adopting a healthy lifestyle.
Food as a Holistic Treatment
Proper nutrition is an essential part of substance addiction treatment and recovery. When the substances begin to leave a person’s body, the body will need support in healing. Healthy food helps repair the organs and brain. Implementing nutrition classes that include shopping for and preparing healthy food is helpful to a person’s recovery.
Nutrition education is vital to recovery. Nutrition classes that focus on how foods, vitamins, and minerals affect mental health, decrease the urge to use substances, and improve a sense of well-being are integral to comprehensive care.
Phasing in a Healthy Diet
Those with a substance use disorder can have an increased risk of relapse if their diet is not healthy. However, several life-changing experiences at one time can also increase the risk of relapse. The process of addiction treatment and starting recovery is often an overwhelming lifestyle change. Over time, implementing small changes can help a person achieve a healthy lifestyle.
People who use stimulants can have an increased appetite and are tempted to overeat. A healthy diet can prevent harmful side effects from unhealthy foods.
A few tips to help guide a person to healthy nutritional habits are:
- Set up a mealtime schedule to reduce the urge to eat unhealthy foods.
- Keep healthy snacks like fruit, nuts, or vegetables on hand to minimize resorting to fast foods or junk food when hungry.
- Replace processed or fat-dense meats with lean meats like fish or chicken.
- Eat complex carbohydrates and foods with dietary fiber.
- Encourage the use of vitamin supplements that contain:
- Vitamins A & C
Research shows plant-based diets have health benefits for those with alcohol or drug abuse issues. While there are many downsides to COVID-19, an upside is the increased attention to diet and nutrition due to many needing to eat at home more often. Encouraging and teaching healthy eating to those in addiction treatment or recovery can boost their health, aid in healing their body, and decrease their risk of relapse. The inclusion of nutrition classes in addiction treatment is essential. When a person begins their addiction treatment journey, they can start detox; their body requires proper foods to start the healing process. After completing detox, their journey includes individual and group therapy focused on their mental health. Alta Centers is a small, private, medically supervised detox center that focuses on comprehensive care. We understand how nutrition is vital to your recovery process. To learn more about our center, call (888) 202-2583.