Well, actually I could expand that to say I’m a recovered alcoholic, drug addict, shopping addict, money addict, man addict and binge eater, but that would take too long so I’ll keep it short and to the point. For me, addiction is very simple- If, when you honestly want to, you find you cannot quit the substance entirely, or, if when drinking or using, you have little control of the amount you take, you are probably an alcoholic or an addict 1.
One in 10 Americans over the age of 12 suffer from the disease of alcohol and drug addiction 2. That is 23.5 million people in this country! Only 10% seek conventional treatment and Alcoholics Anonymous estimates it’s current membership worldwide at just 1.3 million people 3. A whole lot of people are slipping though the cracks to a disease that is sure lead to mental health disorders like depression, chronic diseases like cirrhosis, loss of job, home, family and friends, incarceration and eventually end in death.
I’ve spent almost 15 years of my life recovered, countless years before that trying to recover, 5 years of my career working in the field of substance abuse treatment, 6 years facilitating 12-step workshops and two years sitting on the board of a non-profit substance abuse treatment program and not ONCE has anyone said to me or have I heard or read, “the food you eat may help or hinder your recovery from alcohol and drug addiction.”
In fact, when I worked as the Finance Director for a rehab facility, I was instructed by the owner to cut food costs every chance I got. He also got excited when a former client would return to rehab, especially if they had money. So you can see where his motivation came from – money only money. The only nutrition education that is currently given to the women at the non-profit rehab program is the USDA Food Plate. And we all know how perfectly well the USDA recommendations have worked out in the US.
It wasn’t until I was well along my health journey did I realize how balanced I felt. I wasn’t as prone to emotional outbreaks any longer. I felt that life just didn’t seem as hard anymore, decisions were easier to make, problems easier to solve. I finally had achieved that peace and serenity talked about so much in the rooms of 12-step meetings.
When I started pursuing my nutrition education, I read both The Mood Cure and The Diet Cure by Julia Ross and it all became clear. Eating a clean diet and living a healthy lifestyle enhanced my recovery by balancing my blood sugar, improving my digestion and replenishing my depleted nutrient stores so that my brain chemistry was more stable.
There’s a huge population that needs a health reset! Not only are there the millions of people who are fighting to recover that can benefit from this diet and lifestyle change, there are the millions who have recovered who still struggle with finding their emotional balance. Quite a bit of my practice is dedicated to helping people who have recovered from alcohol and drug addiction but then years later, sometimes even decades, end up with binge eating and yo-yo dieting problems. I call it the “last addiction” because they have successfully quit so many other addictive substances but can’t quite seem to kick the food issues.
I use a four-fold approach to help addictions issues:
Lifestyle. Sleep is the most important aspect of lifestyle that needs to be addressed. Most people I see, sleep an average of 4-6 hours per night simply because “they just have so much to do.” People don’t realize the fundamental flaw in that logic – if you get more sleep, you might actually get more done and be healthier! Lack of sleep can make it virtually impossible to keep someone on any type of healthy eating plan because they will continually crave refined or junk carbohydrates like bread, cookies, crackers, chips and pasta. Along with sleep deprivation, comes the need for prioritizing life choices. A common saying is that you should always put your recovery first. But, if you don’t put your health first, how will you maintain your recovery?
Food. I would love begin with a strict template for at least 30 days and then add back the “gray area” foods as tolerated or as fat loss permits. More often than not though, it’s necessary to go slow and not eliminate all the foods at once, especially for those in early recovery. It’s just too much too soon. I usually start in this order: vegetable oils, gluten, all sweeteners (artificial and natural), all grains, dairy, and legumes.
Supplementation. Most clients tend to be depleted in most nutrients due to the years of abuse, so I use questionnaires and intake paperwork to determine targeted supplementation for the dopamine, serotonin and GABA pathways. I recommend supplements like 5-HTP, l-tyrosine, GABA precursors, B-vitamins and zinc to support these pathways. This reduces cravings and helps relieve the symptoms like anxiety and depression that can lead to a relapse. I also add support for digestion and blood sugar balance.
Spirituality. Most people will balk at this thinking it’s all about organized religion. I think the best definition is believing that there is something bigger than yourself or being able to be quiet enough with yourself to listen to that ever-present inner voice, that may have gotten too soft for you to hear. Addicts and alcoholics have a tendency to be self-centered so if you get them thinking of something else besides themselves, it makes recovery that much easier. Attending 12-step fellowship meetings works for a lot of people, but not everyone. I encourage people to seek out what is right for them. Volunteering, a sport you love, a community you belong to, hobbies, meditation are all a part of spirituality to me.
So I’ll say it again, there’s a huge population of people out there who have an innate NEED for us to tell them how a holistic lifestyle can help them recover! Unfortunately, most of them have no clue. If one in 10 Americans suffer from this disease, then the chances are high that someone you know and dearly love could benefit from Evolved Recovery.
 Alcoholics Anonymous: the story of how many more than one hundred men have recovered from alcoholism.. (1939). New York: Works Pub. Co..