If you’ve spent any time in recovery, you know a thing or two about cravings. Addiction is a chronic disease, and cravings for drugs or alcohol don’t automatically go away once you’ve completed treatment.1
The relapse-prevention techniques you learned during addiction treatment will help you deal with these urges, but you can also prevent cravings with the right nutritional choices. In this article, we’ll look at some simple dietary strategies that can help you reduce cravings in recovery.
Don’t Get Too Hungry
Managing cravings isn’t just about what you eat. The timing of your meals can have an impact. Addiction treatment professionals often advise their clients to remember the acronym “HALT.” This word reminds you not to get too hungry, angry, lonely or tired.
When you’re overly hungry, your blood sugar plummets, which can trigger strong cravings. It’s best to eat smaller meals at regular intervals throughout the day, supplemented with snacks. Try not to reach for fast food or a candy bar; these food choices offer little nutritional value and can cause unwanted blood-sugar fluctuations. Opting for lean protein, legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains is a better choice because these foods help you feel satisfied for longer periods of time and keep your energy levels steady.
Go Easy on Sugar and Caffeine
When you’re trying to cope cravings for drugs or alcohol, it’s common to reach for coffee or something sweet instead. Unfortunately, both sugar and caffeine have downsides that can hinder your recovery efforts. The quick jolt you get from caffeine is alluring, but the crash that comes when it wears off can trigger cravings.
Sugar can have even worse effects. When you eat something that’s high in sugar, you experience a surge in dopamine—the same feel-good neurotransmitter that floods your system when you use drugs or alcohol.2 You don’t want to contend with sugar cravings on top of drug or alcohol cravings, so it’s best to limit or even avoid refined sugar when you’re in early recovery.
Make Gradual Changes to Decrease Cravings
Don’t attempt to overhaul your diet all at once. Drastic changes are more likely to end in failure. If you’re used to having cookies or other sweets throughout the day, don’t try a cold-turkey approach to cutting out sugar. Make small changes, gradually swapping healthy snacks for some of your usual treats until you’ve cut out the junk food completely.
It’s also important to remember that eating a balanced diet to prevent cravings doesn’t mean you can’t indulge on occasion. The key is to practice moderation and listen to your body’s signals; if you get too far off track in your diet, you’ll leave yourself more vulnerable to cravings.
Addiction takes a real toll on your health, leaving your body depleted and malnourished; however, a balanced, nutrient-rich diet can help your body heal from the damage and give you the energy you need for the hard work of sustained recovery. Making smart nutrition choices isn’t just good for your overall physical health—it can also help quell cravings and make your recovery journey go more smoothly.