Lifestyle Medicine, Healthy Diet and Substance Abuse
How a healthy diet helps drug and alcohol addiction
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), food is medicinal. It is all about nourishing your body, mind and spirit by building ‘jing’. This is a force which powers your physical, emotional and even spiritual life. Jing is one of the ‘three treasures’ of TCM and the idea is to live in a way that enables you to store as much chi (another treasure) and jing as possible to ensure a life of vitality and health rather than a decline into weakness and illness.
Medicinal food plays a critical role in a successful drug or alcohol recovery program. Diet can enhance your chi-flow and positive feelings or contribute to chi-stagnation and negative emotions which, in turn, increases the likelihood of relapse. Your diet can encourage emotional stability, support feelings of empowerment and strength and assist in the ability to access non-ordinary states of consciousness without the use of substances.
The drug and alcohol addiction recovery diet – the foods that help you quit
The recovery diet draws upon the philosophy underpinning the Chinese culinary arts. It is about the power of the five elements and chi. This has no correlation in the West where food is treated as data. Items are assigned a nutritional value and specific serves of food groups are supposed to be consumed each day. This is purely theoretical. The West does not understand the relationship between food and physical health (otherwise hospital food wouldn’t be the worst thing you can eat if you are unwell) and has no concept of a connection between food and emotional and spiritual health.
The recovery diet is based on the connection between food and emotional and spiritual health. The intent is to be equally medicinal and delicious. In Chinese medicine cooking is about working with the element of ‘fire’, it puts jing into the body. Jing is the force which powers physical, emotional and spiritual life. This is why all meals must be cooked, and ideally slow-cooked like congees or stews or soups.
Avoid raw foods wherever possible in the recovery diet, these aggravate organ imbalances resulting from the prior hyper-stimulation via substances, and raw foods also require more energy to digest. Drug users are already chi deficient and nutrient depleted, they can’t afford to waste energy. The recovery diet conserves and builds energy – raw foods are not valuable in this context as they will contribute to obsession and depression. For example vegans can become obsessed about being vegan.
The best breakfast to avoid cravings and relapse
Oat porridge is the ideal breakfast. Oats benefit ‘Earth’ energies, which contribute to feelings of strength, support and focus. Oats have the ability to stabilise a person emotionally and physically. A proper oat porridge fuels a productive morning. And the subsequent program activities will be of more benefit to the client. Oats also prevents hunger (interpreted as cravings by drug users) arising two hours after breakfast.
Add black sesame seeds or poppy seeds (I use 3 tablespoons of black sesame seeds and 4 tablespoons of poppy seeds per serve) for the essential fatty acids and minerals. Black sesame seeds are great for iron intake as well, but they are also potent jing builders.
Use almond milk or other nut milks and always add protein powder. Some protein powders can be acidic which can impact on the kidneys and create irritation and edginess. Pea protein works well because it’s alkaline, and it supports the feeling of being grounded and calm. Slow cook porridge (with the lid on) for 45mins to 60mins. This is essential to enable optimum digestion and nutrient and chi delivery.
What to eat to help prevent a relapse
The aim is simplicity in basic ingredients, but depth of flavour from spices. The ‘muesli’ approach – basically a random collection of multiple items including fruits, nuts and grains – is not recommended. It does not support ‘Earth’ energies, it may, in fact, disrupt organ functions. Quinoa and other food types, now popular and assumed to be ‘healthy’ may be for the ‘normal’ population, but not for ex-addicts in recovery.
Drug recovery is a specialised area, and it requires a specialised approach in every single aspect. If you can’t tolerate oats, try buckwheat pancakes or pancakes made from superfood flours as a good alternative (you might need a nutritious snack at morning tea).
Avoid: cold foods, raw foods, raw ingredients, fruit or vegetable juices, sugar, processed cereals and bread.
The best lunch to prevent cravings and relapse
A warm cooked lunch continues to build on the nourishment of the breakfast porridge. Lunch needs to be protein (lamb, organic beef or fish), organic vegetables (colours ranging from green to red) and rice.
An ideal lunch is to slow cook easily digestible meat (lamb or beef mince), with onions and spices such as dill (slow cooking meat in juice made up of spices and onions builds chi). Add stir fry vegetables, 75% greens e.g. broccoli or green beans, 25% orange or red e.g. capsicum, tomatoes, pumpkin. Serve with fragrant steamed rice. This is easier to digest than brown rice especially in terms of the weak digestive energies arising from drug abuse.
Delicious and healthy vegetable side dishes
- Broccoli cooked in coconut milk with roasted sesame seeds, ginger and cumin
- Silverbeet cooked in oat milk with dill, Himalayan rock salt. Once cooked thickened with unhulled tahini.
- Pumpkin diced and roasted with poppy seeds, cooked in almond milk to create a mash, add nutmeg and cloves.
- Green beans, briefly fried in olive oil, thyme, rock salt, then add rice vinegar and rice milk to cook it in, add diced pumpkin to thicken.
- Wok fry sliced zucchini, finely chopped cabbage and grated carrot in olive oil, add lemon juice and rice milk, nutmeg, cloves and cook a further few minutes until vegetables blend.
- Red cabbage and apples cooked in rice vinegar and rice milk and olive oil.
- Brussels sprouts, cooked in coconut milk, thyme and black sesame seeds, cloves and nutmeg.
*Avoid: potatoes, sandwiches, cold foods, salads and raw foods
The best dinner to prevent cravings and relapse
Soup, fish and warm toasted sourdough bread is my recommendation for a chi-building evening meal. Vegetable soups are great, and pumpkin soup in particular relaxes and nurtures, it assists in preparation for a good night’s sleep. A small serve of oily fish such as sardines is also good to help settle the mind. Best time to consume bread (non-wheat) is in the evenings with dinner.
What is a healthy snack
Ex-users have impaired organ functionality. It is common to experience sudden drops in blood sugar, often around 1.5 to 2 hours after eating. For example after breakfast at 8am, by 10am you may suddenly feel weak and shaky. Immediately rectify this with delicious baked snacks, health cookies, or apples and walnuts, or banana or almonds (combine fruit with nuts).
Benefits of green tea
Green tea is a chi nurturer. It does have stimulating properties but it is balanced in yin and yang and accordingly has beneficial properties such as antioxidation. It also enhances clarity of thought and vision (green tea is the preferred beverage of Tai-chi masters). Have three to five cups between 9am and 3pm. Make a pot in the morning at breakfast and have available on demand throughout the day.