The Importance of Cooking and Nutritional Health in Recovery
When considering entering treatment for a substance use disorder, amenities can be the deciding factor between facilities. A major amenity that clients should seek out is access to nutritional therapy. Both cooking and nutritional courses help people recover from addiction. It offers those in treatment practical skills that promote long-term recovery.
The Nutritional Impact of Substance Abuse
According to the Library of Medicine, no matter the substance of choice, substance abuse creates a deficiency in nutrients. Opiates deplete the body’s electrolytes. Alcohol creates deficiencies in B vitamins and calcium. Stimulants decrease the appetite, causing weight loss and malnutrition. The list goes on and on. All of these issues harm the body. Substance use disorders also can create unhealthy eating patterns. As it stands, there is a strong correlation between substance use disorders and eating disorders. This is why nutrition is so important to treatment.
Re-Training the Brain and Body
Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS), a period of prolonged withdrawal symptoms, often creates brain fog and working memory struggles. Cooking from a recipe activates the working memory system and requires focus. Over time, memory recall may strengthen and the attention span may increase. Practicing these cognitive skills can help build up endurance so that the issues caused by prolonged withdrawal symptoms create fewer barriers later.
Even without the effect of PAWS, substance use disorders can often suppress hunger signals and appetite. A person in treatment can re-train their body to function properly. This requires proper food intake. Sometimes this means eating good portions of nutritional food three times a day even if one isn’t feeling hungry. Bodily check-ins throughout a meal will tell a person when to stop eating. Over time, introspective awareness will increase. A person will trust their body more as they continue to treat it with the love it deserves.
Engaging With the Senses
Mindfulness is an important skill in the coping mechanism toolbox. It requires a person to fully engage in the present while drawing awareness to their senses and feelings. Food engages all of the Big Five senses. It can help ground a person manage their recovery.
People frequently associate food with taste. A person can break taste down further though. There are at least five categories of flavors our tastebuds recognize: salty, sweet, umami, bitter, and sour. When eating, we can focus on which flavor palates a recipe contains.
Visually, ingredients possess a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. Each shade of fruit and vegetable contains different phytonutrients. Ideally, you should eat a rainbow of natural foods.
Smell is possibly the strongest sense. A 2014 study performed by the NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences found that humans can detect up to one trillion different scents. Hundreds of odor components combine to make what we recognize as a singular smell. As a person cooks, they can try to identify all of the scents. This will keep them focused on the present.
Cooking creates a symphony of sounds if a person listens closely. The knife cracks against the cutting board. The egg sloshes as it’s mixed. Electricity whirs as a smoothie blends. Oil pops and sizzles on a hot pan. A pressure cooker hisses as it releases steam. While people often tune sounds out with selective auditory attention, they can learn to appreciate the sounds they create in the kitchen.
Finally, a person can engage with the physical feeling of food in two main ways. First, while cooking, touching anything causes tactile sensory input. A person might notice the rough outer texture of an orange as they peel it. They might feel the cold as they pull something out of the fridge. Second, a person can notice the texture of food while eating. It can feel satisfying to bite down on a crunchy pepper or let ice cream melt on one’s tongue.
Sensory grounding is a mindfulness skill that can be honed while cooking and translated into other environments. The ability will strengthen with practice. Then, they can use it in moments of crisis.
Preparing for Life Outside Treatment
Life outside of treatment requires basic skills that may not have been honed during active addiction. Cooking and nutrition can both assist a person in maintaining long-term recovery. As the famous adage states, “Give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” While the sentiment has merit, a hungry person may not be capable of learning to their peak ability since their basic needs aren’t being met. This is why residential treatment is an ideal place to teach nutrition and cooking classes. In a treatment facility a person has food, shelter, sobriety, and social support from peers. Programs that don’t offer counselors often pair clients with outside sources that fill these gaps.
Residential facilities satisfy people’s most basic needs. This gives clients the time and attention to learn. Nutritional guidance will assist in mending vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Providing the logistical knowledge of nutrition to people in treatment will encourage continued healthy eating patterns further into recovery. Cooking classes provide a practical application for nutritional knowledge. Participants will receive instruction on how to cook basic foods. They’ll chop, dice, and mince ingredients. They’ll read recipes. They’ll figure out how to combine different flavor palates. All of these skills prepare clients for a successful life after in-patient treatment.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, food can be a touchy subject. Substance use depletes the nutrients and minerals that a person needs to survive. It also promotes unhealthy eating habits. This can create negative emotions around food, such as shame and embarrassment. At Spero Recovery, we know how to help you build a positive relationship with food. We are a 30- to 90-day residential substance use disorder treatment center located in Evergreen, Colorado. We pair 12-Step programming with holistic treatments. We offer nutritional therapy in the form of cooking classes. Our fully equipped kitchens provide a space for clients to explore the joys of eating healthy meals. They’ll develop skills that can help them in their long-term recovery. When you or your loved one are ready to start your journey of healing, contact Spero Recovery at (303) 351-7888.