The old adage — you are what you eat — has more truth to it than you might expect. We all know we should eat healthily, but new research and a focus on holistic care are illustrating the full scope of impact diet has on our overall wellness. Our bodies need sustenance from varied, healthy sources for optimal mental and physical well-being. The nutrients we receive from food nourish and fuel every cell in our bodies, providing a foundation for their structure, function and growth. When we eat well, we feel focused and energized — our bodies run smoothly and our minds are balanced.
However, many individuals seeking treatment for mental health and substance use disorders have poor nutritional habits that make it difficult to maintain physical and psychological health. Those struggling with mental illness can become malnourished without the time, energy or motivation to plan healthy meals. Over time, it becomes increasingly difficult to break the habit of eating convenient, processed foods such as frozen dinners, unhealthy snacks and quick bites. These calorie-rich foods are high in refined sugars, fats and carbohydrates, creating fluctuations in mood and appetite that can lead to cravings and other health-related consequences. Once an individual is accustomed to an unhealthy diet, incorporating whole foods such as fresh fruits, leafy vegetables and lean meats becomes more challenging. For many, this creates a cycle of unwellness that is difficult to escape from.
Unhealthy foods aren’t ideal for anyone, but for those struggling with mental health and addiction, their symptoms can become exacerbated by improper nutrition. A consistently poor diet means our bodies aren’t receiving an adequate amount of the essential vitamins or minerals it needs to stay strong. Over time, health starts to decline and it becomes more difficult to find the energy to battle psychiatric or substance abuse issues. When it’s time to enter treatment for these concerns, proper nutrition becomes an integral part of the healing process and helps residents find the strength they need to improve their mental and physical well-being. At Alta Loma, we understand the importance of healthy eating and provide residents with dietary support and nutrition education as they work towards long-term, sustainable recovery.
Nutrition and Substance Use
When looking for a recovery or extended care center, most prospective residents look at features such as the treatment modalities used, length of stay, frequency of groups or meetings and whether the facility meets their mental health or other needs. Nutrition isn’t usually a part of the equation, but research is showing that it should be.
Improper nutrition is one of the most common problems faced by those struggling with addiction. Oftentimes, individuals with a substance use disorder will eat sporadically or not at all due to the effects of certain drugs or alcohol. When they do eat, they’re more likely to select foods high in fat, sugars and carbohydrates for a quick energy boost. Unfortunately, many of these foods don’t contain the vitamins and minerals our bodies need. As the cycle of poor nutrition and substance use continues, the body is depleted of essential nutrients and has difficulty absorbing what vitamins and minerals are present in our food. Regular drug or alcohol use can even strip the body of vital nutritive components, contributing to a wide array of gastrointestinal, immune system and mental health issues.
At Alta Loma, we recognize that counteracting the detrimental effects of addiction on our nutrition and overall health is crucial to the treatment process. Incorporating healthy eating and a balanced, thoughtful meal plan can help your body rebuild itself and heal. This creates a strong foundation for recovery and promotes improved mood, increased energy levels and better sleep. In early recovery, a healthy diet can also help prevent relapse. Nutrient deficiencies may trigger symptoms of depression, anxiety and fatigue, which could prompt some individuals to resume using drugs or alcohol. Proper nutrition can help avoid some of these symptoms and setbacks that many residents experience when first entering treatment.
Nutrition and Mental Health
The foods that we eat have a profound effect on not only our bodies but our minds as well. Recent studies show that poor nutrition can worsen the symptoms of psychiatric issues and contribute to a decrease in energy levels, mental clarity and emotional regulation. Unhealthy foods give an immediate burst of energy that soon lead to crashes, creating fluctuations in mood that can make it more difficult to deal with stress and achieve a balanced state of mind.
At Alta Loma, we know that healthy eating is crucial for helping our residents manage their mental health. Psychiatrists at Columbia University have called good nutrition “potentially the most powerful intervention we have,” citing the numerous benefits that a healthy, nutrient-dense diet can have for the brain. A proper diet can also help residents cope with the side effects of psychiatric medications. Many of the prescribed treatments for mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder lead to unwanted symptoms, such as:
- Weight gain
To address these concerns, we have a licensed nutritionist available to meet with our residents and develop individualized meal plans that implement beneficial dietary changes. The nutritionist also leads weekly groups aimed at helping residents understand the side effects they may be experiencing and strategies for managing them more successfully with healthy meal planning and balanced nutrition. Residents will learn why healthy eating is so important, how it relates to mental health and substance use, and ways in which food can be used to alleviate the side effects of psychiatric medications.
Nutritional Support at Alta Loma
At Alta Loma, we understand the important role nutrition has in recovery. With a licensed nutritionist on staff, all meals are planned for each individual and provide the essential vitamins, minerals and other nutrients necessary for optimal wellness. The ingredients we used are carefully chosen and considered within the broad scope of each resident’s preferences, dietary restrictions and symptom management. Our culinary team prepares lunch and dinner daily made with fresh ingredients and a healthy focus. Snacks that complement each resident’s nutritional plan are also provided between meals.
We also understand the importance of teaching residents the skills they need to pursue an active, healthy lifestyle once they leave our facility. Not only do residents have access to healthy meals while they’re in our program, but they will also learn how to maintain proper nutrition once they transition back to independent living. Our chef works with residents interested in learning how to cook and teaches them the skills they need to make healthy meals on their own. Residents will learn about meal planning, ingredient shopping, budgeting, food preparation and more. We also strive to incorporate examples of balanced, nutritious food that residents can recreate to demonstrate that healthy meals can be simple and convenient without being fried or frozen.
To complement the cooking skills learned from our chef, a licensed nutritionist will lead a weekly group to educate residents on proper nutrition and address concerns regarding medication side effects such as weight fluctuation or fatigue. The nutritionist will discuss how our food choices affect our overall health and teach residents how to select healthier options. Our goal is to instill healthy habits in our residents and teach them the skills they need to maintain their health on a daily basis. We don’t just want to restore their physical and mental health — we want to equip and motivate them to become truly happy, healthy and independent long after Alta Loma.