Learning how to eat again after recovering from addiction
March 21, 2018
A new cooking class at Boston Medical Center for people in recovery from addiction is among the first of its kind in the nation and is part of a growing recognition that addiction is a complex chronic health condition that deserves care and attention on many fronts. Nutrition class is no replacement for the life-saving medicines that can be used to treat addiction or reverse an overdose. But even when someone with addiction is stabilized on treatment, many remain far from healthy. By addressing the vital role nutrition plays in recovery, the class fills a key but overlooked space, experts say.
Addiction often takes an incredible toll on the body, both due to the substances’ effect on physical health and the way healthy eating often takes a back seat when a person is in the throes of addiction. Alcohol, for example, can strip the body of vital nutrients, leading to dangerously low levels of thiamine and folate. “Substance use disorder and lack of proper nutrition often go hand-in-hand,” says Ginger Hultin, a Seattle-based registered dietitian.
But the obstacles to nutrition people with addiction face often go deeper than vitamin deficiencies. Lack of access to food or a way to prepare it can often create disordered eating patterns. The odds of a person with a substance use disorder being homeless—and therefore without a place to store or prepare food—is more than 2.5 times that of other people. That instability and lack of access to nutritious options can make it tricky to eat well. Plus, unhealthy food is often easier to find than more nutritious choices, particularly when an addiction is exerting a dominating force on one’s time and energy.