Alcoholics and addicts in recovery are often faced with learning life skills from the ground up. And as our bodies and health often have been painfully neglected, they offer a good place to start. When we sober up, we frequently discover that basic self care like eating, shopping for food and cooking can be baffling. Some of us go whole days forgetting to eat entirely. We then get into an utter panic about something seemingly unrelated, only to realize some time later that perhaps this bout of insanity was influenced by a lack of basic calorie intake.
Others sober up and suddenly become obsessed with food and overindulge. Then, feel full of guilt and discomfort.
How can we begin to develop a sane relationship with food, and actually eat to nourish ourselves?
Eat When You’re Hungry
It may sound overly basic, but most of us needed to learn to check in with our bodies. Pausing to ask yourself if you are really hungry is a true skill. Alcoholics and addicts notoriously override their body’s most fundamental systems. Learning to hone into how we are feeling and what we need can take some time and practice.
…. But Not Too Much
There may be plenty of times when we are bored, anxious or uncomfortable and suddenly have a craving for junk food. A useful tool can be to ask yourself, “Am I hungry enough for an apple?” Offering yourself a healthy alternative and seeing how you respond can be a great gauge for your actual motive. If the healthier option has zero appeal, you may not actually be hungry, but rather just looking for a distraction or an energy boost. We can also transform out relationships with food by learning to slow down, like taking deep breaths and smelling food before eating. In this way, it can become a reverent act. Each bite with a nod of gratitude to the planet, the farmers, and the people and things that made your meal possible.
Another useful tool can be planning meals in advance. Setting aside time for breakfast, lunch, a snack and dinner can add structure and sanity to one’s eating. Planning ahead can be beneficial for both those inclined to overindulge and those who neglect to eat entirely. Pre-arranged menus can offer relief and good choices. They limit the times when you are starving but have nothing on hand, leaving you with no choice but whatever might be available at the nearest gas station or convenience store. Ideally, we eat for self care, love, and nourishment of our bodies. When we are eating in this spirit, we naturally make choices that are more nutritious and fuel us, instead of leaving us uncomfortable, miserable and malnourished.
Shopping and Cooking 101
Learning to grocery shop and cook a few basic things will make the whole process of eating for wellness infinitely easier. It can be useful to pick 3-4 meals that you enjoy eating and learn to prepare them. Straightforward meals with minimal ingredients and easy preparation are good places to start. There are scores of apps and websites with basic recipes for almost any type of cuisine, as well as online videos with clear-cut instructions. Writing down the ingredients for a few dishes and going to the store with a list makes it more likely that you’ll eat well and less likely that you’ll have a bag of chips or cookies for dinner.
Whole, minimally processed foods, and lots of fruits and vegetables, combined with some protein is a good recipe for success. Learning to cook a few dishes is easier and more satisfying than you think, and can offer a great self-esteem boost.
Most of us found that developing a happy relationship with food and eating took time, but was critical to feeling comfortable and happy in our bodies again. In our experience, taking care of the body is vital to the spirit, and ultimately enables us to be useful, joyful and whole.
*The foregoing is intended broadly for individuals who want to practice better self care with regards to eating. If you have an eating disorder and want help, please see our Treatment page, and check out our library of speakers from Overeaters Anonymous, a 12-step program.