When a person who is addicted to drugs and/or alcohol takes the brave step to embark on recovery, it is vital that they approach recovery from a multi-faceted perspective. Cognitive behavioral therapy and the 12-Step method are two ‘gold standard’ treatments for addiction recovery, yet lately, the world’s most forward thinking rehabilitation centers are also stressing the importance of holistic therapies (like yoga and mindfulness meditation) and nutrition, in achieving long lasting success. The reason why a varied approach is recommendable is because no two recovering patients are alike; some will benefit greatly from a mindfulness approach; others are deeply inspired by the yogic lifestyle, which emphasizes the importance of kindness to all sentient things (many yoga practitioners are, therefore, vegan); still others gain much from the company of other recovering individuals, via group therapy and community volunteering.
When it comes to a healthy diet during recovery, veganism has very much to offer. For one, many patients find that as they stop using drugs or alcohol, their weight increases. Sometimes it is because of the metabolic effect drugs have previously exerted; at other times, it is because of the anxiety generated by cravings or the process of recovery itself. One important study carried out recently by scientists at the University of Southern California placed participants who needed to lose weight, on one of five diets: vegan, vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, and omnivorous. Weight loss was ascertained at a two- and six-month mark, and the results were clear: those on the vegan diet lost the most weight. Veganism not only helps us feel young; it also makes us look younger, by boosting skin with a host of vitamins and minerals, which stimulate the production of collagen and elastin.
The goodness of veganism goes beyond skin deep, of course; after months or years of addiction, veganism, with its focus on fresh, healthy, seasonal produce, is an excellent way to bombard the body with much needed antioxidants and phytochemicals (or ‘light energy’) which fight the ravages caused by free radicals.
Veganism introduces recovering addicts to a healthy lifestyle that will stand them in good stead for many years to come. One large-scale study which observed the nutritional habits of over 450,000 persons in Europe, found that those who consume a diet that is rich in plant-based foods, have a significantly lower chance of dying from heart disease and stroke. Plant-based diets battle inflammation and help keep a plethora of diseases at bay (including breast cancer, obesity, ovarian cancer, colo-rectal cancer and Type II diabetes).
If you are recovering from addiction and you’d like to get started on the immensely satisfying journey that is veganism, try to ensure that most of the produce you consume, is organic. One recent study found that organic produce contains higher levels of antioxidants, and lower levels of heavy metals like cadmium. The researchers found that without the synthetic chemical pesticides applied to conventional crops, organic plants produce greater amounts of phenols and polyphenols, which help prevent diseases caused by oxidative stress, such as certain cancers and heart disease. Crops harvested from organically managed fields sometimes have pesticide residues, though levels are up to 100 times lower than in conventionally grown fruits and vegetables. Researchers noted that by switching to organic produce, we can obtain up to 40 per cent more antioxidants, which is the equivalent of around two portions of fruit and veg a day (without consuming additional unwanted calories).
For an optimally healthy meal plan, ensure you consume top quality protein sources (such as lentils, beans and nuts), food with plenty of calcium (dark, leafy vegetables will do the trick), and iron-rich foods (including sesame seeds and dark green vegetables). Obtain Vitamin B12 from fortified products, and make sure you get enough time in the sun, to obtain enough Vitamin D. You will find that as you become familiar with veganism and meet more people with a shared interest in delicious, healthy, ethical food, you begin to learn all the little tricks that can make this type of diet so satisfying – new recipes, ways of preparing food, new preparation styles such as those taught by the raw food movement, and much more. Veganism is the kindest diet not only to our Planet (because the carbon footprint of a vegan is so much lower than that of an omnivore), but to ourselves and during recovery, kindness and compassion may just be what the doctor ordered.