By Olivia Pennelle

Embarking upon a journey towards health and wellness in recovery was my second biggest challenge in life. It came after seeking help for my active addiction. And I didn’t do so willingly; I did so reluctantly. I didn’t want to feel terrible, and have low energy all the time—but I also didn’t want to put in the (perceived) huge effort that eating well would take. After all, recovery is a full-time job in itself—there wasn’t much room for anything else!  But I did it. I have previously shared on this blog how I lost 50 pounds and my strategy for doing so: First I talked about asking for help, second, I learned about good nutrition, and third, I made exercise work for me. This post is about how I meet my self-care needs—a vital aspect of a holistic approach to recovery.

In my experience, education, and training, I have learned that food can be used exactly like a drug. It is a known fact that certain foods release feel-good chemicals in the brain—just like alcohol and drugs.

During my journey towards health and wellness, I realized that I was seeking to soothe myself with food.  I have found recovery uncomfortable and unnerving; I have experienced feelings of anxiety, fear, and depression. It is no wonder, therefore, that during times of stress and feeling uncomfortable, that we reach for foods which we know will make us feel better—albeit for a short time.

I was soothing myself with the very substance that was harming me—the only difference this time is that it was something I couldn’t abstain from food. I had to re-train my brain to process my feelings, emotions, and stress in a way that soothed me properly.

I did that by learning to listen to my body. When I had a craving for certain unhealthy foods—like chocolate, candy or bread—I would take a moment to ask myself what I actually wanted. Was I hungry? Or was I tired? Was I experiencing an uncomfortable feeling that I wanted to avoid? What I found was that most often I wasn’t hungry, I was seeking to change the way that I felt. Sound familiar?! I was frequently tired too.

What I started to do instead was seek to my self-care needs, which were totally out of balance. This is what that looks like:

  • 8 hours sleep per night
  • Turning off social media an hour before bed
  • Taking ten minutes to breathe when I wake up before checking my phone
  • Eating three healthy meals a day, with two snacks, when I am hungry
  • Drinking two liters of water a day
  • Making sure I move for 20-30 minutes a day, even if it is a walk around the block
  • Having downtime: taking a bath, reading a book, turning off the TV, getting an early night

In seeing to these basic needs, my body thanked me. The cravings dissipated and I felt more at peace. Not only that, but I built self-esteem because I was finally caring for my body—something we aren’t familiar with in active addiction, and something we don’t often practice in recovery. But I feel, if we are to look after our whole self, it is a vital aspect of any recovery program.

It takes practice, but it is totally worth it.

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If you or a loved one are struggling with an addiction and need treatment, we would love to talk with you and see how we can help you. PLEASE CALL 844.310.5975. Our counselors are available to answer your questions.

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Writer, blogger, nutrition and recovery advocate, Olivia Pennelle (Liv), is in long-term recovery. Liv passionately believes in a fluid and holistic approach to recovery. Her popular site Liv’s Recovery Kitchen is a resource for the journey toward health and wellness in recovery. For Liv, the kitchen represents the heart of the home: to eat, share, and love.