Post by Michael Plahn
This topic is critical for clinicians and those in recovery alike. Paradoxically, there are both simple and complicated answers to this question. But let’s first understand how alcohol use, especially prolonged alcohol use, affects the body.
When one ingests alcohol, what happens? Simply speaking, alcohol is not digested like other foods. Instead of being broken down and absorbed like other foods, alcohol avoids the normal digestive process and goes directly to the blood stream. About 20 percent of the alcohol is absorbed directly into the blood through the stomach walls and 80 percent is absorbed into the bloodstream through the small intestine. The brain, liver, heart, pancreas, lungs, kidneys, and every other organ and tissue system are infiltrated by alcohol within minutes after it passes into the blood stream. The strength of the drink will have a significant effect on absorption rates, with higher concentrations of alcohol resulting in more rapid absorption. Elimination of alcohol from a healthy adult body occurs at an average rate of approximately ½ to 3/4 ounce per hour, the equivalent of 1 ounce of 100-proof whiskey, one large beer, or about 3 to 4 ounces of wine. Are you still with me?
Addressing nutrition in recovery is crucial. Those who use alcohol excessively deprive their bodies of essential nutrients. The hormonal response that occurs with alcohol consumption is a rapid rise in insulin from the pancreas to manage sky rocketing blood sugar levels. As insulin brings blood sugar down, the body goes through a state of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). There are a number of physiological consequences that occur. As a person goes through a state of hyperglycemia to hypoglycemia, symptoms may occur even before a state of hypoglycemia is reached. These symptoms can present as anxiety, anger, irritability, fatigue, and CRAVINGS for alcohol. Thus, addressing nutrition by maintaining a stable and level blood sugar is a key factor in preventing symptoms that may lead to relapse in the alcohol dependent individual.
Why can this contribute to a relapse? Because very simply, the body of someone addicted to alcohol will crave something else to replace the alcohol. That choice tends to be processed foods or foods with a high sugar content. Therefore, many individuals new in recovery may reach for donuts, cookies, ice cream and any other high sugar content food or beverage in sight. On the surface this may seem benign, but it can also lead to a craving for alcohol if level blood sugar is not maintained.
So now the alcohol is removed from the diet and I am suggesting removing the sweets too? No, I am not a sadist, but it is important to address the entire system and create homeostasis in all areas of life, especially when someone is just beginning the recovery journey. If this is not understood, disaster could loom without the person realizing what they are doing. Ignorance is definitely not bliss when you are dealing with the deadly disease of addiction.
Let’s say you are a couple of months sober, excited and want to start an exercise program to lose some unwanted pounds while getting “healthy.” That’s great and I applaud you. You join a gym and buy a package of sessions from a personal trainer. Again, awesome… I wish more people would address their fitness and nutrition in recovery. However, not everyone in the fitness industry, let alone the average person new in recovery, understands how to properly balance blood sugar and thus minimize cravings, posits Robert Yang, a licensed nutritionist and certified Metabolic Typing professional based out of Encinitas, California who also works as part of the LifeSkills Authorities Recovery Team.
Now this excited newly sober person begins to workout and their personal trainer tells them to “eat a lot of protein to build more lean muscle mass,” without doing a Metabolic Type assessment and not knowing the entire composite of this person. Being alcoholic, the addicted person figures even more protein would be better, right? Yet if they do not balance ALL the macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrates) properly, they could have disastrous effects. Simply put, if there is no healthy fat (organic olive oil, organic avocadoes, or organic coconut oil) in this equation, an earnest attempt to eat “healthy,” will create ravenous cravings for fat disguised as sugar cravings for our poor sober friend. This could be a very bad thing for a recovering alcoholic. Basically, it could actually create an unintentional craving for alcohol. Yang proposes that through proper use of balancing your own Metabolic Type, you could eliminate the potential nightmarish situation that was just described.
LifeSkills Authorities can help you learn your ideal Metabolic Type or balance of macronutrients that will help you avoid cravings. This is just another example of the depth to which we take the recovery journey and our relationship with our clients.
The above article was recently written for the Treatment Solutions Network website and has garnered attention as many people will likely relate to the subject matter. Click here to see the actual posting on the TSN website.