By Olivia Pennelle
I don’t like that word, nutrition. I think it signifies change and perfectionism to a lot of people in recovery. Even though we repeatedly hear about the benefits of eating well, it doesn’t necessarily make us jump up and reach for the quinoa. Yes, eating well reduces our risk of heart disease, can lower cholesterol, keep our immunity high and ward off infections, and lower our weight. But how will it actually help your recovery? WHY should you eat well? Is a question I often hear. Well, that is a great question. In fact, it is vital to make any lasting changes. My approach to health and wellness is one of realism and practicality, making it work for me. I don’t profess to be a nutritional guru, and I don’t suggest for a minute that you eat a diet that is clean 100% of the time. A lean machine is an unsustainable myth, in my humble opinion. Let’s face it, recovery is one of the biggest, if not thebiggest decisions we make in our lives. Everything else we do should be in support of that.
My mission isn’t about faddy diets or being a do-gooder. I want to talk about real, wholesome food that makes you feel great, gives you the energy to achieve all the things you want in your recovery. Good food and eating well should not be obsessively counting macros, points or syns, or weighing yourself and your food all the time. Eating in such an obsessive way smacks of a compulsion and obsession that reminds me of my addiction and is counter-intuitive to my recovery; which is about living in a balanced way. I believe that you can eat well, feel good in your body and still have the occasional indulgence. Perhaps, as an extension of that, we should do away with phrases such as good nutrition and clean eating. To me, that denotes good and bad. These labels are unhelpful. Why not strive for just treating your body right, and eating nourishing food?
What does that look like?
Well, now for the technical part, bear with me. The iconic USDA Food Pyramid is the most widely recognized infographic, the gold standard if you will. Initially produced in 1992, this recommended that you eat a diet stacked highly in carbohydrates, eat a moderate amount of protein and dairy and a sparring amount of fat—purporting that fats were bad for you. This was revised a further time in 2005, following extensive research and development which questioned the fat and carbohydrate recommendations, to include a more moderate amount of grains and the inclusion of some healthy fats. Skip forward to 2011, the USDA eliminated the food pyramid altogether and presented a new model (below), known as My Plate.
On a very basic level, that is a balanced diet. It is a much more intuitive picture of healthy eating and it eliminates some of the complexity of the pyramid. This is what those groups look like:
Fruits can be anything from fresh berries, apples, pears, bananas, melon to frozen fruits (much cheaper and they retain a high nutrient value—be sure to check that they don’t have added sugar).
Grains should be whole, like brown rice, whole oats, whole wheat bread, and pasta (with no added sugar), sweet potatoes or white potatoes with the skin on.
Protein—which you can make more interesting with spice rubs, marinades, and seasoning—include chicken, fish, meat (pork, beef, lamb). Opt for leaner cuts of meat that have been minimally processed.
Vegetables should be fresh, or frozen—try to avoid canned. They can include anything and everything that is whole and unprocessed. For example, dark green vegetables like kale, broccoli, spinach; root vegetables such as carrots, turnips, rutabaga. Personally, I load up on vegetables and eat about 3-4 portions with each meal. They are full of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They are one of the greatest sources of energy and fuel for the body and are really good for your health.
Dairy can be cottage cheese, milk, goats cheese. Some people are sensitive to dairy—like me, so I avoid it and opt for almond milk, goat’s and sheep’s milks instead. I get my calcium from vegetables; in fact, some are higher than milk. The dairy option could also be used as a fluid intake, such as green tea, naturally flavored water, and coffee (in moderation).
Sadly, my Plate doesn’t include fats (healthy oils, nuts, and seeds), essential to the diet for overall health, body composition and feelings of fullness and satisfaction. This looks like sunflower seeds, chia seeds, almonds (whole almonds are particularly good for you), walnuts, olive oil.
You can individualize these recommendations further, based upon your goals. For example, if you wanted to lose weight, you might want to reduce the grains and increase protein, vegetables, and fats. If you wanted to gain weight, you might want to eat more grains. Be sure to talk to an expert about your goals to make sure your body is supported in the right way.
I hope this gives you a clearer picture of what eating well looks like and decodes the unhelpful messages out there. Eating well does not have to be complicated and it does not have to cost the earth. You don’t need to subscribe to weight loss clubs, take supplements or try the latest craze. Just keep it simple. That way, you’ll stick with it.
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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. You will find Liv featured amongst top recovery bloggers and published on websites such as The Fix, Sanford House, Windward Way & Casa Capri, Intervene, Workit Sapling, Addiction Unscripted, and Transformation is Real.