By Olivia Pennelle
My second biggest challenge in recovery has been embarking upon the journey towards health and wellness. A subject we often do not want to face. As an addictive substance, food came first for me, it formed an unhealthy ‘coping’ strategy of mine. What was left after my addiction was 150 pounds of excess weight and an inability to have a healthy relationship with food. I simply did not know how.
I have always known about food: what is healthy, what flavors work together, how to seduce people with it and the perfect dinner party recipe. Comfort eating was my vice the same comfort I sought with drugs.
The ethos of my website, Liv’s Recovery Kitchen, is to share my journey of how I tackled that relationship with food, and sought out a life which was healthy. I have highlighted the parallels between disordered eating and addiction, and I raise awareness of physical recovery; an aspect we don’t talk about often enough.
In my experience, education, and training, I have learned that food can be used exactly like a drug. Certain foods release dopamine ‘the brain’s feel-good chemical in the same way as certain drugs. Dopamine is the brain’s reward chemical and when it is released, the brain creates a memory to reinforce the desire for more. Serotonin the brains calming hormone can also be released. Mix in some sugar and you have a recipe that releases these hormones and spikes your blood sugar due to the increase in insulin, followed by a sharp crash. It is no wonder, therefore, that in times of stress and feeling low as we often do in recovery that we reach for foods which we know will make us feel better albeit for a short time.
During my journey, I realized that to fully recover, I had to do so holistically. That means, focusing on my whole self: Internally (spiritually, mentally, emotionally); and externally (my physical health, my relationships, activities, and environment). In applying a holistic recovery approach to my relationship with food, I have lost nearly 50 pounds. I am still on that journey today and am aware it will be life-long, but the choices become easier.
These were the steps that I took to begin my journey:
1. I asked for help with a health and wellness coach. I realized that, in the same way as substance recovery, I could not do this alone. While I’m aware health coaching isn’t available for all, there are various ways that you can work with someone to help you, whether it is your doctor, a realistic weight loss group or a nutritionist-dietician.
2. I learned about good nutrition. I read a lot about nutrition and its effects on the body and brain. I don’t believe in traditional weight loss clubs or restrictive/liquid diets, but I do believe in whole real food and making long term sustainable changes which form the basis of a new relationship with food. It is not a diet. Diets do not work long term. Protein is massively undervalued; it keeps you full, uses more energy to digest and we don’t feed ourselves enough of it. I eat a diet high in lean protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats. I cut out foods that did not serve me well: soda, excessive caffeine, refined carbohydrates and processed foods. I buy foods with one ingredient.
3. I became mindful of my behavior. I had to get real and get in touch with that underbelly of feelings that I was seeking to avoid in the same way as drugs. I considered my emotional well-being. I use mindfulness to create an awareness of the food I put into my body and the connection with my emotional hunger. Yoga helps with this connection of mind-soul-body, and I cannot express enough how fundamental that is.
4. I made exercise work for me. I love walking and I immediately began walking 10,000 steps a day. Then I bought a bike and gave up my bus pass. Now I work out 3/4 days a week weight training, running, classes and yoga; and I cycle everywhere. These are all exercises that I enjoy. Exercise releases the same feel-good chemicals you get with certain unhealthy foods. I love cycling, it is my quiet time to process my thoughts.
5. I sought to my self-care needs that I was seeking to soothe with food. This looks like 8 hours sleep a night, 2 litres of water a day (and more during exercise and hot weather), finding a method expression (whether it is writing or drawing, or cooking creatively), connection with others, and quiet, restful time (reading a book, having a bath, getting an early night).
6. I made food a priority, by incorporating food planning into my life. I find that when my eating slips, it is because I haven’t prioritized this. It is an essential part of any weight loss strategy and I quite enjoy sitting down once a week with my favorite cookbooks and planning meals for the week. By writing a shopping list based on your meal plan, you’re less likely to buy foods you don’t need in the supermarket and that can save you money.
Over the coming weeks, I will share my experience of each of these steps in more detail. Stay tuned.
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 855-816-8826. Our counselors are available to answer your questions.
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 Recovery & Casa Capri Recovery, Intervene, Workit Sapling, Addiction Unscripted, and Transformation is Real.