Let’s take a typical teenager in America eating a typical diet mostly made up of highly processed convenience food (designed more for profit than for nutrition). This diet includes snacks like chips and fruit snacks, frozen foods like burritos, hot pockets and ice cream, take-out food such as pizza and Chinese, and fast food like burgers and tacos. Our teenager has little or no experience buying groceries, let alone preparing food. Completely unaware, food choices are made based on convenience, taste, and familiarity. Unfortunately, The the stomach will not be prepared for the more nutritious fiber found in fruits and vegetables, and there will always be a stronger preference for food that is salty (chips) or sweet, more easily digestible (sweetened cereal with milk). There may be no apparent weight problems, but this can be seen as a form of food addiction because our teen is rejecting foods that do not activate the reward system. This food relationship has permeated our society and is not necessarily an individual problem.
Although there may be some resistance from clients, nutrition interventions will play an essential role in the recovery process. Advances in our understanding of food addiction point directly to the necessity of dealing with eating behavior in drug addiction. At Diamond Tree Recovery, nutrition is never used as a penalty. It is framed as a supportive component of the client’s overall recovery. Our focus is always on what to eat (not what not to eat) as a way of crowding out old habits.
Our teenager, now 24 years old, is strung out on crystal meth, heroin, Xanax, and alcohol. The client presents to a typical detox center now 15 pounds underweight. Drugs, the primary source of dopamine stimulation, is no longer available and lost is the ability to feel pleasure. Post-detox we see the predictable increase in substance-seeking, the inevitable search for caffeine, nicotine, and sugar. The client has developed a taste for energy drinks and coffee with creamer and sugar, which he partakes of several times a day. If allowed, the client will likely smoke half a pack of cigarettes before eating anything every day. Appetizing food might be the sole source of pleasure remaining, but there is no interest in cooking.
The client expresses an interest in recovering from addiction, a desire to move beyond withdrawal-related depression, and a hope in reducing medications. In the first month of treatment, the client regains lost weight, develops a pattern of night eating, and another new habit of eating sour candy all afternoon. Older recovery wisdom would support a liberalized approach to sweets, nicotine, and caffeine, suggesting it is favorable to get the client beyond the immediate crisis. But new wisdom dictates that this form of behavior is a cross addiction that must be addressed early in recovery.