Proper nutrition and hydration are key to the substance abuse healing process because they help restore physical and mental health and improve your chance of remaining sober. Are you ready to take the next step toward self-care and re-nourish your body?  

Remember, this is a process and you don’t have to make all the changes at once. Good nutrition will help foster your long-term recovery as you nourish your body, mind and spirit. If you feel unwell, you are probably going to want to use.  BUT, if you feel well, you are going be much more able to avoid the temptation of falling back into old habits. Realistic, healthy eating will help you feel better.

Nutrition Tips for the Newly Sober

One Meal at a Time

Just like the expression one day at a time, one meal at a time is the key to recovery.  Meal planning will help you meet your nutrition goals. Breaking the planning down to one day at a time (or even one meal at a time) can help stop you from feeling overwhelmed.  It may be easy to go overboard with nutrition and try to do an extreme makeover, but just like the tortoise and the hare, the slow, steady changes will help you be successful.  Use available resources to help you plan your meals like the freebies on our website including sample recipes, pantry makeovers, label reading, healthy snack ideas and more!  

The good news is that you do not need to spend your money on expensive supplements or miracle remedies; you can feel better and heal using good, old-fashioned food like this homemade chicken tenders meal from our Mayhem to Mealtime Program.

Addiction can leave you malnourished. Alcohol may have replaced many of the foods that you may have been eating or the alcohol may have stressed out your body. Alcohol can take a  huge toll on your digestive system, making it more difficult to utilize the food that you did consume. So, now it is the time replenish your body and start to add healthy foods back into your diet. Again, you can do this with easy to prepare foods like the photo below. 

Enjoy a meal balanced with proteins, carbohydrates and fat to leave you feeling full and focused.

Include Foods from Each Food Group in your Diet

Eating a variety of foods is the best way to ensure you are getting all the vitamins, minerals and nutrients your body needs to function. Check out the examples below of what foods fall into each category: 

  • Grains: whole wheat bread, crackers, rice, couscous, quinoa, oatmeal
  • Fruits and vegetables: Strive for five servings of fruits/vegetables each day and try to include each of  the colors of the rainbow as you do this.
    • Make sure to eat foods in season so that you get the most flavorful foods available. These foods are rich in antioxidants and will help you boost your immune system.
  • Dairy: Milk and cheese are important for strong bones and teeth
  • Protein: Fish, poultry and beans can help your rebuild your liver

Protein to help you stay sober

Healthy eating includes protein because amino acids found in protein are the building blocks of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers within the body). Plenty of protein in your diet can help you keep your neurotransmitters (especially dopamine) up to help you improve your mood and decrease your desire for drugs or alcohol.  Moderate protein intake is a good goal for long-term recovery.  These are basic guidelines, but you might need more or less protein depending on your individual history and medical situation. Generally, try to consume about 3 oz of protein at each meal (about the size of the palm of your hand) and about 1-2 oz for each snack.

Good protein sources include: chicken, turkey, pork, beef, dairy and eggs (see example of huevos rancheros)

Huevos Rancheros is a meal full of protein

Frequent Meals and Snacks to help you stay sober

Take time to eat regularly and frequently. Often eating 3 meals and 2-3 healthy snacks each day will help you regulate your blood sugar and mood (Try to eat a small meal or snack every 2-4 hours while you are awake). Eating more frequently can help you better recognize your physical hunger cues and help you maintain a normal level of hunger and satiety rather than getting overly hungry.  

Being overly hungry can make you more vulnerable to making poor choices. It is also possible that if you are unfamiliar with the feeling of hunger, you might misinterpret hunger as a drug craving and risk relapse.

Not sure what would be a wise healthy snacks? The best snacks include a protein source such as:

  • Cheese and crackers
  • Yogurt and fruit
  • Peanut butter and banana
  • Trail mix with nuts and dried fruit

Fiber to help you feel better

Fresh fruits and vegetables are a great source of fiber

Make sure to load up your shopping cart with fresh seasonal fruit  and vegetables, as well as some whole grain items.  Fiber helps keep you full, and can also improve your gut health. Include a variety of fruits and vegetables to make sure you get a variety of nutrients in your diet. To keep costs low, buy foods that are in season, or try frozen or canned fruits and vegetables. Fruit and vegetable juices, while potentially providing some of the nutrient benefits, do not have fiber.


Hydration to help you feel better

waterStaying hydrated is super important for many reasons. Feel free to drink all kinds of bottled water, tap water, seltzer water and carbonated water. Try to avoid fruit juices and sugary beverages, as they provide empty calories with not a lot of nutrient benefit.

Caffeine may be much more exciting to you at this point in recovery.  If drinking a soda or espresso helps you stay sober, then be kind to yourself and allow yourself to have a non-alcoholic drink.  But be aware that caffeine in soda, tea and energy drinks may make you edgy and more vulnerable to cravings for drugs or alcohol.

Many people in recovery struggle with craving sugary drinks. Try slowly adding one additional glass of water to your diet is a positive change you can make to improve your mood and your nutrition. If you crave juice, try diluting the juice with some water. You can also add a splash of juice to seltzer water for some added flavor and sweetness, with out the extra calories. Small goals are also important here. If you drink 5 cans of soda a day, try to decrease that by one can each week.

You can check your hydration status every time you pee. Ideally, your urine should be clear or pale yellow when you have had enough water to drink.

Check out this blog on hydration for more information.  You can also check out this blog on Best non-alcoholic drinks for our favorite mocktail recipes.


Carbohydrates: Small, gradual changes to help with Sobriety

RBA Lifesaver food

Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy; without this macronutrient, the brain can’t  function properly and blood sugar becomes unstable.  Carbohydrates are the key for the production of a neurotransmitters called serotonin. Serotonin helps promote a happy, stable mood, improves sleep, and helps curb food cravings.  Eliminating added sugar is very helpful during recovery; but again, it takes time to realize that your body needs healthy food even though sugar may feel like what your body is craving.  

Adding extra sugar in your diet is not the long-term solution.  A quick trip through the drive through or a pit stop for ice cream may seem like the best way to get through a sugar craving. However, having plenty of healthy snacks around will help you get through the rough patches. It is best to limit sugary beverages but remember, the extra sugar and sweets may help with early recovery and abstinence, you can fine tuned your eating later: the first priority is to do what you can to stay sober.

Restoration of your body can start now

Now is the time to heal and nourish your body that has been damaged by alcohol or substance.  Sleep is essential during this period of time and as well as going to your medical doctor to make sure that you are taking care of yourself and making your recovery a priority. Remember caffeine can interfere with quality sleep.  Be aware of emotional eating, disordered eating and eating disorders and seek professional help as needed. Making positive dietary choices can help you feel better, nourish your body and replenish your health.

Superfoods can help decrease inflammation

Increased consumption of nutrient-dense foods (eg, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish) and antioxidants is important; these foods help decrease inflammation, reduce cell oxidation, and provide the basics of a healthful diet.

Here are some examples: dark green leafy vegetables, bananas, pineapple, avocado, lentils, broccoli, trout, salmon, tuna, pistachio, pecan, cashews

RBA Mealtime

Ask for Help from a Nutrition Specialist

 Early recovery is stressful. Planning and preparing meals does not have to be complicated. If you use a plan, you are more prepared to stay on track and this does NOT mean you have to follow a strict diet. In fact   dieting tends to backfire. Instead of thinking about deprivation, try thinking about how you can add good, tasty nutrition back into your diet. Remember food is medicine. Food will help you feel better. Make sure to make healthy food choices a priority.

RBA Addictions Conference

If you need additional help, you may want to subscribe to our free nutrition newsletter, join our virtual 8 week Mayhem to Mealtime meal planning program or visit a Registered Dietitian near you. 

All of the suggestions above are basic guidelines. For individualized recommendations or meal plan, please contact a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.  Feel free to contact us at or give us a call at 301-474-2499 for more information and support.


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Rebecca Bitzer loves to empower Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) and their clients.  Co-author of Welcome to the Rebelution: Seven steps to the nutrition counseling practice of your dreams and  Taste the Sweet Rebellion: Rebel against dieting.

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