Fuel your Recovery with Nourishing Eating Habits

Fuel your Recovery with Nourishing Eating Habits

Mary Bamford RD, MBA, BSc (Clinical Nutrition), Registered Dietitian at Renascent

You can nourish your body in ways that support both your immediate and long-term recovery with addiction. I invite you to consider the helpful eating habits below.  Consider what are you are doing well already and what you can build on to support your recovery?

Five Nourishing Habits in Addiction Recovery

  1. Eat three regular meals each day.
  2. Choose foods that your great-grandparents recognize as food.
  3. Plan your weekly menu.
  4. Avoid using sugar or ultra-processed foods as a distraction, coping or recovery tool.
  5. If you have food addiction, fully abstain from sugar, ultra-processed foods and your own addictive trigger foods.

1. Eat three regular meals each day

Food is fuel for your body and brain. It is important to fuel your body consistently throughout the day because it helps keep your brain and your mood calm. 

When cars run out of gas, they stop. When humans run out of fuel, they keep moving but becomes hungry and angry, “hangry”. Allowing yourself to get hangry nudges the reward centre of the brain to have self-doubt, negative thoughts, anxiety and possibly cravings. This is unnecessary stress in a person with a history of addiction.

2. Choose foods that your great-grandparents recognize as food.

Eat mostly fresh food that your great-grandparents recognized because they grew and raised that kind of food. There were no ingredients they could not pronounce and no ingredients they could not recognize. That leaves simple, delicious foods.

3. Plan your Weekly Menu

Make a weekly plan for meals, grocery shopping and cooking to make your overall pattern of eating nourishing. You have many choices. To be healthy you can choose Mediterranean, Nordic, Okinawan, Vegetarian, Vegan, Paleo and many other traditional and modern eating patterns. Choose a pattern that you enjoy and can sustain.

Regardless of the pattern you choose, for each meal, plan to have foods providing protein, fat and vegetables or fruit.  Here are some helpful guidelines:

  • For protein choose foods such as fish, meat, poultry, eggs, yogurt, cheese and “legumes” (such as kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, soybeans and tofu). Minimally processed protein foods are excellent sources of vitamins and minerals in addition to protein and often fat. 
For optimal health:

    • Choose fish at least twice per week;
    • Choose legumes at least three times per week.
  • Yes, some fats are healthy.  The myths that started in the 1970s that dietary fat and cholesterol cause heart disease and are “bad” are fully de-bunked by good science.  Include foods containing fat at every meal such as avocado, nuts, seeds, olive oil, real mayonnaise made with olive oil, coconut, coconut oil and butter.  Also choose dairy products that contain some fat.  No need for fat-free.
For optimal health:

    • Choose a handful of nuts or seeds at least 5 times per week;
    • Avoid margarine and commercial trans fats found in ultra-processed foods.
  • Vegetables and fruits are filling, flavourful and rich in many essential nutrients. Make at least half your plate at every meal vegetables or fruit.  Have fun with colours.  Include reds, purples, oranges, yellows, greens and white. Dark green vegetables and berries are particularly rich in nutrients.  
For optimal health:

    • Make a habit of having fruit with breakfast and vegetables as part of both lunch and dinner;
    • Choose a dark green vegetable (such as spinach, broccoli or salad greens) at least five times per week;
    • Choose berries at least 3 times per week.


  • Grains are not essential. It is a myth that whole grains are loaded with nutrition. While it is true that whole grains and “entire” grains are vastly superior to refined grains, they are not a nutrition powerhouse. Grains have small doses of some nutrients and can be part of a healthy diet grains but are not necessary for optimal health. 
If you choose to eat grains, choose small portions:

  • For women, ½ to ¾ cup of cooked ‘entire grain’ is plenty at a meal  
  • For men, ½ to 1½ cups cooked ‘entire grain’ is plenty at a meal

If you are still hungry with no grains or a smaller portion, consider adding more vegetables or fats (nuts, cheese, oil, butter, cream, etc.) to your meals.

Entire grains are the best form of grains to eat. Entire grains include brown rice, steel cut oats, quinoa, wheat berries, and pot barley. Whole grains are a reasonable alternate to entire grains when you are pressed for preparation time. Whole grains include whole grain pasta, whole grain breads, rolled oats, quick oats.  

  • Dessert twice per week is “moderate” or “reasonable”.  The most studied dietary pattern is the Mediterranean. In the Mediterranean pattern, choosing desserts, sweets or treats twice per week is moderate. That means in the context of an overall healthy diet, this amount of dessert does not reduce health. The portion size of this moderate dessert provides about 200 to 300 calories.

“Desserts” are the foods not mentioned above and include cakes, pastries, ice cream, potato chips, deep fried foods, soda pop, sweetened beverages, sugar, corn syrup, white bread, white rice, etc.

An alternate evidence-based guideline for desserts and sweets comes from the American Heart Association (AHA). The AHA recommends the maximum amount of added sugars one should eat in a day. For women it is 100 calories per day (25 grams or 6 teaspoons). For men it is 150 calories per day (37.5 grams or 9 teaspoons).

This is a reasonable amount of dessert or sugar for a “normal eater”.  This does not apply to somebody who eats sweets compulsively or addictively. 

  1.  All of us recovering from addiction need to avoid using sugar or ultra-processed foods as a coping or recovery tool when we are triggered to use our drug of choice.

A brain that has had an addiction to one substance, can more easily substitute another substance to add a second addiction. 

Since sugar is a substance that can be addictive in its own right and abuse of sugar has many negative health consequences (such as weight gain, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and heart disease), it is not a good substitute for alcohol or any other drug of choice.  

Using sugar to help you recover or manage cravings can eventually trigger a relapse of your drug of choice or become a second substance addiction on its own.

At the time the Big Book was written, sugar and ultra-processed foods were not readily available and they regular consumption was not part of “normal” culture.  If I could make just one edit to the Big Book, I would delete the suggestion to use sugar as a substitute for alcohol.  

5. If you have food addiction, fully abstain from sugar, ultra-processed foods and your own addictive trigger foods.

For people addicted to “certain foods”, moderation is a “harm reduction” treatment and not effective for long-term recovery. Abstinence creates a peaceful life and recovery.

Three Rules of Thumb in the Kitchen

To modify your favourite recipes:

  1. Use minimally processed fresh or frozen meats, vegetables and fruits;
  2. Use healthy fats and oils;  
    • Choose olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, coconut, butter and cream
    • Avoid vegetable shortening, margarine and ultra-processed oils such as canola and corn  
  3. Use enough fat in cooking to make the taste and texture of your food delicious;  
    • Many recipes from the 1980s are reduced in fat and flavour (with added sugar or starch to attempt to improve texture).


Wondering if you’re a food addict? Take the Food Addiction Quiz.


Contributors to Renascent’s Blog share their stories of addiction and recovery and/or their professional expertise.

Taking Step Three

Taking Step Three

Step 3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection. Our description of the alcoholic (addict)… our personal adventures before and after make clear three pertinent ideas:


a. That we were alcoholics (addicts) and could not manage our own lives.

(Is this you – yes-no?)

b. That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism (addiction).

(Are you beyond human aid – yes-no?)

c. That God could and would if He were sought.

(Are you willing to believe – yes-no?)

Being convinced (of a, b and c), we were at Step Three, which is that we decided to turn our will and our life over to God as we understood Him. Just what do we mean by that, and just what do we do?

The first requirement is that we be convinced that any life run on self-will can hardly be a success. (Are you convinced – yes-no?) (AA p. 60)

Selfishness, self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt.

So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic (addict) is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though they usually do not think so.

Above everything, we alcoholics (addicts) must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us!

God makes that possible. And there often seems no way of entirely getting rid of self without His aid. Many of us had moral and philosophical convictions galore, but we could not live up to them even though we would have liked to. Neither could we reduce our self-centeredness much by wishing or trying on our own power. We had to have God’s help.

This is the how and the why of it. First of all, we had to quit playing God. It didn’t work. (Would you agree – yes-no?) Next, we decided that hereafter in this drama of life, God was going to be our Director (yes-no?). He is the Principal; we are His agents. He is the Father, and we are His children. Most good ideas are simple, and this concept was the keystone of the new and triumphant arch through which we passed to freedom. (AA p. 61-62)

Step 3 Paycheck

When we sincerely took such a position, all sorts of remarkable things followed. We had a new Employer. Being all powerful, He provided what we needed, if we kept close to Him and performed His work well. Established on such a footing we became less and less interested in ourselves, our own little plans and designs. More and more we became interested in seeing what we could contribute to life. As we felt new power flow in, as we enjoyed peace of mind, as we discovered we could face life successfully, as we became conscious of His presence, we began to lose our fear of today, tomorrow or the hereafter. We were reborn. (AA p. 63)

Step 3 Instruction

We were now at Step Three. Many of us said to our Maker, as we understood Him: “God, I offer myself to Thee — to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always!”

We thought well before taking this step making sure we were ready; that we could at last abandon ourselves utterly to Him. (yes-no?) (AA p. 63)

If you can answer yes, then let us take this prayer together and we will have taken step three.


Excerpted from “Big Book Sponsorship – The Twelve Step Program – Big Book Guide”, which can be found in its entirety here

Contributors to Renascent’s Blog share their stories of addiction and recovery and/or their professional expertise.

Finding Your Calling

Finding Your Calling

by Dan Joseph

Although I cover a wide range of issues in my counselling practice, there is one aspect that dominates my new-client inquiries: requests for help with careers.

For many of us, our work is a major part of our lives — and it exerts a profound effect on our emotions and relationships. Forty hours engaged in anything each week will have an impact on our experience of life.

Some of my career counselling clients are seeking a job. However, most already have work that they find it unfulfilling. They are spending their lives engaged in activities that feel empty. They want to use their gifts in a way that yields a greater sense of purpose.

With these clients, I usually run through common career counselling methods at first — assessment of interests, discussion of new options, assistance in writing cover letters and resumes. But with most people, I find that I need to take a deeper approach.

When a person feels like a round peg in a square career hole, it is tempting to believe that the answer lies in simply finding a better job or a new career. But I have seen people bounce from one job to another (or from one career to another) all the while continuing to feel mismatched.

As time goes on, I’m becoming convinced that the real answer to career issues lies in discovering our true purpose here — our calling. This is an inner discovery, not a worldly search.

And what is this calling? Ultimately, you could say, our calling is to discover who we really are.

Finding the Gifts

Most of us see ourselves as little people on a big planet — separate individuals competing with other individuals to get our needs met. There is a pie out there, and we need to get a bigger or better slice of it.

The whole world is designed to support this perception. Life seems to pass us by, with what we have always at risk of slipping away. We need to continually strive to get and keep the things that keep us safe. Compete, acquire, protect — this is how many people see their work lives.

But I find that the secret of career success is to shift our perception. Instead of seeing ourselves as limited creatures in need of a better situation, we can see ourselves as inspired, gifted beings empowered to improve every situation we find ourselves in.

In my practice, I frequently find myself having a conversation like this:

“I hate my job,” says my client.
“What do you hate about it?” I ask.
“Everyone is rude where I work.”
“Yeah. Everyone is mean. It’s a terrible place to work.”
“Do you think you could improve things a little?”
“Improve? In what way?”
“You seem like a kind-hearted person. Could you bring some of that kindness into your workplace?”
“Why should I have to do that? I just want to get out of there.”
“Don’t you think that your experience of work might improve if you bring some of your kindness into your office?”
“Nah, I just want out. I want to find something better.”

What that person isn’t realizing is that he’s missing an opportunity to solve his problem at the core. He feels powerless, at the mercy of his company culture. But he actually possesses a remarkable inner power — a power that can be accessed by pouring forth his gifts into the world.

As this person learns to access his spiritual gifts, and share them with the world, he will see them expand. He will increasingly access his wise mind, and will experience greater clarity and peace.

Solutions to problems will become more apparent. His vision will become clearer. He will gain greater levels of understanding. And of course, he may feel inspired to pursue new job or career opportunities — but he will be doing so from a place of inspiration.

I believe that finding our gifts within, and allowing them to flow into the world, is the purpose of our lives here. This calling allows us to see who we really are.

If you have questions about how you can improve your own work activities, I invite you to try the following process:

1. To begin, try to step back from any thoughts you have about what you need and how to get it. These thoughts (usually quite fear-based) are often the clouds that obscure the light. You might say:

I do not know what I need,
How to get it,
Or the form that it may take.
I am willing to clear and open my mind.

2. Next, turn to your wise mind — the spiritually-inspired part of your consciousness. Even if it takes some practice to “search around” for it, it’s worth the effort. You might say:

Perhaps there is a part of me that is filled with inspiration.
Perhaps a part of me has enormous gifts to share with the world.
I am willing to turn to that inspired part.
I am willing to let it guide my steps.

3. Finally (and this is often the challenging part), try to sit quietly and receptively for a while, waiting to receive guidance about a step or two to take. If your mind wanders, you can ask your wise mind:

How can I share my gifts with the world?
How can I bring joy to the world in a way that I enjoy?
How can my gifts be used today?
I am willing to receive guidance.

That’s it… If you don’t seem to “get anything” at first, the effort it still worth it. I’ve sat with clients, engaging in this type of practice for ten or twenty minutes until they began to get a “hint” of inspiration from the wise mind. But that hint grew as they practised.

I believe that there are limitless ways for you to share your gifts — and that as you share them, you will gain a greater understanding of the spiritual glory within you. This is the great healing shift. It is a shift that brings happiness not only to you, but to all those around you as well.

Excerpted from the Quiet Mind newsletter by Dan Joseph and reprinted by kind permission of the author. To sign up for the free Quiet Mind newsletter, please visit www.danjoseph.com.

Contributors to Renascent’s Blog share their stories of addiction and recovery and/or their professional expertise.

Really Good Reasons You Need to be Involved in Your Family Member’s Addiction Treatment

Really Good Reasons You Need to be Involved in Your Family Member’s Addiction Treatment

by Peggy L. Ferguson, Ph.D.

Why should family members be involved in the treatment process of their alcoholic/addicted family member? Let me count the ways. The benefits of family treatment could go on and on, but here are eight good reasons.

  1. You learn that you are not alone. Family dynamics of addiction and recovery are pretty predictable. As the disease progresses for the addict, they as well as their kin become more and more isolated. Shame also isolates and keeps hurting the band of survivors silent about the disease. Spouses and parents may also have a compulsion to keep the secret in order to protect the addict from consequences that could affect the whole clan (i.e., financially, career, legal, etc.). Because the dynamics of addiction are played out in silence and isolation, each person feels that they alone have experienced the shame, guilt, hurt, sadness, loneliness, compulsion to take control and doubt about their own sanity that comes with addiction.
  2. You have an opportunity to recover from your own pain. No one escapes from an alcoholic system unscathed. It does not happen. Any close collection of people that has an addicted member has pain. While the relatives of the addict are focused on the afflicted’s pain and survival, they tend to ignore, downplay, or minimize their own pain. They are often oblivious to the negative effects on their own lives. They are negatively affected not only by the behaviour of the addict, but by their own attempts to cope and problem solve.
  3. You have an opportunity to make decisions based on strength rather than fear and desperation. The chaotic environment of the alcoholic home creates an acute stress reaction in all residents of the home. Each household member tends to get stuck in “survival mode.” Decision-making often occurs in the context of identifying the least damaging or the least scary options. Relatives often see themselves between the hard place and the rock, with no attractive alternatives. In treatment, spouses and parents are able to identify alternatives previously not considered and to begin to make choices based on knowledge rather than emotion.
  4. You get to find yourself again. Spouses often complain that they have lost themselves in the process of their significant other’s addiction. They find that they have become people that they not only never intended to be, but that they do not like. They often come to realize that they have acted outside their own value system by lying, manipulating and shaming the addict to get them to change. In treatment, these spouses have an opportunity to learn new ways to communicate and problem solve with their addicted significant others.
  5. You get to learn what is and is not your responsibility. In the treatment process, you get to learn how to let go of that which is not yours. You have an opportunity to learn to be assertive and choose your own activities. You become empowered to take responsibility for your own behaviour while allowing others the dignity to be responsible for their behaviour. Spouses often come to identify that they have been compelled to “parent” their addicted spouse during active addiction. One of the most freeing aspects of family treatment is learning how to let of that.
  6. You get to learn about alcoholism and other drug addictions. Most people buy into some antiquated ideas, myths and stereotypes about alcoholics and addicts. Treatment dispels those myths. Family members get to meet folks from all walks of life – brilliant, creative, charming people who are captains of industry, lawyers, doctors, mechanics, artists, house painters, entrepreneurs – who also happen to be alcoholics/addicts. Addiction is no respecter of person or position. Old notions of who is and who isn’t alcoholic/addicted will be challenged. Incorrect information that you may have learned from your family of origin (or others) about addiction being a “choice,” a “character problem,” or a “moral dilemma” will be replaced with factual data from the current knowledge base. You will have an opportunity to learn about the family dynamics of addiction and recovery so that you will know some of what to expect in early recovery. You will come to know and accept that your loved one’s addiction is not your fault and that you cannot make them relapse. Principles of cross-addiction, a very important concept for continuing recovery, are reviewed. You should also leave treatment armed with knowledge about the symptoms and process of relapse. This is crucial information to have.
  7. You will learn a new language. Significant others entering a treatment program often remark that there seems to be a common language being spoken in treatment, and that they feel like the “uninitiated.” A common recovery language is helpful for the addict and the family, so that they can better understand each other. Otherwise, family members often feel left behind, or like they are “on the outside, looking in.”
  8. You will also have an opportunity to learn about principles of family dynamics and the qualities of family systems that operate to work against continuing recovery. You will come to understand how system processes and characteristics that evolve over time to incorporate the illness into the balance and functioning of that system, also operate to keep things the same in recovery. If only one person in the system gets help, it can be difficult for the recovering person to maintain their positive changes in the midst of the old family rules, roles, and established patterns.

Not only is participation of significant others in addiction rehab important for the recovery of the addict and the family members, most family members leave treatment feeling blessed that they had an opportunity to experience the learning and healing process afforded them.


Copyright © Peggy Ferguson. Reprinted by kind permission of the author. More of her writings on the family dynamics of addiction and recovery can be found at www.peggyferguson.com.


Renascent offers a suite of Family Care programs, including Children’s Healthy Coping Skills and an Intensive Family Codependency Retreat. Learn about our Family Care programs here, and email Sunil Boodhai or call 416-927-1202, ext. 3010 for more information.

Contributors to Renascent’s Blog share their stories of addiction and recovery and/or their professional expertise.