Diet and nutrition are essential for a healthy body, balanced energy levels, mental clarity, good quality sleep and general well-being. A wealth of research highlights the link between gut health and mental health. The importance of a good diet and hydration is often overlooked going through addiction treatment and recovery. However, you may be surprised to hear that some nutritionists do specialise in addiction nutrition. Kelly Miller, aka The Addiction Nutritionist, believes that nutrition plays a powerful role in the holistic recovery approach, and she is here to explain how and why.
Read Kelly Millers' expert addiction nutrition tips in ...[Super Fuel Your Recovery With These Addiction Nutritionist Tips]
“My personal story is now a lifelong passion.” – Kelly Miller
Excessive alcohol consumption and substance abuse are toxic and damaging to the body, depleting vital vitamins, minerals and nutrients. Combined with an unbalanced and irregular diet, inadequate nutrition can lead to many problems. And it is not just substance abuse which causes havoc. Poor nutrition can contribute to mood swings and relapse, while the right food and diet can help prevent lapses in judgement and relapse. The prolonged stress and unmanageability of process addictions such as gambling and pornography also impact the body detrimentally. As an addiction counsellor, I discuss with clients the importance of diet, nutrition, exercise, recreation and relaxation as part of establishing well-being in recovery.
In this Day One recovery series article, Kelly Miller, an Addiction Nutritionist, explains how nutrition can play a crucial role in recovery and how it helped her overcome addiction and disordered eating and how it has since become a lifelong passion and career. Kelly, who is from the USA, has deep ancestral roots and connections here in Ireland.
About Kelly Miller, Addiction Nutritionist
Kelly Miller is a Nutrition Therapist, Recovery Coach, Certified Mental Health Nutritionist and PAWS Expert, otherwise known as The Addiction Nutritionist. She specialises in nutrition for addiction recovery. After years of struggling with addiction and disordered eating, she founded The Addiction Nutritionist, a virtual coaching and consulting business, and RecoveryU, a digital hub for education and community for those looking to optimise their health and wellness after addiction.
Her programs help to uncover the biochemical root causes of addictive behaviour, cravings and mood instability to create a targeted roadmap of nutrition and supplementation designed to improve recovery outcomes.
‘I empower people to learn the language of their own bodies, so they can quickly identify their unique needs and nourish themselves accordingly.’
Kelly also works with rehabilitation treatment facilities in the USA to train clinical staff, educate patients, facilitate nutrition therapy groups and create or improve nutrition programs. She currently lives in Colorado, USA, where she enjoys the outdoor life with her chef husband and two teenage boys.
Kelly’s journey through recovery and into addiction nutrition
My personal story is now my lifelong passion. At the age of seven, I began to struggle with disordered eating. In my teenage year’s I started smoking and drinking and, over time, developed addictions and dependencies that seemed to control my life. In my early 30s, I was diagnosed with multiple autoimmune diseases that severely disrupted my well-being and ability to live a peaceful pain-free life. These diagnoses led me to a journey with nutrition, where I discovered the healing power of food. The mood stabilisation that came along with my newfound way of eating was miraculous and finally allowed me to quit smoking and drinking after 20+ years. It quite literally changed my entire life.
“Many people in recovery experience a strong disconnect from what their body needs...”
How can working with a nutritionist help someone in recovery?
Working with a nutritionist, especially one that understands the individual’s unique needs in recovery, can help a person know where to start and develop a better understanding and awareness of nutrition. There is so much nutrition information on the internet, from blogs to YouTube, everyone seems to have a different approach.
Many people in recovery experience a strong disconnect from what their body needs, often unsure of when they are experiencing true hunger and satiety. It is very common for people during active use and early recovery to consume a diet that includes highly processed foods that are nutrient poor and high in sugar. These foods create chaos in the body and can lead to increased cravings, disease and further disconnection.
When individuals begin to focus on consuming nutrient-dense foods, they often find themselves sleeping better, with more energy, less brain fog, and sharper memory and things like focus and motivation begin to come back – all good elements for a stronger recovery.
Diets, because they typically restrict calories or whole groups of foods, are not recommended for people in recovery. The focus should be on identifying possible nutrient deficiencies, incorporating many nutrient-dense foods to nourish the body, and eating balanced meals regularly.
A good nutritionist can assess your current diet and help you identify the small changes you can start immediately, including which supplements might benefit your needs most. At the same time, they can support you while you build these new skills through recovery.
Why is good nutrition so necessary to consider when starting addiction treatment?
Nutrition has a significant impact on addiction recovery in many ways. An abundance of data suggests that those who have suffered from an addiction to drugs or alcohol likely have multiple nutrient deficiencies. These nutrient deficiencies can exacerbate the symptoms of PAWS (Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome) and, if left unaddressed, can lead to recurrence. The most common symptoms of PAWS are anxiety, depression, insomnia, mood swings, fatigue and low-stress resilience. Clients often return to using [relapse] as an attempt to resolve these symptoms.
An addiction nutritionist will identify the deficits and deficiencies in your diet and create a nutrition programme specifically designed to support your recovery and any related symptoms you may be experiencing.
When you repair nutrient deficiencies, specifically protein, you provide the body with the raw materials necessary for rebuilding neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.
The main ingredients for our mood-regulating neurotransmitters are called amino acids, the basic components of protein. Without enough protein in early recovery, cravings can be high and mood unstable.
An amino acid called tryptophan is one of the molecules we receive from eating protein. This single molecule follows a conversion pathway that eventually turns it into serotonin, otherwise known as the ‘happy hormone’.
When serotonin levels are low, one can feel depressed, agitated, fearful, and obsessive, have a general sense of dissatisfaction and discontent, and experience cravings for things like alcohol, sugar and ultra-processed carbs.
About halfway through the day, when the sun begins to go down, serotonin converts into melatonin, the hormone that helps prepare us for sleep. When an individual does not eat enough protein throughout the day, their mood and sleep can suffer greatly. These symptoms can be disruptive to an individual’s life, making recovery more challenging.
Reactive hypoglycemia and blood sugar dysregulation are common in recovery, especially for clients recovering from an alcohol use disorder (AUD). When blood sugar swings rapidly up and down during the day, it places the individual in a constant state of fight or flight, leaving them operating out of their primal brain where cravings originate. This reduces their ability to use their prefrontal cortex, otherwise known as the brain’s “brakes,” and can often lead to relapse.
Also, in the beginning, stages of alcohol recovery or alcohol detox, some individuals find it hard to eat food due to nausea and lack of appetite. This is normal and common. A nutritionist can help create a unique nutrition programme to support the alcohol recovery process so that the individual gets the foods they need gently and consistently rather than turning to foods that could exasperate the problem.
What can I expect from the first nutrition consultation?
Of course, every nutritionist will have their own routine in the first consultation. Before I begin working with a new client, they will take multiple assessments that look at their current nutrient intake, what nutrients may be missing in the diet, and how well the body is absorbing and utilising those nutrients. During the first session, we review the intake forms and assessment data and begin to put together a plan.
“Give yourself plenty of self-compassion along the way and find the right support.”
It is very important that the client feels that they are in control of their diet and what changes they would like to make first, so we spend a lot of time identifying small changes that can be made over time so that the client feels good and confident about implementing with my support. It is a very collaborative process.
How can someone book a consultation with you?
I provide free 30-minute consultations conducted over the phone. During these discussions, the client has the opportunity to share what they are struggling with then we discuss the details of my services, as well as my group membership RecoveryU, to see if it’s a good fit for their needs. Anyone can sign up for a free consultation directly through the calendar link on the website addictionnutritionist.com
What advice do you have for someone starting recovery?
Sometimes making changes to your way of eating can be scary. Just like any other change you may want to make, if you start small and focus on one change at a time, it can greatly improve your well-being and quality of life. Give yourself plenty of self-compassion along the way and find the right support. After finishing my program, people often tell me they had no idea they could “feel this good“.
How can we find out more and get in touch?
Visit my website www.theaddictionnutritionist.com and sign up for the newsletter.
Find out more about the Recovery U network at RecoveryU
Get in touch via email: email@example.com
Follow me on Twitter: @_RecoveryU and Instagram: @theaddictionnutritionist
Podcast: The Addiction Nutritionist on Sportify (being released in the next few weeks) or listen to some of my podcast interviews here.