Nutrition, Eating Disorders and Transitional Living

In order for transitional living to be an effective step on the path to long-term recovery, it needs to provide comprehensive nutrition education, hands-on instruction on how to maintain a healthy diet, and counseling where necessary. This is because people who struggle with addiction also often battle one form or another of disordered eating, and those that don’t are frequently malnourished and suffering from biochemical, nutritional and metabolic disorders caused by their addiction.

Man eating lunch

The Connection Between Addiction and Eating Disorders

According to, “Up to 50% of individuals with eating disorders use alcohol or illicit drugs, a rate five times higher than the general population. Up to 35% of individuals who were dependent on alcohol or other drugs have also had eating disorders, a rate 11 times greater than the general population.”

In an SAMHSA Advisory, the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that substance abuse disorders and eating disorders share similar characteristics. Those affected by one or both issues exhibit loss of control and compulsive behavior that they cannot stop despite negative consequences. Importantly, eating disorders can occur before, during or after a substance abuse issue presents itself, which means those residing in transitional living situations should be observed for signs of disordered eating that develop after (or in replacement of) initiating recovery from drug or alcohol addiction. 

Man eating pizza

Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse

Research suggests that suppressing food intake in any way can lead to substance abuse because deprivation may alter the central nervous system’s reward pathways, “increasing the consumption of reinforcing substances (e.g. alcohol).”

Though eating disorders are commonly associated with women, they are an issue that affects both women and men. In fact, men account for 10% of cases of bulimia and anorexia, but as much as 25% of those suffering from a binge eating disorder. Because substance abuse and eating disorders happen in tandem with such frequency, transitional living facilities hoping to deliver long-term results should acknowledge the prevalence of the issue and provide support for residents where necessary, and at a minimum should be on the lookout for signs of disordered eating within their populations.

Common Types of Eating Disorders

Anorexia Nervosa

People with anorexia nervosa restrict food intake and maintain a calorie restricted state in order to maintain low body weight. According to SAMSHA, there are two subtypes of Anorexia Nervosa – restricting and binge eating/purging. A study from the National Institute of Health suggests that substance abuse is up to six time more prevalent in the binge/purge sub-group as compared to the restrictive sub-group. 

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is typically characterized by binge eating followed by fasting and/or excessive exercise, or binge eating and purging. People suffering from this disorder often abuse laxatives, diet pills and enemas. In an article from the Journal of Mental Health Counseling, titled Comorbidity of Bulimia Nervosa and Substance Abuse, bulimia and substance abuse may originate together through the same risk channels including “addictive personality type, a family history of drug abuse, parental characteristics, [etc.]”

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder presents as a chronic, often secretive over-consumption of food, followed by episodes of shame and distress. In, The overlap between binge eating disorder and substance use disorders: Diagnosis and neurobiology, the authors suggest a link between the two, noting “males with BED, however, are about two times more likely to have a SUD compared to females; yet, higher rates of specific addictions, such as cocaine, psychotherapeutic drugs, and persistent alcohol use disorder have been noted in females.”

Man making a salad

Addiction, Health and Nutrition

Prioritizing diet and nutrition education for all members of a transitional living facility – even those without a diagnosed eating disorder – is a crucial part of recovery. People with active addictions often become nutritionally depleted, which can then lead to a number of health problems that must be resolved in the months after detox.   

Nourishment for Recovery 

Recovery during the transitional living phase is a time for rebuilding one’s body and mind, by giving it the tools it needs to repair itself. Many people with histories of substance abuse have poor diets and eat an excessive amount of junk food and sugar either as replacement foods or as habit foods brought with them from their time as addicts. This is an issue for people in recovery not only because healthy eating is vital to healthy living, but also because many people in recovery are working through medical issues brought on by their addictions.  

Common Medical Issues Associated with Substance Abuse 

According to the report, Nutrition and Addiction Recovery, by Rebecca Place Miller, common medical issues associated with substance abuse recovery include hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), adrenal fatigue, allergies (environmental & food), leaky gut, and yeast/candida. A second report details the ways in which drug and alcohol abuse significantly impacts the functioning of the digestive tract and leads to problems absorbing vitamins, minerals and amino acids, and the ways this impacts brain health and functionality. 

Maintaining a healthy diet filled with nutrients, vitamins, minerals, amino acids and proteins is vital to long-term recovery because it will help the body to correct the neurotransmitter deficiencies and mis-regulations that developed over the addictive period. Neurotransmitters including serotonin, endorphins and dopamine are crucial to the proper functioning of both the body and the mind. 

Good nutrition combined with healthy exercise, and plenty of sleep can help repair damaged reward pathways in the brain, help improve cognitive function, memory, and general mental wellness.   

At The Grounds Recovery Our Focus is on Whole-Person Wellness 

At The Grounds Recovery, we emphasize nutrition as part of our comprehensive men’s transitional living program. 

  • We employ registered dieticians to help develop goal-oriented, customized nutrition plans for our residents. Plans are created based on individual counseling sessions in which we explore the resident’s relationship with food, and their food history. 
  • We have a chef on-site who leads classes in how to prepare healthy meals. 
  • Our cadre of therapists are trained in how to spot eating disorders and they are prepared to suggest pathways to higher levels of care if necessary.