The Effects of Alcohol and the Role of Nutrition
The misuse of alcohol, especially over time, can take a serious toll on the human body. Your body’s recovery from alcohol-induced damage is often a gradual process met with many challenges and obstacles that can slow the path to success. Luckily, we know that proper nutrition is one way to support optimal body functioning and recovery. However, if one’s diet doesn’t include the right balance of foods, it can disrupt the body’s natural healing process and impact your ability to sustain a healthy lifestyle.
Whether you abstain from alcohol entirely or want to reduce your alcohol intake, providing your body with proper nutrition can result in multiple benefits to you, such as improved well-being and functioning.
The Challenges of Reducing Alcohol Consumption
The journey to reducing alcohol consumption while improving your nutrition intake may be challenging and can test the willpower of even the strongest at heart. For example, reducing alcohol intake can be especially challenging when you use it to relax or ease stressful and unpredictable life circumstances. One way you can tackle reducing or eliminating your alcohol intake and take a step towards improved health and wellness is to pay more attention to your nutrition.
When we get swept up in the hustle and bustle of life, we sometimes forget that what we eat may affect our health and wellbeing. Sometimes, it’s just easier to grab a quick meal on the go and eat it in the car rather than making something at home that might be more nutrient-dense, but takes longer to prepare. Unfortunately, these ready-made meals and fast food can be high in calories, sodium, fat, and preservatives. Luckily, there are a few things you can do on your own to make health-conscious decisions:
Seek Expert Advice
Consider speaking to a dietician or nutritionist. There is overwhelming evidence that chronic abuse of alcohol contributes to malnutrition, gastrointestinal disorders, multiple organ damage, and disrupts the body's ability to obtain adequate nutrition. Consulting with a nutritionist will help you understand more about your unique nutritional needs and provide you with the knowledge necessary to establish a realistic plan that aligns with your lifestyle while meeting your nutritional goals.
Discuss Dietary Changes with Your Primary Care Team
It is always a good idea to loop your primary care provider when you are considering making changes to your diet or lifestyle. For example, if you consume alcohol more than what is considered moderately, (two drinks per day for men, one drink per day for women), then there may be risks to cutting out alcohol “cold turkey.” Similarly, your primary care clinic may have a nutritionist or dietician on staff, allowing the three of you to create a plan that’s right for you. Further, many DoD primary care clinics have behavioral health consultants embedded in the clinics who work side-by-side with you and your primary care doctor to provide team-based comprehensive primary care support to you and your goals.
Much like achieving any goal, you can set yourself up for success by planning your meals and being mindful of your food choices when shopping for groceries. By outlining a plan that includes healthy meals, snacks, beverages other than alcoholic ones, and recipes, you are less likely to give in to the temptations of unhealthy foods. Sticking to a healthy diet will be even more difficult if unhealthy foods surround you, so you might want to consider cleaning out your cupboards, pantry, or refrigerator, and restock with nutrient-rich foods, like whole grains, healthy fats, and fruits, and vegetables. Also, keep in mind that food should not be used as a primary way to cope with stressful events. In fact, food and drinks that are high in sugar and contain caffeine are often lacking the necessary nutrients for balancing mood and managing cravings.
If you are in the military, you probably already know about the benefits associated with physical exercise, such as increases in physical strength and endurance as well as improved mood and sleep. Even if you are not, the evidence is clear that exercise may help improve mood and physical performance over time. Still, exercise can easily be neglected when so many other responsibilities that require our attention get in the way. Just remember that healthy eating habits are great, but coupling them with physical exercise will likely increase their effects on your health and well-being.
If you are interested in learning more about reducing your alcohol consumption, alcohol use disorder treatment, recovery, or prevention, consult a health care professional to discuss your symptoms and find treatment options. To connect with a trained health resource consultant for help accessing care, call the Psychological Health Resource Center at 866-966-1020 or use the Real Warriors Live Chat.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health Weight, Nutrition, and Physical Activity- Planning Meals
Crane, M. (2019). Nutrition for Addiction Recovery. Retrieved from https://www.recovery.org/treatment-therapy/nutrition/
Gramlich, L., Tandon, P., & Rahman, A. (2019). Nutritional status in patients with sustained heavy alcohol use. Available at: https://www.uptodate.com/contents/nutritional-status-in-patients-with-sustained-heavy-alcohol-use/print (Accessed 1 February, 2021, Up To Date, Waltham (MA).
Lewis, M. J. (2020). Alcoholism and nutrition: A review of vitamin supplementation and treatment. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, 23(2), 138-144. doi:10.1097/MCO.0000000000000622