It is our brain’s job to allow us to cope with stress gracefully, but to do that, it needs to be fed optimally! How can we optimally feed our brains this holiday season so that we can fi nd and maintain joy, serenity, and sobriety success?
The holidays can trigger us in many ways. The co-dependent people-pleaser in all of us has a hard time saying “no”, whether it be to a piece of pie, a beer, or one more holiday party. We don’t want to look different, and we stress ourselves out to set the “perfect holiday table”, and appear normal. We might get obsessive, frazzled and exhausted. But most painfully of all, we grieve the loss of loved ones. And we crave whatever works to make that pain tolerable.
In the Academy for Addiction and Mental Health Nutrition, and The Alliance for Addiction Solutions, we offer nutritional tools which allow us to move through these situations with grace, by effectively supporting our brains and bodies.
What are these tools?
I. Keep your blood sugar balanced by eating at least 15-20 grams of protein (2 eggs with cheese, 1/3 lb. hamburger patty, a tofu scramble or half a cup of cottage cheese) every 4 hours. This maintains access to your recovery skills, (which are stored in your pre-frontal cortex), helps to keep your mood stable and you calm, and has been known to prevent suicidal ideation and action. Finally, eating protein before walking through the door of a party allows you to wave away that sparkling glass of champagne, or that luscious piece of German chocolate cake with equanimity.
II. Use the appropriate amino acid to offset cravings and moody bumps within 20 minutes! What are amino acids? Amino acids come from the protein we eat and can be bought online or from any vitamin store. They create the neurotransmitters in the brain which mediate mood and energy. They are fi red and then depleted by addictive substances and behaviors and when depleted, drive tolerance, craving, withdrawal and relapse.
a. L-Tyrosine for energy, brightness and to offset a craving for stimulants or for opiates if you are a recovering opioid addict.
b. 5HTP to soften or turn off social anxiety, obsessiveness and the need for perfection. Related cravings may include sugar, marijuana, benzodiazepine drugs and alcohol. If you are already on an SSRI antidepressant such as Prozac, please contact the author, one of the Academy coaches or your doctor for advice.
c. D-Phenylalanine (found only on-line) or DLPA (any vitamin store) for grief and loneliness, physical and emotional pain, and the need for comfort. Cravings include all the above, along with opioids.
d. Low dose GABA (500mg or less to begin with), Theanine or a chewable GABA formula by a company like NOW or Source Naturals for stress, anxiety or overwhelm.
e. For insomnia, try Tryptophan, theanine, GABA or all three! They each do something different, so consult one of our coaches, or a vitamin store clerk for more information.
f. L-Glutamine between meals, or when faced with any craving caused by missing a meal, will feed the pre-frontal cortex, allowing you to access both your will-power and your recovery skills. Good bye candy canes!
III. When you go to an event, bring whatever food and drink you need to avoid feeling deprived. Because I am allergic to corn as well as having celiac disease and being a non drinker, holiday parties are a challenge. So, I go prepared! I bring my own gluten-free crackers for the appetizers, and a fun desert. I bring imported Italian fruit sodas because I cannot drink either the alcohol, nor regular soft drinks and I check ahead of time to make sure I can eat the entre. If not, I bring my own! Most hostesses are very amenable to whatever I need. If you are the one hosting the holiday event, please make sure you have lots of healthy food and beverages available, along with the special treats.
By taking care to keep your brain balanced in these ways, you are addressing the third leg of the recovery stool, and will be much more likely to effectively navigate the challenges of this season, and enjoy serenity. Blessings of the season to you!
Christina Veselak is a licensed Psychotherapist & Mental Health Nutritionist in private practice at Garden Gate Counseling & Consulting ; is Program Director of St. Ephraim’s Center, an Orthodox Christian addiction & mental health treatment center, and is a founding member and former Executive Director of The Alliance for Addiction Solutions.
Through her school, The Academy for Addiction and Mental Health Nutrition, she speaks and teaches nationally on nutritional approaches to mental health & addiction treatment, and offers a 2-part on-line certification program, Feed the Brain First: Biochemical and Nutritional Approaches to Mental Health and Addiction Recovery.