Healthy Eating Habits, Recovery, and You

Feb 6, 2023

Many of us have at least heard about eating disorders in movies, television, and even casual conversation. But for almost everyone, the idea of an eating disorder is an abstract concept. We do our best to adopt healthy eating habits and go about our lives.

People who develop substance use disorder (SUD) often also develop unhealthy eating habits that can develop into eating and exercise disorders. If these continue into recovery or develop during sobriety, eating disorders can pose a significant risk to your continued health.

Understanding Eating Disorders

To understand what the risks are to those in recovery, we should first identify what eating disorders are. The term “eating disorder” is a blanket term that covers many different illnesses. Often, individuals with eating disorders experience body dysmorphia, visualizing their bodies as disproportioned, as well as a negative body image. The main three eating disorders include:

  • Binge-eating disorder (BED): Occurs when someone experiences episodes of binge eating, losing control of one’s ability to stop eating even after they are full or sick. This often results in extreme weight gain and obesity.
  • Bulimia nervosa: Involves binge eating combined with purging. In bulimia nervosa, purging occurs immediately after binge eating and involves causing oneself to expel the food that they have binged through vomiting or other methods.
  • Anorexia nervosa: the restriction of eating, even when one is famished, as a means of self-denial. A relatively new concept in eating disorders is bigorexia, a type of muscle dysmorphia in which those with it, often men, consume large amounts of food and overexercise in order to overstimulate muscle mass.

Eating Disorders and Substance Use Recovery: A Co-Occurring Pattern

In mental health and addictions counseling, we use the term co-occurring disorders to describe different mental health disorders that can occur at the same time as another. Often, these disorders are connected and, in a way, feed off one another.

Eating disorders are a group of mental health disorders that can often occur in conjunction with substance use and substance use recovery. One reason for this co-occurrence may be that those in substance use recovery feel a lack of control over their lives.

When treating a substance use patient who exhibits signs of an eating disorder, it is important to diagnose the eating disorder immediately. This is called dual diagnosis. Beginning treatment for both conditions increases the likelihood that the patient will recover from both. 

Sometimes, patients may develop a new mental health disorder after they have finished treatment for substance use. Those who are in recovery from substance use treatment may feel shame toward their eating disorder. But it is important that you remember there is no shame in asking for and receiving help, especially when it comes to your health. 

Men, Healthy Eating Habits, and Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are not just in your head. We all worry sometimes about healthy eating habits. But when your thoughts about eating become catastrophized, like becoming fixated on the appearance of your body, you can quickly develop an eating disorder.

Eating disorders are serious illnesses that develop from various causes. Effective recovery from eating disorders requires medical and psychological interventions. Untreated eating disorders can be life-threatening, but treatment can bring about recovery.

People affected by eating disorders suffer under a larger umbrella term: body dysmorphic disorders. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), curated by the American Psychological Association, lists body dysmorphia as a category of obsessive-compulsive and related disorders.

While we normally associate body dysmorphia with women, men struggle with it too. In fact, men are just as likely, statistically, to experience body dysmorphia as women, but are far less likely to seek treatment.

The truth is that men can have diagnosed or undiagnosed anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating disorder, and bigorexia. Like women, men with body dysmorphia have unrealistic body ideals that result in a desire to change, shape, or grow their bodies in unrealistic proportions. 

Bigorexia and the Male Self Image

Bigorexia nervosa is a newer term in the category of body dysmorphia, and likely has the least amount of research associated with it. But there are some things that we do know, and they indicate that it is just as unhealthy as every other eating disorder.

Men who struggle with bigorexia develop unrealistic ideas of what the male body and form should look like. This results in a desire to continue to grow muscles bigger and bigger, often with detrimental effects on the body.

When those who struggle with bigorexia engage in this muscle-building practice, called bulking, they cause damage to their muscles. If this is done over a prolonged period of time, their muscles may not recover. This can lead to debilitating and crippling consequences as sufferers age.

In addition, people who suffer from bigorexia may be drawn to illegal drugs in order to achieve their unrealistic body ideals. This may include the use of illicit testosterone, steroids, and other hormone boosters. These drugs have adverse effects on many organs, including the heart and brain. 

Nutrition and Healthy Eating Habits in Addiction Recovery

The effect of using steroids and other body-building supplements in recovery can devastate an already weakened system. Like substance use, steroid use is also often the result of peer pressure.

Nutrition is an important facet of recovery from SUD. Maintaining healthy eating habits and a healthy – but not excessive – exercise program can keep you from falling victim to these unrealistic ideas of body shape.

What you eat matters, but not as much as eating a balanced diet that gets you the nutrition that you need. That is how you live in recovery: taking one day at a time, keeping your eye on the prize, and sticking with a realistic outlook on yourself and the world around you. 

This month marks a special week in the year for raising awareness of mental health. From February 20-26, the United States will recognize National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Eating disorders can take many forms, from binging and purging to restricting, binge eating, and even adopting unhealthy eating habits to overbuild muscle. Even though we can sometimes think of eating disorders as an illness women experience, research shows men develop eating disorders at the same rates as women. As part of your recovery, it is important for you to understand that recovery and nutrition go hand in hand. If you need support with your self-image, contact Renaissance Ranch at (801) 308-8898.