Nutrition for Recovery by Nate Gross

Posted on: March 24, 2021Florida

Every day I see clients struggling with their diet and wellness as they begin recovery from their substance use disorder. Most people wouldn’t initially think so but nutrition, exercise, and wellness all play a large role in recovery from addictive substances. Some of their benefits include improving overall mood, suppressing drug and alcohol cravings, and improving energy levels. 


Clay Behavioral Health Center provides mental health and substance use counseling treatment to adults, teens, children, and families in Clay County. At Clay Behavioral, I serve as a care coordinator in their Substance Use Disorder (SUD) program educating clients about how diet, exercise, and wellness can help them in their recovery. I mainly do this through an eight-part presentation series called Nutrition and Exercise for Wellness and Recovery (NEW-R). Throughout every week, I attend virtual group sessions with clients in our outpatient SUD program and present on different topics in the NEW-R program as well as discuss wellness when the topic is brought up. My goal through NEW-R group education is to help clients in their recovery through improving overall wellness, increase their nutritional intake to help heal their body and mind, and to offer tips to overcoming struggles in nutrition and exercise. 


Communicating with clients from diverse backgrounds has taught me that you need to understand their situations and barriers in order to properly assist them. When a client comes to me asking for advice because they are in early recovery from an opiate addiction and are now constantly craving sugar, I need to meet them halfway. First, I ask them more about the situation and then I teach them more about the science behind this sugar craving to help them understand why it is happening. Lastly, we discuss healthy sugars to satisfy the cravings and what has worked for other clients in this situation. If the client is worried about the financial strain of eating healthy then I assist them with finding food pantries as well as cheaper ways to obtain healthy food (i.e., Aldi, salvage grocery stores, and farmer’s markets).


During my first few months of serving at Clay Behavioral, it appeared to be very rare that my NEW-R program was making an impact and helping our clients in their recoveries. I’m not able to attend every session for every one of our outpatient groups so I don’t see a lot of what is discussed in sessions. Recently, clients have started telling me that they discuss NEW-R regularly and how the information that I share helps them. Changes made in one group, for instance, includes one client who has adjusted his portion sizes due to his overeating, many other clients who have begun reading food labels regularly to make healthier decisions or even started using fruit to satisfy their sugar cravings instead of cookies. Another client wasn’t exercising at all but used to enjoy swimming, so I assisted her in finding an open and affordable pool that she now regularly swims at. In another group, many clients have incorporated healthy food into their diet including one client who used to deal with her sugar cravings by eating candy bars throughout the day but now snacks on her favorite fruits in addition to working towards an overall healthier diet. 


In the future, I hope to have a career in the healthcare field where I can work with a diverse range of clients. Serving here at Clay Behavioral has greatly advanced my skills in professional communication, listening, motivational interviewing, and assisting any client to meet their needs. I’m thankful to serve as a care coordinator here at Clay Behavioral and to continue to strengthen these skills as well as use them to help clients in the future.


About the Author:

Nate Gross

Hometown: Snellville, GA


Educational background: B.S. in Biochemistry from Warren Wilson College


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