If you have gained a significant amount of weight after rehab, rest assured you are not alone. Like the freshman 15, gaining weight is practically expected. In fact, 65 percent of people gain weight after leaving rehab. Even more struggle with eating disorders, compulsive overeating, or what is now known as “food addictions.” What is the correlation and how can we get to the bottom of this?
First, we must look at the brain. Drug addiction and overeating have similar effects in the brain. When you were using drugs, it released happy chemicals like dopamine and serotonin which made you feel good. After becoming sober, you may find that you use food to acquire those same happy chemicals.
You might try to “replace” the high you felt from drugs with unhealthy foods. Foods high in fat, sugar, and calories tend to initiate a quick dopamine response in the brain. Unfortunately, like drugs, this happy feeling does not last long. Eventually, you crash and then try to eat again to achieve that same feeling. Substituting food for drugs or alcohol may lead to compulsive overeating and yes, weight gain.
Weight gain can be a source of personal suffering for some, and may even lead to a relapse. It can also contribute to health consequences like heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. It is important to address the reasons why you have gained weight in recovery. Nutrition is crucial in the early stages of recovery, so it is important to recognize when you are not taking care of yourself properly.
Five common reasons people struggle with weight gain during recovery:
Stress is a risk factor for overeating. In the early stages of recovery, you may find yourself under a lot of stress, and now you do not have your drug of choice to mask those feelings. Research has shown time after time how stress can lead to overeating. For many, stress can lead to compulsive overeating and obesity.
Lack of Dopamine
One major reason for overeating is a lack of dopamine receptor in the brain. When the brain is low in dopamine, it affects impulse control and emotional regulation. Most people with any addiction have a lack of dopamine in the brain. The brain does not instantly recover once you stop using. In the absence of drugs for this reward mechanism, food becomes the next best thing. Weight gain inevitably follows.
History of Eating Disorders
Another reason for weight gain is a history of eating disorders before entering rehab. Dual diagnosis in rehab is extremely common. Many enter rehab with other psychological conditions including eating disorders. Almost 40 percent of women in recovery meet the criteria for an eating diagnosis. Men in treatment also experience binge eating and weight gain, especially in the beginning as they seek to satisfy cravings for drugs and alcohol. Few treatment centers screen their clients for eating disorders, so this is often not addressed once the recovering addict exits treatment.
Untreated Depression or Anxiety
As stated above, dual diagnosis is very common in treatment. Many addicts enter treatment with a history of anxiety and depression. Treatment for mood disorders can help reduce the risk of overeating related to these co-occurring disorders. Often, anxiety and depression can lead a person to overeat in an attempt to relieve themselves of these emotional hardships. Overtime, overeating occurs which leads to weight gain.
In some ways, weight gain after recovery is not a bad thing. Many recovering addicts are nutritionally deficient after detoxing from drugs. Chances are, there eating behaviors and lifestyle choices were not healthy while using. Eating can be a way of restoring your mind and body back to health. It is important to eat the right foods, however overstressing about weight gain should not be your main concern after leaving treatment. Your body may just be in a healing process. Your priority should be staying sober.
Despite the importance of nutrition in recovery, it is uncommon for treatment facilities to address it. It is important to go to a facility that incorporates wellness into the recovery process. While in treatment, take steps to eating healthy and exercising so that it becomes a lifestyle change upon leaving treatment.
There are steps that you can take to improve your overall health and well-being. Talk to your doctor about supplements you can take to help make the process easier. We encourage you to develop a healthy eating and exercise plan while you are in treatment. The staff at your facility may be able to help you along this process.
Overall, being mindful of your health while in treatment and after treatment is important. If you have gained weight after rehab, do not fret. Simple changes can turn it all around.