Food and Recovery: Demystifying Carbohydrates

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How to Get Energy for Your Physical Recovery

We all know that eating right makes a huge difference for your health. It’s common sense: eat well, feel good. Sometimes, that isn’t enough of an incentive. How many times have I (and others) bemoaned gaining a few pounds in recovery, but not wanting to do anything about it, because it isn’t causing the same harm as drugs or alcohol? I’m not here to tell you to do something about your extra weight, but I am here to tell you how you can boost your recovery by eating right.

Today, I want to focus on the importance of food and the role it plays in recovery, starting first with demystifying carbohydrates. I’m not sure about you, but I was plagued with exhaustion the first 18 months of recovery and wish I had known then what know now. The reality is that recovery requires an immense amount of energy, especially since it comes before everything and anyone else. Whether you’re recovering through rehab and treatment, 12-step fellowships or a holistic modality, it takes both mental and physical energy. Add to that the physical recovery of your body healing from years of abuse, and you have a need for energy, by the bucket load.

“The reality is that recovery requires an immense amount of energy, especially since it comes before everything and anyone else.”

In my early recovery, I consumed a diet high in refined carbohydrates, caffeine, and candy. I felt terrible about myself and my body. Having undertaken a nutrition coaching qualification, and lost 50 pounds, I now know how to fuel my body right. I’ll start by talking about each macronutrient and their role in the diet.

First up in this series, is carbohydrates. We always hear that ‘carbs are bad for you’, with many low (paleo) or extremely low (Atkins) carbohydrate diets promising fast results and misleading you to think you can eat a diet high in saturated fat, under the guise of it being healthy.

I’m not an advocate of cutting out any food group. I believe in a balanced diet including all food groups and all fats. An optimal diet is one that includes carbohydrates with a low GI. My advice is to eat unprocessed carbohydrates (low GI) that are high in fiber and that are digested slowly, since they’ll help sustainably control energy levels. These are whole oats, brown rice, legumes, nuts, bran, dried beans and peas, barley, dark green leafy vegetables, root vegetables (with the skin on). If you want to eat more processed carbohydrates (white potatoes, white breads, pasta, cereals and packaged oats), try and do so within 60 minutes of intense exercise which can quickly replenish carbohydrate stores.

Food is to fuel your body well and to be enjoyed. So, here’s one of my favourite recipes for a high fiber, whole grain breakfast. It’s super easy to make and will keep you full all morning until lunch. Enjoy!

 Workit Health Liv's Recovery Kitchen Berry Breakfast Balls

Workit Health Liv’s Recovery Kitchen Berry Breakfast Balls

Makes about 20 servings. Keep in airtight container in the refrigerator for a week.


  • 400g whole oats

  • 100g raisins (or other chopped dried fruit)

  • 50g smooth peanut butter (use organic)

  • 50g desiccated coconut

  • 3 tbsp. maple syrup

  • 2 tbsp. melted coconut oil

  • 2 scoops hemp or pea protein powder


  • Preheat oven to 350. Mix the oats, raisins, oil, desiccated coconut, peanut butter, maple syrup and hemp powder in a large bowl.

  • Gradually add 400-500ml boiling water until thick.

  • Use an ice cream scoop, or large dessert spoon to create about 20 balls on the baking tray.

  • Cook for 25-30 minutes until brown on outside.

  • Allow to cool completely.

Olivia Pennelle is a writer, journalist, and recovery activist. Her work has appeared in STAT News, Insider, Filter Magazine, Ravishly, The Temper, and Shondaland. She is the founder of popular site Liv’s Recovery Kitchen. She lives near Portland, Oregon. Follow her on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter

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