Treatment Programs are Starving Their Client’s Brains

As I delve deeper into the question of how to help people in recovery effectively provide themselves with the core nutrients their brains need both to heal from addiction and to support a robust Recovery Journey, I am appalled by the general lack of attention being paid to this key aspect of treatment and recovery.

The National Association of Recovery Residences, which take their lead from SAMHSA, have no standards guiding how programs feed their clients. SAMHSA itself has no such standards either. CARF, an international credentialing body, often considered the gold standard, only requires that their clients consult with a registered dietician once a year regarding menus. 

The Joint Commission, another large credentialing body, has the same requirement but does ask that a nutritional history be taken during the bio-psycho-social assessment to identify any special diet compliance issue or possible eating disorder.

In speaking with nutritionists and dieticians who work in residential programs, their impression is that frequently, client nutritional needs is an afterthought. Much money and many resources are sunk into other aspects of treatment, but feeding people is haphazard at worst and often well-intended but un-informed at best. As an example, one residential addiction treatment program in West Virginia had to farm out their food service to a local Sports Bar, because no other restaurant or catering service in town was willing to take the contract.

Thus, the fare is typical low-nutrient density bar food, and the bar is unwilling to improve the quality of their offerings. None of this was thought about or given priority before the program opened. 

Another residential addiction treatment program draws their kitchen staff from their ex-con clientele and gives them a food check each week to procure food from the local Sam’s Club and Walmart.

No guidance regarding menus, shopping lists or dietary requirements is given. When I performed a site visit, lunch was buffet style. Offerings were limited to peanut butter and jelly, white bread, lunch meat, condiments and packages of plain ramen noodles. They have a high early-discharge rate.

We believe that the poor quality of food in many treatment programs and often the lack of addiction-focused nutrition education is an underlying reasons for people both leaving treatment early because of their intolerable mental health symptoms, and the high relapse rate post-treatment, often due to a starving brain.

To remedy this, my non-profit, Eating Protein Saves Lives ., has initiated a multi-pronged endeavor, which includes the creation of potential Standards, and our new Nourish and Thrive Kit which will offer free menus, shopping and pricing lists and an implementation guide. If this is an area that interests or concerns you, please read more below and consider joining our Collaborative Panel, or financially contributing to our efforts. 

Mental Health and Nutrition Blog

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Treatment Programs are Starving Their Client’s Brains

As I delve deeper into the question of how to help people in recovery effectively provide themselves with the core nutrients their brains need both to heal from addiction and to support a robust Recovery Journey, I am appalled by the general lack of attention being paid to this key aspect of treatment and recovery.

Read More »