Why is Weight Gain so Common in Recovery?

For many people, one part of getting sober involves gaining back the weight that was lost in addiction. Those extra pounds put on in rehab, even though they sometimes come with feelings of guilt and shame, are often an indication that your body is healing and recovering from being neglected during addiction. However, excess weight gain in recovery can be a problem. It can affect your health, your mood, and your self-esteem. Another part of getting sober is learning how to take care of your body, so it’s important to recognize the reasons why weight gain is so common in early sobriety – and what lifestyle changes you can make to stay sober and healthy.

How Common is Weight Gain in Recovery?

Excessive weight gain is commonly reported by people in recovery. It is estimated that up to 65% of people in recovery gain weight and up to 20% of them become obese.[1] Of course, some weight gain is good. Many people who struggle with addiction lose weight and struggle with malnutrition or nutrient deficiencies, so putting on some weight can be a sign of recovery. However, others develop unhealthy eating patterns that lead to unhealthy weight gain.

While an important part of recovery is teaching you how to love yourself, studies show that body dissatisfaction can trigger relapse as well as a variety of other health risks.[1]

3 Reasons Why People Gain Weight in Recovery

There are many reasons why some people gain weight in recovery from addiction. Here are three of the most common causes.

1. You May Lack Impulse Control and Emotional Regulation in Early Recovery, Replacing Drugs With Sugar

Drug and alcohol addiction reduces dopamine receptors in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that makes you feel good. At the same time, a lack of dopamine can lead to problems with impulse control and emotional regulation.

Sugary foods, as well as those that are processed, activate the reward center in the brain and stimulate the release of dopamine and other feel-good chemicals. As a result, some people will crave sugar when they get sober and use processed or sugary foods as a replacement for drug or alcohol use. Excessive consumption of these foods, especially without proper exercise, is one common cause of weight gain in recovery.[1]

2. Substance Use Disorders (SUDS) Increase The Risk for Disordered Eating

According to the National Eating Disorder Association, nearly 50% of people who struggle with an eating disorder also abuse drugs or alcohol. At the same time, people who struggle with addiction are more susceptible to disordered eating.[2] Both addiction and eating disorders are characterized by similar obsessive and compulsive behaviors, so it is not uncommon to see someone give up drugs and alcohol while still engaging in disordered eating. These two conditions must be treated simultaneously for treatment to be effective.

3. Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Can Lead to Overeating and Contribute to Weight Gain

Untreated depression or anxiety as well as chronic stress can lead to overeating. And, the nutritional problems related to substance abuse make people in recovery prone to depression, anxiety, and stress. While it may feel good temporarily to eat as a method of self-soothing, doing so can easily lead to weight gain.

Tips for Staying Healthy That Will Support Your Recovery

There are many healthy lifestyle changes you can incorporate into your recovery to prevent excess and unwanted weight gain. These include:

  • Incorporating fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet
  • Eating three balanced and nutritious meals each day
  • Taking any necessary vitamins or supplements
  • Getting enough quality sleep each night
  • Exercising at least 3-4 days each week
  • Avoiding excess stress
  • Avoiding processed foods
  • Bring healthy snack options to AA/NA meetings where sweets are abundant
  • Taking your medications as prescribed
  • Talking with your counselor or therapist regularly
  • Staying connected with your sober support network
  • Coping with anxiety and depression in healthy ways, like with meditation or yoga

It’s important to remember that it is completely normal for people to gain weight when they get sober. Weight gain is a sign that your body is healing and obtaining the nutrients and fuel it needs to function. At the same time, the quality of the foods you put in your body will influence your mental health and your recovery. When you eat healthily, you’ll feel better and have more stable moods.[3] You’ll be more equipped to manage cravings and other challenges in sobriety.

Nutritional Guidance is Part of Treatment at Comprehensive Wellness Centers

Here at Comprehensive Wellness Centers, our approach to treatment is in the name – comprehensive. That means we address all aspects of your life that are affected by addiction, including your health and wellness. We have nutritional coaches on staff who can help you make healthy meal choices, counselors who can guide you out of disordered eating, and support groups that allow you to love yourself just the way you are.

If you’re looking for an addiction treatment program that will care for your mind, body, and spirit as a whole, you’ve come to the right place. Contact us today for a risk-free consultation.

References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6474807/
  2. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/substance-abuse-and-eating-disorders
  3. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry-your-brain-on-food-201511168626

Medically Reviewed: May 24, 2021

Dr Ashley

Medical Reviewer | CWC Recovery Staff

Clinical Team

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All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Content on this page has been reviewed by CWC Medical Staff for accuracy.


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

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