How to Live a Recovery-Centric Life

07/12/2016 08:56 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

by guest blogger Pam Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP, FACSM, best-selling author and expert on health, fitness, and nutrition

You might not be aware, but in every nanosecond of your life, you're actually experiencing countless never-ending cycles of mind-body recovery that run the gamut from grieving a broken heart to mending a pulled tendon.

For instance, as you rest and recover after a long, sweaty hike, you're probably not aware that at the same time, a very robust recovery process is also occurring in your muscle cells and even further into your genes. After that refreshing morning walk, your cells begin to rebuild and regenerate, switching out used cellular debris for newer, stronger muscle fibers. At the same time, the aerobic exercise you did is reducing any destructive expression of genes in your DNA that could increase your risk for diabetes, cancer, obesity, and heart disease. And these genetic marks are passed on to your children. Therefore, when we make healthier choices that support optimal recovery, we're actually reaping a heap of life-supporting rewards--not only for ourselves, but for future generations, as well.

Recovery at any level is a process of renewal and regeneration that's integral to maintaining your ability to survive. The problem is that we're not always allowing ourselves an optimal chance to regroup and recover. As a result, we're decreasing our quality of life while speeding up the aging process. We can avoid this problem by learning how to live what I call a "Recovery-Centric Lifestyle."

I stumbled across this unique lifestyle concept while studying the field of addiction rehabilitation for my book The Hunger Fix, which describes the science and solutions for food addiction. As I familiarized myself with typical addiction treatment programs, I was shocked and dismayed to find that the majority were only concerned with achieving short-term abstinence, and were then discharging men and women with no realistic blueprint for how to live within a world of wall-to-wall stress and temptation. There are some exceptions (like Milestones Ranch) with excellent individualized and holistic programs, but not enough.

As a result, I set about creating a holistic and integrative lifestyle plan that incorporated what I saw as essential Recovery-Centric elements for optimal wellness: mind (mental, spiritual), mouth (nutrition), and muscle (physical activity). In doing so, I had an epiphany. I realized that everything I was constructing was also applicable to anyone, not just the addicted. In essence, everyone benefits from achieving and maintaining optimal mind-body recovery. And in calling it Recovery-Centric, we get a constant reminder that our minds and bodies really need appropriate recovery to rejuvenate and continue to expand and grow stronger over a lifetime.

The Recovery-Centric template includes recommendations specifically crafted to enhance our ability to achieve and maintain optimal overall mental and physical recovery. To help get you started, here are the three pillars of my Recovery-Centric Lifestyle Plan, along with practical tips and tools you can easily put to work.

Recovery Mind

Here are 7 strategies for achieving peak mental and spiritual recovery:

  1. Reframe. Begin by reframing your lifestyle goals. For instance, instead of obsessing about a clothing size or weight, step back and reframe by concentrating on correcting the behaviors that led to weight gain or lack of fitness. The secret lies within which habits you're currently practicing. Why are you so self-destructive under stress? Now go deeper and look at why you have these behaviors in the first place. Often, counseling can help identify triggers, such as past trauma and abuse, as well as emotional cues like anxiety, loneliness, depression, and anger. Keep your thinking Recovery-Centric, and you'll be more likely to stay on track.
  2. Redo. Carefully reorganize your "ecosystem," the living and working environments to support your Recovery-Centric Lifestyle. This includes de-cluttering people, places, and things from your life that do not support your new habits and behaviors. You can't take a walk if you can't find your sneakers. You can't cook and eat healthfully if your kitchen's a disaster. It's imperative that you attend to these factors because it will make your new lifestyle much easier to implement. It's a challenge, but you need to gradually rid yourself of chaotic living circumstances, along with any enabling, destructive, and toxic people in your life. It's time to clean house to gift yourself with the freedom and opportunity to sustain recovery.
  3. Relax. So many people feel like they're incessantly running on life's gerbil wheel with no downtime. You cannot mentally and physically recover unless you make time to hop off the wheel and rest. Taking time to be introspective through meditation or journaling favorably alters your genetic expression by decreasing overall body inflammation and supporting the recovery process. A positive, grateful, healing thought is powerful and so easy to summon.
  4. Refocus. Tap into your brain's frontal lobe, which houses your executive function. Use this mental powerhouse to keep you focused on making the most health-promoting decisions throughout your busy day. Continually ask this centering question: "Will the choice I'm about to make help me to achieve and maintain my best mind-body recovery?"
  5. Regroup. The one thing that derails everyone is when stress leaves us feeling helpless, hopeless, and defeated. This is especially true for people who have any form of addictive habit that leads to self-destructive soothing. Therefore, it's essential to learn how to become more stress resilient. That way, when stress does hit, you'll bounce back more rapidly and without self-destruction. This requires the ability to adapt and adjust to life's stresses without defaulting to self-destruction.
  6. Rejoice. Neutralize stress with joy. Choose joys that can substitute for your self-destructive habits. Experiment and be creative. Instead of social withdrawal and loneliness when you feel consumed with stress, reach out by volunteering to get out of yourself. Joyful pursuits are conducive to optimal recovery, so be assertive about incorporating more joy into your daily life.
  7. Rejuvenate. You need rest and sleep. It's impossible for your mind and body to continue to recover and regenerate unless you give them the chance. Sleep is a golden opportunity for whole-body recovery. During sleep, the immune system can repair and regenerate. Even the brain undergoes a detox process through a sleep-induced activation of the glymphatic system. Most metabolic processes reset during restful sleep. Please get your z's!

Recovery Mouth

Healthy nutrition is absolutely prerequisite and essential to achieving and maintaining your precious, life-giving mind-body recovery cycles. For so long, nutrition has been given short shrift within the addiction industry, as well as in traditional healthcare treatment plans. This is ludicrous and dangerous. Science clearly shows that vitamins, minerals, and natural macronutrients provide critical nourishment for our cells and support optimal regeneration. These nutrients also support our good bacteria populations, especially the gut's microbiome, which is populated by 100 trillion bacteria that are in continuous communication with the brain. If those gastrointestinal bacterial are compromised by an unhealthy diet then we secrete less of the body's mood-stabilizing neurotransmitters like serotonin (90 percent of this feel-good hormone is actually secreted by the gut) and we increase our total-body inflammation, which eventually heightens our disease risk.

Therefore, whole, natural foods (ideally, organic) are the answer. We need to rid our lives of processed and refined foods that do not promote recovery. We need to reframe our collective perspective about all things related to growing, selecting, preparing, cooking, and enjoying whole foods.

Recovery Muscle

Physical movement is critical to achieving both mental and physical recovery. All physical movement counts. Whenever you move your body--be it climbing stairs or doing yoga stretches--amazing things occur throughout your mind-body. In addition to feeling energized and calmer, activity facilitates actual physical repair in your brain. This includes your frontal lobe, which then helps you to increase your focus, organize, plan, and rein in impulsiveness (like caving to cravings). Your brain's reward center can repair, as well, to help support nonaddictive behaviors.

Physical activity also supports neurogenesis, which is the process of creating new brain cells and circuitry to supersede the self-destructive connections. In other words, for every step you take, every movement you perform, you're rejuvenating and regenerating brain cells and actually growing a bigger, healthier brain while at the same time, you're reducing your risk of dementia and brain aging.

None of these wonderful rewards requires you to join an Olympic training camp. Instead, consistently (at least five days a week), do something as simple as walk for the equivalent of an hour (you can break this up throughout the day). Assume the vertical (stand up) as much as you possibly can, getting up for 5 to 10 minutes for every 45 minutes that you sit. The more you sit, the less optimal your overall mind-body recovery process will be. The bottom line: Stay as active as you can throughout the day to support a healthy brain, mind, and body.

In summary, to achieve optimal lifelong mind-body recovery, adopt a Recovery-Centric Lifestyle by:

  • Focusing on achieving and maintaining optimal mind and body recovery.
  • Creating a new healing ecosystem, a living environment of people, places, and things that support your new Recovery-Centric Lifestyle Plan.
  • Nourishing your body with natural and organic whole foods.
  • Becoming more physically active to support optimal brain and body health.
  • Revitalizing the quality of your life with sustainable mind-body recovery.

Pamela M. Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP, FACSM, is an internationally renowned expert in integrative and preventive medicine. Dr. Peeke is a Pew Foundation Scholar in nutrition and metabolism, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland, and a fellow of the American College of Physicians and American College of Sports Medicine. A nutrition and fitness pioneer, she has been the recipient of numerous fitness-industry lifetime achievement awards, including the IDEA Health and Fitness Association Inspiration Award and the Zumba Fitness International Role Model Award. Known as "the doc who walks the talk," Dr. Peeke is a Senior Olympic triathlete and a member of the National Senior Games Foundation Board. As senior advisor to the 18th Surgeon General of the U.S., Regina Benjamin, MD, MBA, Dr. Peeke created the Surgeon General's Walks for a Healthy and Fit Nation program. Dr. Peeke's work includes WebMD's lifestyle expert, Discovery Health TV's chief correspondent for nutrition and fitness, host of both Discovery Health TV's series Could You Survive? and National Body Challenge, acclaimed TEDx presenter, and regular commentator for the national networks. Dr. Peeke is a New York Times best-selling author; her books include Fight Fat after Forty, Body for Life for Women, and The Hunger Fix.

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