I remember watching Requiem for a Dream when it came out (looking back a 12-year-old had no business watching that movie). It probably didn’t seem like a strange movie to watch because I had seen people close to me become addicted to cocaine, pills, and heroin my whole life. The drugs were never visible, but the whispers and warnings rang out with the obviousness of a 50′ billboard.

I knew the signs of drug addiction without having to see someone use the drugs — skinny, skittish, frantic, bumbling excuses. The movie depicted the devolution from healthy body weight to addiction-caused weight loss. I knew how to navigate the highs and the lows; those delicate skills anyone learns who has loved ones addicted to drugs or alcohol. Unusually fast loss of weight was always the first sign of an addiction.

Drug addiction causes someone to lose weight in the way that you look at them and observe that they look “sucked up,” or emaciated. It looks like an unhealthy skinniness because it is. Many people with heroin, crack, or cocaine addiction lose weight during periods of substance abuse, but they do gain weight when they stop using and enter recovery.

Of course, there are many people with a Substance Use Disorder (SUD) who do lose weight while using drugs, and some even gain weight. But if you’re like me (and many others) who enter recovery looking like they haven’t eaten a meal in about two weeks, you also might be experiencing difficulty re-gaining weight.

Gaining weight was extremely difficult for me when I got sober. I weighed under 115 lbs. when I got sober while standing a full 5’11.” Like many people who begin detoxing off drugs, it’s not that I hadn’t eaten; it’s that eating was one of the last things on the priority list. So, there were many days where a McDonald’s cheeseburger was the only thing I would eat on a given day.

It took me a few months to gain 30 pounds, which sounds like a lot, except I still looked like I was using; an appearance called “heroin chic”. It would take another couple of years before my body recovered enough to gain an additional 30 pounds (and even like a little chubby from time-to-time).

Tips to Gain Weight and Stay Healthy in Recovery

Gaining weight back is more important than looking healthy; eating healthy is hugely beneficial for a better quality of life. Here are 5 Tips to gain weight after drug addiction and rehab:

  1. Bunches of Bananas

Bananas have some excellent value for those new to recovery as they are not only high in calories and sugar content, but they also contain high levels of potassium and magnesium (2 essential nutrients that are typically low for those suffering from addiction). And don’t worry about the sugar as bananas still have far less sugar than packaged and processed snacks.

  1. Catch Up on Good Sleep

This might be one of the hardest parts of learning to live without drugs and alcohol. For many of us, sleep only happened when the drugs ran out, or you’ve stayed awake so long that your body finally shuts down. But it’s amazingly vital for health to get good sleep.

  1. Lift Some Weights

Lifting weights is hard at first if you haven’t done it for a while (or ever), but the payoffs are worth it. Not only does exercising in recovery increase muscle mass and promote weight gain but exercising regularly promotes better mental health and reduces the symptoms of anxiety.

  1. Go to a 12-Step Meeting

How will going to an AA or NA meeting help you gain weight? Glad you asked! Many meetings have doughnuts galore, and if someone’s celebrating a sobriety anniversary or birthday, there will be enough cake for seconds (and maybe even thirds). Most meetings have some sort of high caloric food to snack on.

  1. Eat a Lot of Protein and Carbs

Is that salad not filling you up? Cook a couple of pieces of chicken and add it to your salad. Afraid of becoming overweight? You won’t have to as long as you’re making healthy choices with your eating and you continue to exercise. Choose good sources of protein like chicken and nuts. As for carbs, eat your fill of natural grain rice and fruits. That way, you’ll be gaining healthy weight from healthy foods.