Diet and Exercise in Sobriety: A Check List

If you’re anything like me and I’ll bet you are, just the words diet and exercise bring up a whole bunch of confusion. If we were to only pay attention to what consumer media says about these things it’s quite clear, confusion is reasonable.

Often people will ask me why I got so interested in these topics and the answer is always: Because I had to. I had to find a way of life that supported my long-term sobriety and my left handed, right brained approach to life–and I have. A way of life in the diet and exercise departments that continues to evolve and improve and one that keeps me passionate and thriving.

Through the years via trial and error and relentless research I have found some basic, common ground truths about diet and exercise that anyone interested can apply–especially recovering folks, (and practice members at Recovery Health Care DO apply these principles very successfully).

An interesting twist is that these practices turn out to be anchored–and continue to be validated and supported by the cutting edge, evidence based journals. Why? Because our genetic blueprint is programmed for health and my own genetic makeup found its way back toward optimal expression. Wisdom of the mind-body? You bet.

Certainly, “your mileage may vary” and each of us needs to find our own, fine-tuned balance in these areas.

So how about a check list where the bottom line is, keep it super simple? Let’s start with food.

Diet – Minimize inflammation and insulin producing foods and maximize nutrient dense, energy efficient and immune system strengthening foods. Strive toward organic or–pesticide, hormone, antibiotic free foods–and it looks like this:

  • Grains: minimize to none, difficult at first, but HUGE payoffs – got chronic symptoms? lose ‘em slowly, but surely
  • Sugar: minimize to none, sugar is 4 times more addictive than cocaine and awful for our bodies
  • Processed foods: minimize to none – I just try to avoid poison these days…
  • No kiddin': and the above three take care of 80% of the problem, so easy-does-it because: You Can Do It
  • Meat: grass fed, not grain fed
  • Foul: chicken, turkey, duck, hen
  • Fish: wild, not farm raised
  • Vegetables: in abundance, preferably raw and not fried
  • Legumes: minimize – difficult to digest and by-products not so hot
  • Dairy: maybe – grass fed if tolerable
  • Fruit: seasonal, local and fruit has a high sugar content, so easy-does-it
  • Oils: olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil – lose the rest
  • Nuts: macadamia, almonds – sparingly
  • Tubers: sweet potatoes and yams
  • Coffee: maybe and look into Bullet Proof Coffee…do some experimenting if you’re a coffee drinker with no intention of quitting
  • Water: pure and plentiful - and filtered if tap water
  • Supplements: da basics – fish oil, multivitamin, multimineral, antioxidant, vitamin D, probiotics

Tips – You can “up regulate” your genes to enjoy these very often, life saving changes. It will take time. You’ll see/feel significant changes in 30 days, but give it 90–days minimally and of course, one day at a time. Add what’s good and let the not-so-good fall away. Eat when you’re hungry to a place just before you feel, “full” and don’t eat when you’re not hungry. Duh, that. Try it, you’ll like it. Added bonus: Your ideal weight will normalize naturally–this, I guarantee.

Exercise More good news: Research reveals “less is more” however, our bodies were built to move. Moving improves everything including brain function. Great news for those of us with the brain disorder of addiction. Bottom line is spending hours in the gym is no longer necessary or healthy, but doing something most days is the ticket. Here are the basics:

  • Move frequently at a slow pace – walking is great – every day if you’re able and the dog will dig it
  • Lift something heavier than usual 2 or 3 times per week – from dumb bells to kettle bells to just your own body weight (that’d be Herby Bells in my case…) – all good
  • Every 7 to 10 days do a higher intensity workout – look into Tabata Training – brisk walking, running, biking, swimming, jumping rope, etc. Crank it up once in awhile
  • Avoid “chronic cardio” or working out hours on end. Research shows more harm than good and remember, less is more
  • Find a day of rest to be a human-just-being (E.G., walk barefoot on the wet grass…) and honor it – every week
  • Stretching? Yoga? Dance? You-name-it? Yes. Mix and match keeping in mind the first three on the above check list

Alright, I said keep it super simple and that’s enough to try on for size. Let me leave you with a couple more observations and suggestions. I’m in the gym most mornings somewhere between the hours of 5 to 7am, (30 to 45 minutes). It works for me and I suggest you find a time of day that you will devote to your exercise, whatever shape it takes. I do it because I LOVE IT and you will too when you find the right mix of movement, perhaps music and time of day that’s all yours. Ask yourself, “How do I look, how do I feel and how am I functioning” to know if your “mix” is working. Add and subtract things accordingly.

Side Notes If you’re not sleeping well 8 to 10 hours every night, (yes, that’s right) none of this matters. Sleep deprivation can be physiologically worse than being perpetually hung over–especially if chronic. So look into it if good sleep is not in your wheelhouse. Also, if you’re looking for appearance and body tone changes, 80% of how our bodies look has to do with what we’re eating and only 20% has to do with how we’re exercising. But remember–diet and exercise go hand-in-hand, that is, exercise is also doing other essential things for our bodies–especially mind-bodies in recovery. One cannot compensate for the other. Treat them both–diet and exercisewith equal interest and importance.

Finally, send me a note or call: 650 474 9411 if you have questions or concerns about any or all of the above. What I have outlined here is a thumbnail sketch of the diet and exercise portions of the Blueprint for Recovery I use when when working with recovering people in my office. I also work with people all over the country via email, phone or Skype. Most of us can use a coach and all great and healthy things begin with a conversation.

Diet and exercise are essential to master a long-term sobriety lifestyle. Personal mastery is what it takes, so start your personal mastery practice today. You didn’t come all this way for nothin’ and…you deserve it.

Dr. Herby Bell is a Recovery and Wellness Coach and owner of Recovery Health Care, an integrated approach to wellness and addiction recovery in Saratoga, California. For more information please call 650 474 9411 or Email:  Connect with me online too:  Facebook | Twitter | Linkedin

Join the discussion 15 Comments

  • […] in my own life, I enthusiastically use the common sense of ancestral health principles and the Paleo Diet, which complements and aligns with the recovery lifestyle seamlessly. The Paleo Diet is widely […]

  • Thank you, thank you for breaking this down into simple, doable steps! We often hear you need to eat right and exercise and get adequate sleep, but then it often gets overwhelmingly complicated. This is terrific – a bit of the science of “why” and a big dose of the simple “how.” Love your new website, BTW!
    Lisa Frederiksen – Wants You To Read…Family Law Discrimination Against Recovering Alcoholics | AddictsMy Profile

  • HerbyBell says:

    Lisa, Thank you for your holistic response to a holistic approach. I appreciate your discerning validation of an area in addiction treatment that often gets marginalized. Let’s spread the word!
    HerbyBell Wants You To Read…Recovery Coach, Heal ThyselfMy Profile

  • Hi Herby. Your regiment and discipline are amazing, and I am positive your process helps lots of people. I have a question about the ‘no grains’ idea. I always thought that whole grains were supposed to be good for us. Not the ‘whole grain’ they advertise to be in things like Cinnamon Toast Crunch, etc. (Ridiculous – how do they get by with that??) But I mean real whole grains. Can you explain?

    I agree with you that a good diet and exercise help everybody all the time, perhaps especially someone in recovery. It would be equally great for parents and family of an addicted loved one. A lot of parents that I know stop exercising and eat poorly, and sometimes too much or too little. I know because I did that. It did not help, and I am still paying for that! Now trying to claw my way back…. :)

    Anyway, thanks for this article. It is great reading for everyone!!

  • HerbyBell says:

    Leslie, Here’s the good Mark Sisson article I referenced in my post: It’s a long conversation and takes a bit to understand particularly in view of the fact we are INUNDATED with messages to the contrary, but then consider the beer and Viagra commercials…

    I’m happy to elaborate, but encourage you to try 30-60-90 days “grain free” and see what happens…Truly a no-grainer!!

    Thanks for your great comments and heightening awareness that everyone in the family can benefit from sound wellness practices.
    HerbyBell Wants You To Read…Recovery Coach, Heal ThyselfMy Profile

  • Hi Herby,

    Wonderful post here with amazing tips for healthy eating and moving. Sleep is so important as well. I’ve had a few restless nights lately and realize I need to put away the technology a few hours before bedtime – I’m trying that now and seeing if it helps. Love your eating tips. The no grain for me will be a challenge, but think I’ll give it a try. I do love my oatmeal in the morning. I find that the salt in crackers and chips can be quite addicting, so I try and not buy those types of foods too often. Just got back from a morning run and moving does make all the difference for me. It’s so calming and gets my day off to a good start. Thanks for sharing your information!
    Cathy Taughinbaugh Wants You To Read…How to Find Freedom through Inner Peace: 30 TipsMy Profile

  • HerbyBell says:


    Thank you for your real-life feedback. I agree that it’s, “progress–not perfection” and each of us has to “find out” for ourselves. Another reference on the grain question is, Nora Gedgaudas who has written, Primal Body, Primal Mind where she joins scores of others documenting these adaptive lifestyle truths.

    You are an inspiration after learning you are taking such great care of yourself on this beautiful summer day! Thanks for your comments, Cathy.
    HerbyBell Wants You To Read…Recovery Coach, Heal ThyselfMy Profile

  • Jody Lamb says:

    Hi Herby,

    Great advice. Thanks for listing this so matter of factly.

    Exercise is extremely important to mental and physical well being! I ran cross country and track in high school. When the seasons ended and I took a break from running, there was a noticeable drop in my overall liveliness. Friends and teachers talked about it.

    My uncle has 30 years of sobriety. He says he doesn’t think he could have sustained it if exercise hadn’t been important part of his life over the last three decades.

    Awesome point about walking. I make a point of walking about a mile with my dog every day. I consider it my thinking time. I ALWAYS return home feeling more motivated, more relax and overall, more alive. I recently joined a gym to that I could integrate the weights and take yoga classes.

    I’ve been trying hard to limit processed food and increase raw vegetables. It’s difficult! But oh so worth it. Thanks for the encouragement to keep it up.

    Thanks for this great post.

    P.S. “(that’d be Herby Bells in my case…)” – You have a funny voice on this blog! Love it.
    Jody Lamb Wants You To Read…What to do when you realize people around you are nutsMy Profile

  • Heby Bell says:


    I feel the same way as your uncle. We’ve got these pristine genetic blueprints that are just asking us to move, eat and think well. As you point out, easier said than done, but the payoff is great when the practices are locked in.

    And I join you in spending some great time moving and thinking well with my beloved Spirit Guide, Tory the dog.

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

  • Doug Wilson says:

    Dr. Bell,

    I heard you on the Paleo Hacks podcast and I am so glad my wife sent me the link. As most addicts do, I have multiple addictions and one of those is food. Right now I am implementing Paleo into my life, however, my budget is very very limited. Yes, you hear that a lot.

    Thank you for the work you are doing and you have gained a new follower on your blog.


  • […] addiction recovery will have thresholds to find and maintain for a lifetime in the way you’re moving, eating and thinking–just one day at a time. And…we already know what it’s like to live beyond those […]

  • […] addiction recovery will have thresholds to find and maintain for a lifetime in the way you’re moving, eating and thinking–your “wellness zone”–just one day at a time. And…we already know what […]

  • […] The brain grows and changes itself with proper nourishment and exercise […]

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