Healing from Narcissistic Abuse with Lifestyle: Nutritionists Share Best Tips on Nourishing Foods and Diets

When survivors have been abused by a narcissist, they can experience a plethora of stress-related symptoms. One challenge they can encounter is how to best navigate their health and well-being as the impact of stress can take a toll on the body and mind. Some survivors may overeat or undereat to cope with the stress, struggle with new health issues as a result of chronic stress, or battle body dysmorphia. Lifestyle and diet can play a role in healing from these traumas. For example, chronic stress can also contribute to insulin resistance that leads to chronic disease, which research shows can be decreased through lifestyle practices such as intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting certainly isn’t for everyone and should be used cautiously under the guidance of a professional, as it can be unsafe for those with disordered eating patterns and cause more stress in some cases. However, for some people, it can be restorative, and studies show that it’s possible it can heighten brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels in the brain that cause antidepressant effects in mood disorders and contribute to the survival and growth of neurons. This can play a pivotal role in neuroplasticity and neurogenesis which is important for trauma survivors whose brains have been affected by abuse, but more research is needed. This is just one example of how nutrition can play a role in healing the brain. Regardless of the nutrition plan you choose, the emphasis should be on eating enough nutrient-dense food and keeping yourself satiated. There are many foods, practices, and lifestyles which can help heal your mind and body during this time. I asked registered dietitians and nutritionists their tips on the best foods and lifestyle changes that may help survivors heal from the impact of emotional and psychological abuse. Here’s what they advised:

Eating Anti-Inflammatory and Nutrient-Dense Foods to Heal

“Similar to a physical trauma, emotional trauma promotes internal inflammation in the body. These intensely emotional experiences trigger our internal stress response (fight or flight response) which elevates cortisol and adrenaline, puts strain on our adrenal cortex, and elevates two primary inflammatory markers: C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6. In fact,our body cannot/does not decipher between physical stress (like needing to run from a bear, for instance) from emotional stress at all. And when either type of stress is sustained for more than a few days, you are sure to experience lowered immune function, chronic fatigue, gut and digestive issues, weight gain, food cravings, anxiety, and depression among many other things.

The best nutrition plan to follow would be an anti-inflammatory diet that emphasizes mono and polyunsaturated fats (like nuts, seeds, fatty fish, avocados and olive oil), plant-based proteins (lentils, beans, legumes and peas), loads of colorful veggies like zucchini, broccoli, peppers, squash, beets, mushrooms, tomatoes, etc. as well as fruits like berries and apples, and unprocessed grains (quinoa, millet, buckwheat, for example). If you eat animal proteins, you can supplement with lean proteins like turkey or chicken a few times a week, too. Avoiding highly inflammatory foods like gluten, dairy and ultra-processed foods is also recommended so that you don’t inadvertently throw gasoline on the inflammatory fire while your body and heart are healing.

The keto diet is probably the least inflammatory to the body, and if followed properly could actually have some healing benefits for those experiencing emotional trauma. As with any diet, balance is important. Many people think they are following a keto diet well, but they are eating large amounts of animal proteins (which are high in saturated and trans fats that are super inflammatory to the body) and/or dairy and cheese that have the same effect. If you want to follow the keto diet effectively to promote ANTI-inflammation, then you must prioritize mono and polyunsaturated fats, lots of veggies and fiber, and some lean proteins. There are varying levels of ketosis, and the mildest level of ketogenesis (where your ketone bodies range from 0.5 – 3.0 mmol/L) has proven to be the most beneficial on the body and mind, and it also happens to be the most sustainable, too. Meaning, you can still achieve this level of ketosis and its wonderful anti-inflammatory benefits while still eating some carbohydrates, which, as I mentioned, can be incredibly helpful in nourishing and supporting the body and mind.

My recommendation is to follow this mild ketogenic diet which emphasizes mono and polyunsaturated fats like those found in fish, olives, nuts, seeds, and avocados, as well as lean proteins and/or plant-based proteins like lentils, beans and legume. And including some unprocessed whole grains like millet, buckwheat, amaranth, wild rice, etc. to ensure you are getting nutrient dense foods and enough calories to promote healing. At the end of the day, healing will always require a balancing of our emotional and physical bodies together. When we nourish one, we are helping to nourish the other.”

Melanie Murphy Richter, MS, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

Using Food to Heal

“You’ll want to make sure you’re getting lots of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats. Nutrient-dense foods provide the vitamins and minerals necessary for brain function and mood regulation. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish, flaxseeds, and walnuts, are particularly known for their role in brain health – which is essential when recovering.” Dan Gallagher, ISSA Certified Nutritionist, Aegle Nutrition

“Feeling low, anxious and depressed is common while suffering from a toxic relationship. Certain foods can help one to mitigate from such negative emotions, such as: dark chocolate, chamomile tea, chicken liver and oatmeal. The flavonoids present in the cocoa act as antioxidants that protect your cells and improve the blood flow to the brain and heart while reducing your anxiety level.

Dark chocolate also contains a significant amount of tryptophan and magnesium. Tryptophan elevates the serotonin levels – a hormone that uplifts your mood and makes you happy whereas, magnesium eases the symptoms of depression. Chamomile contains antibacterial and antioxidant properties that help in reducing anxiety levels and making you feel better. You can also go for lavender or green tea since they’re good options too for dealing with your anxiety episodes. Chicken liver is packed with B vitamins and folic acid that assist in making brain chemicals, which alter the way you feel. B12 vitamins are also observed to be helpful in improving your mood and energy levels. Oatmeal is also beneficial in giving a boost to the serotonin that improves your mood. You can also eat sardines and salmon. These fishes are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which are effective for relieving the signs of anxiety and depression.” –Edibel Quintero, Registered Dietician Nutrionist and Medical Advisor with HealthInsider News

“Focus on incorporating an abundance of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats into your meals. These foods are rich in essential nutrients, antioxidants, and phytochemicals that can help combat stress, promote optimal brain function, and boost overall mood. In particular, foods like fatty fish (such as salmon and sardines), berries, turmeric, and green tea have been associated with anti-inflammatory properties and have shown promise in supporting mental well-being.” – Nataly Komova, Registered Dietician

Staying Nourished, Satiated, and Hydrated is Key

“It’s important to nourish your body after experiencing an emotional or traumatic situation, such as the ending of a toxic relationship. When experiencing a stressful situation, you may have symptoms of depression and anxiety, which can be made worse just from being hungry. Nourishment can look different for different people. For those struggling to eat, consider something easy such as smoothies, juices, and soups. For others, maybe all that sounds appetizing is dessert or fried foods. It’s okay to use food to cope sometimes, but it should only be used as a short-term tool. Research has shown that a balanced diet supports the immune system, repairs damaged cells, and provides energy needed during stressful events.

Overall, you want to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean proteins to get all the nutrients you need to mentally and physically feel your best. More specifically, research suggests that B vitamins may help boost your mood. Animal proteins and fortified grains (like cereals) are a good source of these mood-boosting B vitamins. Magnesium is another nutrient that may help with depression and anxiety. Some foods rich in magnesium include avocados, spinach, bananas, and dark chocolate.” –Lauren Whitman MPH, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

“When you are healing from trauma, it’s important to focus on nourishing your body by eating enough food and the right types of foods rather than restricting or limiting your food intake. It’s so much more important to eat three nutrient-dense, well-balanced meals each day to support this healing, eating until you are full and satiated. Similarly, carbohydrates contain highly important B-vitamins and other nutrients that are necessary for producing certain neurotransmitters like serotonin which promotes feelings of calm and balance. Low carb diets can (and do) wreak havoc on hormone function, which is of utmost importance when healing from any type of trauma. Do NOT skip the carbohydrates, and make sure you have a good dose of unprocessed carbohydrate later in the evening, too, to support optimal sleep, which we must prioritize as we repair and rest.” – Melanie Murphy Richter, MS, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

“Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Staying hydrated can help with detoxification and support your body’s natural healing processes.” – Mary Sabat MS, RDN, LD, Nutritionist and Health Coach

Supplementing Food With Exercise and a Healthy Lifestyle

“Engage in regular physical activity that you enjoy. Exercise releases endorphins, which can help improve your mood and reduce stress. Find activities that make you feel good, whether it’s walking, dancing, yoga, or any other form of exercise. Prioritize adequate rest and quality sleep. Aim for a consistent sleep schedule and create a relaxing bedtime routine. Sufficient rest is crucial for emotional healing and overall well-being. Limit alcohol and substance use: Avoid using alcohol or substances as a means to cope with emotional pain. Instead, seek healthier coping mechanisms and consider talking to a professional if you’re struggling with addiction.” – Mary Sabat MS, RDN, LD, Nutritionist and Health Coach

“Remember, healing is a holistic process that involves self-care practices beyond just diet. Engaging in regular physical activity, seeking support from a therapist or counselor, practicing mindfulness and relaxation techniques, and surrounding yourself with a supportive network of friends and loved ones are all vital components of your healing journey. By making conscious choices and nurturing your body with nourishing foods and a holistic approach to self-care, you can empower yourself to heal and thrive after an emotionally abusive relationship. Remember, you deserve to prioritize your well-being and create a life filled with love, self-compassion, and resilience.” – Nataly Komova, Registered Dietician

“Avoiding sugary and processed foods can help stabilize mood and energy levels. Regular exercise can also play a significant role in boosting mood and restoring overall well-being. By implementing stress-management techniques, such as meditation, yoga, or journaling, can assist in reducing anxiety and promoting a sense of calm and inner peace. Remember to be patient and gentle with yourself during this healing process, as it takes time to recover from emotional trauma.” – Arianna Foster, Nutritionist and Editorial Director of Carnivore Style

About the author

Shahida Arabi

Shahida is a graduate of Harvard University and Columbia University. She is a published researcher and author of Power: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse and Breaking Trauma Bonds with Narcissists and Psychopaths. Her books have been translated into 16+ languages all over the world. Her work has been featured on Salon, HuffPost, Inc., Bustle, Psychology Today, Healthline, VICE, NYDaily News and more. For more inspiration and insight on manipulation and red flags, follow her on Instagram here.