Next month, Washington's nonprofit Johnson Institute will honor chef and author Liz Scott as a pioneer in finding innovative techniques for fighting alcoholism and other addictions. In "The Sober Kitchen: Recipes and Advice for a Lifetime of Sobriety" (Harvard Common Press, 2003), Scott, a recovering alcoholic, offers advice on using food to stem cravings and heal. We spoke with the New Jersey-based chef recently.
What does food have to do with recovery from addiction? "Most people who first enter recovery have probably put nutrition on the back burner for many years. Eating right is an opportunity to start all over again, to reinvent yourself through good food, to repair damage done through vitamin deficiencies, to rehydrate yourself and . . . to heal yourself, body, mind and spirit."
How can some foods lead a recovering alcoholic to drink? "There has been mounting research on cue reactivity showing that certain smells or sounds can trigger a certain memory or behavior. We know that even a small amount of alcohol -- even that used in cooking, which, it turns out, doesn't burn off completely -- can trigger a desire to drink. Or just looking at a wine bottle. . . . Or eating a certain food you associated with a certain bar, or your drinking days. It's also important to understand that keeping your glucose levels even through good nutrition -- not skipping meals, not eating junk food -- will shield you from . . . alcohol cravings. I've been there; I know."
You even give a recipe for something as basic -- and not especially healthful -- as macaroni and cheese. How can that help? "I'm not suggesting you eat it five times a day, but food like that is comforting on many levels. Neurochemically, because of what it does to our serotonin levels, it can create a relaxed, at-ease feeling -- sometimes even a sleepy feeling. Then there are the associations -- maybe [it] was something Mom always made after we won the little league game. Eating those foods can help us return to those good feelings that have been submerged for a long, long time -- feelings we need to experience in order to heal."
-- Suz Redfearn