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A cookbook for addicts

April 21, 2014
by Shannon Brys, Associate Editor
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Most people who have diabetes or high cholesterol wouldn’t be surprised to be told to change their diet and to exercise in order to affect the numbers associated with their disease. The same should be true for addiction, according to Joan Borsten, chief executive officer at treatment facility Malibu Beach Recovery (Malibu, Calif.). Although there is no “cure” for addiction, Borsten believes individuals can put it into remission with a change in lifestyle.

For this reason, Malibu Beach Recovery has been focused on the food that its clients consume while in treatment and is now offering a cookbook to clients as they leave the program. The diet plan that the treatment center follows is based on a low-glycemic diet created by Frenchman Michel Montignac. After translating all of his books to English, Malibu Beach Recovery staff altered the diet from Montignac’s goal of helping individuals lose weight to the program’s goal of improving the overall health of its clients. The cookbook, Dopamine for Dinner, has a four-week meal plan that is meant to meet this goal and to balance those in recovery.

The diet has a few strict rules:

  • No caffeine
  • No refined sugar
  • No white carbohydrates
  • No pork

Pork is left out of the diet because many in this population who have had experience with drugs and alcohol have liver problems. When the liver is damaged, it might have issues absorbing a triglyceride, and these are plentiful in pork.

Eliminating sugar is beneficial to everyone, but especially to those in recovery, Borsten says. “It’s really important for them to be balanced and to not experience that sugar crash,” she explains. It is believed that sugar is the number one “transfer addiction” as people in recovery have been known to eliminate drug and alcohol use and immediately start to consume large quantities of sweets.

As Malibu Beach Recovery clients are detoxing from drugs and alcohol, the treatment program makes it a point also to get its clients clean from sugar, and coffee if they are coffee drinkers.

Many people going through an addiction have a tendency to eat nothing but fast food. They are constantly on the go – buying drugs, selling drugs, doing drugs, headed to drink – and take whatever food they can find, Borsten explains.

Tools for good health

While clients are in treatment, the staff at Malibu Beach Recovery assists them in understanding food. The group will typically visit restaurants and look at menus together to decide what they should and should not eat. Borsten says staff also helps clients read labels and understand how to ask questions at stores or restaurants.

After leaving treatment, with the cookbook in-hand, clients have an enhanced opportunity to continue the healthy eating and living that they experienced while in treatment.

The cookbook was created by four of the treatment center’s chefs – Yannick Marchand, Licia Jaccard, John Handal and Sergio Galvao – who have all been trained in French cooking traditions and have learned the rules of this specific diet. Each of the chefs was responsible for a week of meal plans and Borsten says the book is unique because each chef has “a different interpretation of what is healthy and tasty according to the rules.”

Borsten says alumni and their families tend to have their favorite chef out of the four in the book.

Since the book became available to clients and the public about two months ago, it has been receiving positive feedback from alumni of Malibu Beach Recovery as well as from addiction professionals and chefs. 

One comment, from a treatment center, reads as such:

We operate a small recovery program in northern California. Our team of addiction professionals was looking to improve on what we served our guests. This book helped us transition our meals in a practical, easy way to ones that are more conducive to maintaining sobriety. Thank you.

After the reader has gone through the 30 days of pre-planned meals, the hope is for that individual to continue following the diet, mixing and matching the various recipes, and even creating his or her own. Free recipes are available online as well.

One major change Borsten believes the treatment community needs to adopt is to change the foods that are served at Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings. Most of the time, these meetings greet attendees with coffee and chocolate cake. “I think the time has come for the people whose commitment it is to provide the snacks to provide a healthier option,” she explains.