Cooking Classes Aim to Restore Health After Addiction

09 April, 2018

At Boston Medical Center, patients recovering from drug dependencies are getting healthier one meal at a time.

For years, the hospital has offered cooking classes for patients with medical conditions such as heart disease. It also runs a food store for poor patients who receive fresh food as part of their treatments.

The newest class is "Cooking for Recovery." It is connected to the spreading belief that many forms of treatment are needed to recover from drug and alcohol dependency, also called addiction.

Michael Botticelli is the head of the medical center's Grayken Center for Addiction and former director of the government's Office of National Drug Control Policy. He says, "recovery is not just about stopping the use of alcohol and drugs, it's about how do we return people to a sense of wellness and a sense of well-being."

On a recent Thursday, cook Tracy Burg taught patients how to make a meal of chicken and vegetables.

"Mood enhancers" — vegetables and whole grains — sat on the side on one side of the table. "Mood depressors" — foods with a lot of sugar — sat on the other side.

In this Thursday, March 15, 2018, photo, a selection of whole grain and healthier food options are displayed during a
In this Thursday, March 15, 2018, photo, a selection of whole grain and healthier food options are displayed during a "Cooking for Recovery" class at the Boston Medical Center in Boston.

Good healthy eating is often forgotten during recovery, Burg said. And many addicts desire sugary foods that affect the same areas of the brain as drugs, she said. This can lead to rising and falling blood sugar levels, depression and possible return to drug use.

Burg said many addicts have serious stomach problems because much of the organ's healthy bacteria have been destroyed. She teaches that eating fiber can improve bacteria health.

Felicha Young has been in recovery for about a year and a half. She heard about the cooking class from her doctor.

She knows how to cook a little, but wanted more information. She added that she likes the activity that takes place in the class.

Young said the hospital's addiction treatment program has helped her return to normal life. But she said she had not considered how healthy eating could affect her until she attended the class.

"I didn't even know that it could be part of recovery," she said.

Some other addiction treatment centers have experts that run healthy eating programs for patients. But, officials at Boston Medical Center said they did not know of any that include cooking classes.

That may change. New Hampshire's Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center has taken note of the cooking classes. Its addiction treatment program for pregnant women and mothers includes a food store. Patients can take home fresh fruits and vegetables after recovery group meetings.

Upper Valley Haven runs the store. The non-profit organization in Vermont offers food, housing and other support to poor people. Organization officials there visited the Boston medical center kitchen and food store seeking new ideas.

Daisy Goodman works at Dartmouth-Hitchcock. She said patients often show up at the recovery program with very sugary foods or drinks.

"They're not eating a lot of nutritious food." She also said the women often arrive hungry and will eat the fruits and vegetables that are available.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock is working with patients to write a cookbook of healthy recipes, Goodman said.

I'm Susan Shand.

Susan Shand adapted this story for Learning English based on an original report by the Associated Press. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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Words in This Story

mood n. one's feeling or sense

enhance v. to make better

recipe n. instruction for cooking

nutritious adj. having substances that a person or animal needs to be healthy and grow properly

fiber n. plant material that cannot be digested but that helps you to digest other food