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“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
Hippocrates c.460 – c.370
A balanced and nutritious diet is essential for staying healthy. But for those battling to overcome years of drug and alcohol dependency or various types of food addiction, what they eat also plays an important part in their recovery. In the second in our series looking at other complementary therapies, Sinead McLeod talks about her work at the Recovery Centre in London where she educates recovering addicts in the art of cooking, and how the food they eat will aid a restoration to health.
Addiction is always a complex combination of several factors. A common question often asked in relation to addiction is: “Is it the drug, the person or the circumstances?” There is no absolute answer. People in recovery are not only facing up to their addictions but often a number of other personal and health issues that may be extremely painful and stressful. Good nutrition plays an important supporting role in helping addicts to cope and fully concentrate on their recovery. I work to encourage self-care through a programme called Feeling Food, which promotes the idea that by eating a well-balanced and nutritious diet we can become better equipped to deal with the challenges of modern living.
Feeling Food is a concept that I have developed over a number of years. I believe passionately that by treating the body with respect and feeding it a healthy, balanced, wholesome diet using fresh seasonal produce, we in turn develop a daily practice that becomes part of a healing lifestyle. My work in this area, however, came about purely by chance.
A new role
As an actress I, like many in my profession, would from time to time find myself “resting” between jobs. During one of these periods I got involved with the Promis Clinic, a rehabilitation centre treating people for substance and alcohol abuse, along with psychological issues such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, and eating addictions. I have great respect for people who are brave enough to face their addictions and work at their recoveries daily. Initially my role was to engage with the clients and help them to feel at ease as they embarked on their recovery programmes. One day, however, the chef was unexpectedly absent, so, as I have always loved cooking, I offered to cook in his place and from that day a new and rewarding chapter in my life began.
Soon after I was offered the position of chef at a new clinic in London called the Recovery Centre, which is run by Robert Batt who specialises in using a holistic approach to treat clients. Among the therapies available are psychiatric, psychological and neurological assessments, psychotherapy, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR), Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), nutrition, art therapy, music therapy, hypnotherapy, acupuncture, massage, yoga, mindfulness, meditation and relaxation.
My role has evolved over the years, as my knowledge and experience have grown. I have always loved cooking and have a passion for healthy eating. I trained at Leiths School of Food and Wine, a leading London cookery school that teaches classical and creative cooking, and I’ve taken part in many specialist workshops and courses on nutrition and healing through diet. I now run workshops to help people gain a healthier and more fulfilling relationship with food. My role is dual-natured: I am both chef and consultant, feeding the body with good, wholesome food and the mind with the culinary knowledge that will allow clients to maintain a healthy, nutritional diet.
Changing appetites and attitudes
Nutrition and all it encompasses tends to be ignored by those in the throes of addiction. Addicts tend to neglect self-care, and eating a balanced and nutritious diet is often bottom of their list of priorities. Many addicts have crossover addictions, so I don’t distinguish between different addictions. Instead, I encourage all my clients to take an active interest in their changing eating habits and appetites, continuously affirming the life changing benefits that healthy eating can bring. I like to keep things as simple as possible. When working with vulnerable people who are often learning to come to terms with the fears and emotional pain that led to their addiction, keeping nutritional needs simple is paramount, so as not to be confusing and uninspiring.
Cooking is a creative outlet that is deeply relaxing when taught with the right approach and principles. My style of cooking and teaching is positive and calm; and clients report feeling much better and more balanced after a session.
Low energy, depression, lethargy, exhaustion and poor concentration are all common side-effects of poor nutrition. I take meal planning back to basics and encourage people to eat three balanced meals a day and also to carry healthy snacks around with them to maintain balanced blood sugar levels. Snacks made of seeds, nuts and dried fruit, to be eaten every two hours between main meals, are ideal for this nutritional purpose. These wholesome snacks prevent the “fight or flight” syndrome and thus help prevent the anxiety and blood sugar swings that so often accompanies a relapse. Feelings and foods are inextricably linked. In recovery circles the acronym H.A.L.T is often used to highlight physical and emotional feelings that can jeopardise recovery. It warns addicts to try to avoid feeling Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired – common triggers that can lead to relapse.
Cooking requires learning practical skills which concentrates the mind and in turn aids recovery. Preparing a meal from scratch can be a deeply fulfilling and rewarding experience. By taking a methodical and relaxed approach I often see a client slowly unwind as they become immersed in the joys of chopping, stirring, blending and tasting. I teach people to appreciate and celebrate moments of joy in everyday life; a kitchen can provide an abundance of such experiences. There are hundreds of recipes to discover and make, and I love the enthusiasm evident in someone discovering their culinary talents and unique taste buds for the first time. Good self-esteem is fundamental to recovery and cooking provides a daily activity that helps reinforce an increasing sense of self-worth and self-belief.
The sugar trap
As important as knowing the right type of food to eat is to know the foods to avoid. Abstinence from foods that chemically trigger the appetite is especially important for people suffering from eating addictions and certain foods must be avoided in recovery. While the nutritional value of fresh fruit and vegetables, fish and lean meat is well known, the harmful effects of certain foods, particularly to those in recovery, are often underestimated.
Sugar can be one of the causes of relapse as it works much like drugs and alcohol, providing short-lived relief from low blood sugar levels and uncomfortable feelings. Sadly, many pre-packaged ready meals, flavoured drinks, ketchup, processed meats and cereals all have high sugar content and should be avoided. Likewise, white flour has a similar effect on the body as white sugar. Although this ingredient is commonly found in bread and pasta, whole grain alternatives are available which leave the body feeling much better.
The Feeling Food programme has grown from a simple idea to an ethos and has now developed into a vital part of the treatment addicts receive at the Recovery Centre. Like many of life’s more gratifying experiences it has been an organic process and something that I hope may enrich many more people’s lives in the future.
Sinead has kindly allowed Health and Homeopathy to reproduce one of her recipes. Bon appétit!
Beautiful Beetroot Pie
This magenta pie is bursting with flavour and can be served hot or cold, with a spoonful of horseradish cream. Serves 6.
500g uncooked grated beetroot
1 grated red onion
½ teaspoonful of grated nutmeg,
Thyme sprigs (4 leaves only)
4 medium eggs
200g crumbled Feta cheese
200g Cottage cheese
1 packet filo pastry
50g melted butter,
PRE-HEAT oven to 180° or gas 4.
MIX beetroot, red onion, nutmeg and thyme in a large bowl.
WHISK eggs in a separate bowl.
ADD feta and cottage cheese to eggs and mix well.
POUR egg mixture into beetroot and season well.
SEASON the beetroot with salt (Salt loves beetroot).
MELT butter in a small saucepan.
BRUSH melted butter over (8in x 10in) 20cm x 28cm baking tray.
UN-WRAP the filo pastry and keep under a damp cloth.
LAYER one sheet of filo on baking tray.
BRUSH all over with butter.
REPEAT layering with half the sheets of filo pastry.
SPREAD beetroot mixture evenly over the filo pastry.
LAYER remaining filo sheets as before.
SPRINKLE a few droplets of water over pie for lovely crispy finish.
BAKE for 45 minutes until golden and crisp.
LEAVE to cool slightly before serving.
SPOON horseradish alongside if you wish.
Sinead writes a blog at www.feelingfood.blogspot.com where she shares her thoughts and recipes on all things nourishing. All her recipes are suitable for anyone who cares about their body, as well as those in recovery.