Stop Using. Start Eating. Ride a Bike. Lose 50 Pounds. Yay.



Last year I embarked on the second biggest challenge in my life – the first being getting clean – to lose the weight that I had gained during my addiction. My using career very quickly progressed from stimulant based drugs in my teens and 20’s, to prescription opiates and copious amount of alcohol in my late 20’s and 30’s. Added to a clinical depression, and a disordered relationship with food, this formed a very unhealthy ‘coping’ strategy of mine; resulting in not only a rock bottom in relation to my using, but a rock bottom in recovery, in relation to my relationship with food. I had gained 140 pounds.


The ethos of my blog, Liv’s Recovery Kitchen, is to share my weight loss journey in recovery from addiction and seek to highlight the parallels between the two. Food, in my experience, can be used like a drug. Certain foods release dopamine – the brain’s “feel good” chemical – in exactly the same way as certain drugs. It is the brain’s reward chemical and the brain creates a memory to reinforce the desire for more.


Serotonin – the brains calming hormone – can also be released. Mix in some sugar and you have a recipe that not only releases these hormones, but also spikes your blood sugar momentarily – due to the increase in insulin – followed by a sharp crash. You end up with the highs and lows of the good old days! So it is no wonder, in times of stress and feeling low, as we often experience in recovery, that we reach for foods we know will make us feel better (albeit for a very short period of time).


Spot the similarities here?! I find it eye opening.


Recovery is a Process of Discarding…



It is often said that recovery is a process of discarding, letting go and uncovering. And in that process, the acquisition of this newfound knowledge led me to the realization that, for me, in order to recover, I have to holistically recover. That means, focusing on my whole self: internally; spiritually; mentally; emotionally; in the relationship between my emotions, feelings, behaviour and choices; and in my physical health; my relationships; activities and environment.


In applying a holistic recovery approach to my relationship with food, I have lost nearly 50 pounds. I still have some way to go. It has not been an easy path and I am constantly challenging behaviours which no longer serve me, learning new ways to cope with feelings and emotions and making some choices which don’t serve me well. What I have learned is that recovery follows this path:


Recovery is not linear




I have reached a plateau and this means I have had to employ new strategies. But on the whole, the trend is downward. This is what has worked for me:


Admission. I admitted that I had a problem and that I needed to make a change. I had to get to that jumping off place they all talk about.

Action: Weigh yourself and move to step 2.


Humility. I realized I could not do this alone. I got humble and I asked for help. I cannot stress enough that this had to be a sustainable, realistic approach to dieting. I found a coach who had this ethos and I asking her for help. I am now training in this approach.

Action: Ask for help. Whether it’s your sponsor, a dietician, or a food coach – but ensure it’s a healthy and realistic approach.


Good nutrition: I don’t believe in weight loss clubs or restrictive/liquid diets. I do believe in whole real food and making long term changes which form the basis of a new relationship with food. It is not a diet. Diets do not work long term. Protein is massively undervalued; it keeps you full, uses more energy to digest and we don’t feed ourselves enough of it. I eat a diet high in lean protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats. I read a lot about nutrition and its effects on the body and brain.

Action: Ensure your meals contain a sufficient amount of protein, reduce carbs and eat a thumb full of healthy fats at every meal. Cut out soda, caffeine, refined carbohydrates and processed foods. Eat clean.


Check in With a Sponsor…




Accountability. Working with someone else, even if it is checking in with your sponsor, helps you to develop accountability. Set 3 SMART goals. This will stop you from living in a place of denial, to one of taking responsibility for your actions.

Action: Keep a food diary, and get really honest about what you are eating, and how big your portion sizes are. Set 3 SMART goals.


Mindfulness. I had to get real and get in touch with that underbelly of feelings that I was seeking to avoid in exactly the same way as drugs. I looked into my emotional well-being. I use mindfulness to create an awareness of the food I put into my body and the connection with my emotional hunger. Yoga helps with this connection of mind-soul-body, and I cannot express enough how fundamental that is.

Action: Employ mindfulness techniques to deal with your feelings, emotions and stress; such as meditation, walking, writing. Go to yoga, seriously!


Exercise Forms the Basis…


bike yellow


Exercise. This forms the basis of any successful weight loss strategy. Move. I immediately began walking 10,000 steps a day. Then I bought a bike and gave up my bus pass. Now I workout 5/6 days a week: weights, running, yoga and cycling. This releases the same feel good chemicals you get with certain unhealthy foods. Cycling is so liberating for me, and it gives me mental space to process my thoughts.

Action: Move. Get a pedometer, walk, buy/borrow/dig out a bike.


Self-care. Its self-explanatory, but why do we neglect it?

Action: Make sure you get 8 hours sleep a night and drink a lot of water (at least 2 liters a day, and more during exercise and hot weather).


Food planning. This is an essential part of any weight loss strategy.

Action: Sit down once a week with your favourite cookbooks and plan your meals for the week, and write a shopping list based on these meals.


There you have it. This is how I am discarding, uncovering and letting go; to my true authentic self.


Recipe – Pumpkin Biriyani with pistachios




I’ve matched this post with a new recipe I’ve tried for a healthy Indian biriyani. It’s packed with flavour, protein, fibre and slow releasing carbs. It is perfect after exercise.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 15-20 minutes

Serves: 4



1 tbsp ground nut oil

75g shelled pistachios

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped

1 clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1 tbsp fennel seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1 vegetable stock cube (use low sodium) and make up around 750ml stock

250g rinsed quinoa

1 small pumpkin or butternut squash, washed and chopped into cubes (I leave the skin on for added fibre, but you can remove)

3 tbsp of chopped parsley or coriander

Packet of smoked tofu, chopped into cubes (optional)


  1. In a pan heat some oil and when hot, add the fennel and cumin seeds for 30 seconds. Then add the onions and cook for 3-4 minutes;
  2. Add the garlic, ground spices and squash and stir thoroughly. You may either want to add a couple of tbsp of stock, to prevent sticking and then add in the quinoa. Mix thoroughly and stir for a minute. Then add half the pistachios and the remaining stock.
  3. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the quinoa is cooked and most of the liquid has evaporated. At this point you could add the tofu, stir through and put the lid on and remove from the heat for a few minutes;
  4. Sprinkle the remaining pistachios and herbs over the top and serve.



Located near Portland, OR, Olivia Pennelle (Liv) is a writer studying toward her MSW. She is the founder of the popular site Liv’s Recovery Kitchen, a site dedicated to providing the ingredients to live a fulfilling life in recovery. Liv also co-founded the podcast Breaking Free: Your Recovery. Your Way. Liv is passionate about challenging limiting mentalities and empowering others to direct their own lives, health, and recovery. She found recovery in 2012 and her pathway is a fluid patchwork of what works for her. You can find her articles across the web on podcasts and publications, including Shondaland, STAT News, The Temper, Workit Health, The Fix, Ravishly, and Grok Nation. You can follow her @livsrecoverykitchen