It’s Time to Redefine “Comfort Food” in Recovery

salad bar


When most people think of comfort food they think of meatloaf and mashed potatoes. They envision stew, bread and butter and something slathered in syrup – like pancakes or sausages. Remember the orphans in a ragged line, asking for “more” in the musical Oliver? And the song, “Food, Glorious Food”? When women come to us at Sanford House, they are depleted. And although they don’t have faces smudged with dirt or sackcloth uniforms, there is an undernourished neediness that must be addressed in our kitchen.


Alcohol and other drugs cause a host of problems in the body. Not the least of which is nutrition. Alcohol impedes nutritional breakdown, stimulants suppress the appetite altogether and opiates cause stomach issues – especially during withdrawal.  Some drugs cause you to eat too much, others too little. A person who is suffering with addiction is unlikely to eat healthily or prepare a well balanced meal. The women at Sanford House often say they “used” to enjoy cooking… The munchies almost always include fatty foods or vending machine fare: those “treats” designed to boost dopamine levels.


salad bar 2


What is Comfort Food?

There is nothing like the blue plate special to get the saliva going, but one of the primary purposes of early recovery is relearning self-care. Redefining “comfort food” with fresh, whole, garden-to-table options and plenty of greens are what the doctor (and Sanford House’s chef Katie) recommends. Rich foods are okay every once in a while, like a creamed soup on a cold winter’s night, but off-the-vine fruits and vegetables and lean meats and fish are best for long term good health.


chef salad



When I was in my active addiction, I lived on sourdough pretzels, gas station candy and wine. Nutritious food took a backseat to alcohol and I didn’t have the inclination to cook or eat. Poor eating habits are a universal byproduct of substance use disorders (SUDs). Who thinks of making a salad when the next fix is top of mind?


When a person is new to recovery, they begin to experience hunger again. It’s great! But the same rules apply in recovery that work in basic, every day wellness. Choose healthy foods, moderate your intake and chew. One of life’s sober pleasures is learning to enjoy food again. Your body will thank you for it and your hair, eyes and nails will begin to shine with newfound vigor.


Sanford House’s Chef Katie says, “I like to create an environment where the women can relax, repair and talk about their interests over a meal. We’re a family. I set the table the way my mother taught me, using the ‘good china’, proper silverware and fresh flowers. I try to make food that is substantial, but not too heavy. We always have music playing and it makes the women feel special. I use herbs, fruits and veggies from my cutting garden. I love what I do!”





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Marilyn Spiller is a writer, sober coach, recovery advocate, and student of the world. (She also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Creative Writing). Seven years sober herself, she penned one of the first sobriety blogs, "Waking Up the Ghost" in 2013. The blog garnered an international following, allowing Marilyn to communicate with thousands of folks in all stages of recovery. Marilyn is Sanford's Director of Marketing and serves as Editor-In-Chief for the Sanford online magazine, "Excursions". She also developed and hosts the podcast Anatomy of Addiction.