Hands-on Nutrition for Addiction Recovery

Current Climate of Nutrition for Addiction Recovery

Addiction is a growing problem in the United States, and private sector addiction treatment continues to flourish. Substance use disorders (SUD) can lead to many adverse health effects including nutritional deficiencies, which can impact physical and mental health. Research shows that proper nutrition can have a positive effect on recovery outcomes, however it is not common practice for patients in substance abuse treatment to receive hands-on nutrition education and counseling. It is less common for addicts to receive supervised cooking classes or other hands-on nutrition for addiction recovery.

Hands-on Culinary Intervention

In our research project we implemented a hands-on culinary and nutrition intervention at Breathe Life Healing Centers in Los Angeles, California. This 12-week study consisted of 4 separate groups, each lasting 3 weeks, with a total of 15 participants. The information offered during this intervention was intended to provide individuals in early recovery with the skills and confidence they need to make healthy food choices, as they begin to make the transition to more independent stages of treatment. The intervention included a grocery store tour and weekly nutrition education classes followed by a hands-on culinary component.

Data revealed a significant increase in the participants’ enjoyment of cooking after completion of the cooking classes. When asked during the program evaluation what part of the program they liked best, Grocery Store Tour, Nutrition Education, or Hands-on Cooking, 13 of the 15 participants chose “Hands-on Cooking.” Confidence level related to food preparation skills, and a higher level of comfort in purchasing whole grain products, both significantly increased. This finding is in accordance with previous research that has found that interventions containing both a nutrition education component and a “hands-on” cooking element increased the participants’ cooking confidence and skill level (Wrieden et al., 2006). Research by Levy & Auld (2004) shows similar results, where participation in “hands-on” cooking classes led to improved attitudes, behaviors, and knowledge toward cooking and nutrition, compared to interventions in which participants observed a cooking demonstration or listened to a lecture.

Take-Home Message

Developing the skills and confidence to prepare healthful meals during SUD treatment is important for sustainable recovery. Proper nutrition can help the body heal from years of damage, as well as decrease risk of depression, anxiety, obesity, and other chronic diseases. Although the data analysis for this study found limited statistical significance in other areas, there was a positive trend found in the mean averages between the pre- and post-intervention data. Self-efficacy and positive attitudes about cooking, purchasing, and preparing healthy foods increased after the nutrition and “hands-on” culinary intervention. Future studies utilizing a larger, more diverse sample are definitely needed to increase awareness of the important role that nutrition plays in recovery from substance abuse (Moore, 2015).

Read the full article by Kristie Moore MS RDN and David Wiss MS RDN in the Behavioral Health Nutrition Winter 2016 Newsletter

Hands-on Nutrition

Kristie Moore MS RDN

Kristie Moore currently works with Nutrition in Recovery based in Los Angeles, CA. She specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, addiction, and weight management. Ms. Moore provides individual counseling, nutrition education, and consulting for a variety of substance abuse treatment centers in the greater Los Angeles area. As part of her Master’s thesis project Ms. Moore created a hand’s on nutrition and culinary intervention that was implemented in a Southern California drug and alcohol treatment center. She has authored various articles supporting her thesis that have appeared in online recovery publications.



Levy, J., and Auld, G. (2004). Cooking Classes Outperform Cooking Demonstrations for College Sophomores. J Nutr Educ Behav., 36, 1997–203.

Moore, K. (2015). Hands–on Cooking and Culinary Intervention within a Substance Abuse Treatment Center (Thesis Project).

Wrieden, W. L., Anderson, A. S., Longbottom, P. J., Valentine, K., Stead, M., Caraher, M., Lang, T., Gray, B., Dowler, E. (2007). The impact of a community-based food skills intervention on cooking confidence, food preparation methods and dietary choices – an exploratory trial. Public Health Nutrition, 10(2), 203–11. doi:10.1017/S1368980007246658

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About the author: David A. Wiss
David A. Wiss
David Wiss, MS, RDN is the founder of Nutrition in Recovery, which specializes in: Addictions, Eating Disorders, Mental Health, Body Image, and General Wellness. Mr. Wiss works closely with individuals to help them revolutionize their relationship with food and has shared his expertise with numerous eating disorder and addiction facilities throughout the greater Los Angeles area. David is a nationally recognized expert in nutrition for addiction and is currently working on his Ph.D. in Public Health from UCLA.