Recipe for Recovery

Recipe for Recovery

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Nourishing body and spirit plays a key role in reclaiming a healthy, sober life.

Ashley Lunt didn’t realize it at the time, but she was starving.

Lunt admits that until she entered STEP2, a Reno-based program that treats women with substance abuse disorders, she never understood just how painfully undernourished she was — both physically and emotionally. She credits the lessons she learned in the days that followed with saving her life and giving her and her children a healthy, positive future.

Lunt arrived at STEP2’s doorstep five years ago. Drug and alcohol addictions had dominated her life and left her at the mercy of the judicial system. At that point, she had sacrificed her health, her freedom, and even custody of her children at the altar of addiction. Upon entering STEP2’s clean and sober program, she lost access to addictive substances as well. She felt like she was starving on so many levels, she says.

“All I wanted to do was eat, as much and as often as I could,” Lunt recalls. “You look for comfort in food because it’s all you have left. I felt like there was a hole inside of me that I needed to fill.”

The important role of food and nutrition in helping people stabilize their bodies and lives often is overlooked by most of us when we think of substance abuse recovery. The adept professionals at STEP2 understand both the symbolic and physical need and address it right from the start.

Interior of the Redfield Residence at STEP2


Eating Clean

The recovery journey for women in STEP2’s residential program begins with a prescribed nutritional protocol founded upon evidence-based practices.

According to Mari Hutchinson, STEP2’s chief executive officer, the hallmark, abstinence-based program excludes the use of all addictive and stimulant substances during detox, including nicotine and caffeine. Candy and sugar are likewise restricted, except those naturally occurring in foods. Portion size also is closely monitored.

“We recognize that people can swap addiction for addiction,” Hutchinson says, “so we’re cognizant of keeping them in the healthy range of calories.”

Lunt confirms that these rigors are difficult at first. But her success, and that of many other women who have achieved long-term sobriety, attest to its effectiveness.

In its 35 years, STEP2 has treated more than 4,500 women, averaging about 200 per year. Most are in residential treatment for three to four months, living in the 20-bed dormitory facility and participating in 30 hours of clinical services each week. Those holistic and comprehensive services include intensive personal and group counseling, as well as basic life skills, including nutrition and meal preparation.

“Most of our women have never had the experience of eating regular family meals, learning to cook, or even how to read a recipe,” Hutchinson says. “They know nothing of balancing proteins with carbs. They think, ‘Well, I had Frosted Flakes for dinner my whole life; my kids can, too.’ So we’re really working on the nutrition piece. It’s a big part of our program.”

And it’s a hands-on process. The women, in rotating teams of three and assisted by an on-staff nutritional advocate, prepare meals for all 20 residents, from menus preapproved by a registered dietitian. They learn to do it all — selecting the menu, shopping for groceries, prepping and cooking dinner, and packing up lunches for residents to eat the next day. Each resident cooks her own breakfast, but dinners always are communal.

Lunt, an alumnus of STEP2, checks the fresh produce used to prepare healthy meals at the facility


Creating Connections

The Empowerment Center, another residential rehabilitation facility, has been serving women with substance abuse disorders for more than 16 years. The center houses 36 women at a time in an ingeniously repurposed ’50s era motel in the heart of Reno.

While it uses a different treatment model than STEP2, its comprehensive four-month program similarly focuses on personal healing and life skills, including nutrition. Its food plan, however, is less restrictive, as it allows caffeine and sugar. Nicotine use is permitted outside of the residence.

Women here work in teams of three to shop, prep, and cook meals for the communal dinner for all residents, with the assistance of a house manager. Executive director Roxanne DeCarlo touts the many benefits that residents gain from the process.

“They are learning skills they will take with them for the rest of their lives,” DeCarlo says. “And there’s so much socializing and mentoring going on here. Food prep and eating together suddenly become an enjoyable social event to be savored and appreciated.”

Both programs also maintain gardens for the residents to tend during the warmer months. It’s a popular activity that enhances knowledge, skills, and the menus at both facilities.

“When you throw in the growing and harvesting piece, that farm-to-table aspect, so to speak, it’s really empowering for them,” De Carlo adds.


Changing Perspectives

Both Hutchinson and DeCarlo report an interesting observation. They’ve seen that, after months of eating the well-balanced, nutritious meals served at their respective facilities, residents’ first trips out usually involve indulging in fast food. Then they come back and relate how awful it made them feel. That realization seems to have a great impact on the women, the directors said.

For some, nutrition education has an even greater life-changing effect. Ashley Lunt took it upon herself to enroll in a nutrition coaching program at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and subsequently started her own coaching business, teaching others how to eat healthfully.

Lunt credits her experience at STEP2 as well as the nutrition coaching program with teaching her that we all have various kinds of holes that cannot be filled with food or drugs or alcohol.

“I learned that there’s primary food and secondary food,” Lunt says. “Primary food is not [literal] food; it’s all the other stuff — your mental health, your relationships, your spirituality, your job.”

That expanded realization led her to the University of Nevada, Reno, where she soon will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in social work.

“I want to work with women in recovery,” Lunt says, “people who are walking in the same shoes I did.”

Barbara Twitchell felt privileged to be able to write this story — a tale of hope and courage and dedication. She is thankful for the openness and honesty that was shared by all, in an effort to illustrate the importance of nourishing body and spirit when dealing with life’s challenges.



If you would like details about these programs, have questions, and/or seek self-referrals for help dealing with substance abuse issues, all are encouraged and welcomed. Monetary donations, as well as supplies, also are gratefully accepted.

775-787-9411 •

The Empowerment Center
775-853-5441 •

Reno writer Barbara Twitchell employs reusable bags every time she shops. After researching this story and reading Harris’ book, she has discovered many more plastic-free practices she is excited to adopt!


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Discover new products, thriving traditions, or exciting food events, festivals, restaurants, and markets – all of the things that are helping to make us a true culinary destination.