5 Ways Cooking Can Boost Your Mental Health
Cooking is an enriching, full sensory experience. The repetitive motion of slicing and dicing, the exciting sound of popcorn popping or roast potatoes crackling, the aromas which fill the room are just so satisfying.
But, can cooking actually help improve your mental health?
In short, yes. The act of cooking is now used as a form of therapy. It goes by a few professional names—therapeutic cooking, culinary therapy, and culinary mindfulness—all of which embody the same belief: cooking can benefit your mental health.
In a story for Psychology Today, Linda Wasmer Andrews, who holds a master’s degree in psychology, reports that culinary therapy is now being prescribed to patients to treat a variety of mental health conditions and behavioural disorders such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, ADHD and addiction.
“Cooking at home, or other places are good for your mental health because cooking is an act of patience, mindfulness, an outlet for creative expression, a means of communication, and helps to raise one’s self esteem as the cook can feel good about doing something positive for their family, themselves or loved ones,” says Julie Ohana LMSW and founder of Culinary Art Therapy in West Bloomfield, Michigan
Here Are 5 Ways (& tips) Cooking Can Boost Your Mental Health:
1. Patience is a virtue
In the immediacy of the digital age, our patience is continually tested, which is why the simple act of cooking can bring so many benefits to us all.
Dr. Judith Orloff, psychiatrist and New York Times bestselling author, wrote in Psychology Today: “Patience doesn’t mean passivity or resignation, but power. It’s an emotionally freeing practice of waiting, watching, and knowing when to act.”
Cooking at home requires patience across multiple steps. It means taking the time to prep vegetables, sauteing the onion or waiting for cookies to cool before taking the first bite....and we know the wait is worth it!
Tip: Make a slow cooked dinner this coming weekend. Spend the day lingering over the recipe and reap the benefits once served.
2. Accomplishment & raising self esteem
Cooking and baking meet the criteria of a type of a specific therapy known as ‘behavioural activation’, which are activities that alleviate depression by increasing goal-oriented behaviour and reducing procrastination.
When you cook, you’re setting an achievable goal for yourself. Behavioural activation is a focus on increasing “the patient’s contact with sources of reward,” according to the Society of Clinical Psychology.
Cooking can help people focus on a task, which can give them a sense of power and control that they might not naturally have on their own in their daily lives outside the kitchen.
Tip: Find a recipe for something you've always wanted to make but haven't tried yet - example baking your own bread? Feel the sense of accomplishment once you've made it!
3. Creative Outlet
Cooking can even be a creative outlet for some people (it certainly is for me). The mixing of flavours, foods and textures to achieve something new is exciting.
A 2016 study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that people who engage in creative pursuits — writing, doodling, singing, cooking — appear to feel more relaxed and lead happier lives.
Cooking at home gives you the opportunity to experiment in the kitchen and discover how each ingredient plays a role in the dish. Even if you’re following a recipe, try swapping ingredients. Most recipes are just a guide so feel free to play.
Tip: Get extra creative in the kitchen by making home pizzas, build a poke bowl or decorate a cake!
While cooking for yourself can offer plenty of soothing and potentially delicious perks, when you cook for other people there's an added benefit. Namely, cooking for others connects you to your community and helps you feel like you're providing a useful service. While any form of altruism can make people feel happy and connected to others, cooking for others helps people fulfill needs and that is important. Culinary arts therapist Michal AviShai told Huffington Post that "giving to others fills us in so many ways. And even more so when it's cooking because feeding fulfills a survival need, and so our feeling of fulfillment comes not only from the good of the act of giving, but also the fact that we have 'helped' in some very primal way."
Tip: Put a date in the diary and invite your family and/or friends around for that overdue catch up over a meal you've prepared!
5. Baking and Cooking as Meditation
When you're cooking, you must be constantly focused, prepping ingredients, stirring the roux (or whatever you're cooking), adjusting the seasoning, and monitoring the cooking process—all of which can be helpful techniques in keeping your mind off of things it's better not to focus on. It's a bit like meditation, but with tastier output, and can be very useful in treating some forms of mental illness, The Guardian reported. In short, it's the ultimate in self-care—calming, mindful, creative, keeping you from dwelling on things, and with cookies or pot roast at the end of it all.
Tip: If regular meditation isn't your thing, then cooking can be your saviour. Regular cooking can be great for calming your mind, even it's just quick mid week meal at the end of a hectic day.
Remember, cooking doesn't need to be perfect. It doesn't have to be extravagant. Experiment if you like, but most of all just have fun with it.