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Cookery and Baking

When you are having a bad day, science says you should not automatically collapse on the couch, it might be a better idea to break out the recipe books.

The emotional benefits of cooking are myriad: many programs around the world help people with mood disorders and other issues get into the kitchen as part of their treatment, a practice known as “therapeutic cooking.” And it is something you can replicate in your own home with a bit of effort and an ingredient or two.

Cookery helps mental health in that it can be a creative outlet. It is a way to channel energy, can be used as a distraction, help build mastery in a skill and a way to express emotions through a different medium.

Of course, like exercise, just because cooking can be helpful for mental health does not make it easier to accomplish. Certain mood disorders such as depression can lower your energy levels and appetite, making it more difficult to convince yourself to cook. But studies have shown that for many people, mental health benefits ensue when the oven gloves come out, even if the result is something simple. The effects are particularly enhanced if you are cooking not just for yourself, but for others too.

If you think this could be helpful for you but are not sure where to start, do not expect to be dizzyingly brilliant in the kitchen at your first attempt. The skill of cooking takes practice and all professionals and good home cooks have had years of stove time to refine their technique.

Get a beginner’s cookbook and start small.


Cooking gives you a reward at the end

Cooking and baking present two different aspects for mental health: the activity and the result. Both have benefits. Psychologists tell us the reason that therapeutic cookery courses work so well is because participants get something tangible for their efforts. It is called “behavioural activation” which means finding meaning in the things you do rather than just drifting through them. The benefit of the process of cooking is partially the fact that it results in tasty food – a good “reward” for doing a task and a demonstration that your actions have resulted in something real.


The creativity makes you feel good

Easy recipes in particular, seem to carry strong mental health benefits because the process does not create anxiety, but it does encourage focus and according to a study it also boosts creativity and happiness. The study noted that when people did small meaningful, calming things, like cooking over the course of their daily lives, they felt happier overall. The creativity involved in cooking meant that people felt more grounded and capable.


It improves your quality of life

Cooking is self-care at its most basic and nourishing. It is alchemy – you take ingredients and transform them into something delicious that feeds body and spirit and this gets us in touch with our physical selves. Nourishing our bodies with food is one of the most fundamental ways that our outer world (what we can see, touch and taste) communicates with our inner world (our physical body). This is backed up by science. A study in 2018 wanted to look at all the science that has ever been done on specific cooking therapy for patients and communities and it found some interesting conclusions. Therapeutic cookery, the scientists noted, yielded positive influences on socialization, self-esteem, quality of life and affect. Being around others in cookery programs and classes was a big help for the participants when it came to feeling comfortable in groups, while they themselves felt more capable overall after a bit of time cooking.


Cooking gets you into the flow.

Feel like cooking gets you into a calmer state? You’re not alone “Cooking can feel like a meditation practice. Many participants describe cooking as “being in the zone” a feeling in which they lose track of time and just focus on the task at hand. For someone who battles negative thoughts, worries and is constantly bombarded with doubt, fear, shame cooking can be a healthy outlet to bring peace and serenity into their headspace. This can carry into your physical body too. The practice of cooking not only eases the mind but also relaxes your body. It helps you get into the flow of the activity and eases the tension that can show up in our bodies when we feel anxious or depressed.


The altruism of cooking for others is good for you.

Aside from the process of cooking and the delicious end result, there is another aspect of making food that’s beneficial to mental health: doing it for others.

Altruistic cooking, research has shown has a strong part in many cultures as a way to bond with others. You cook to show you care in a time of crisis, to celebrate, to entertain or just to nourish. Those social bonds in the kitchen are beneficial.

Cooking can be a doorway to connection. Food brings people together, there is no question about this. For someone who struggles with social contact, the act of sharing one’s creation of a home cooked meal can be really powerful.

Positive feedback and just seeing someone else. Appreciate and value your creation (the meal) has major implications for rebuilding one’s sense of worth and value. Whipping up treats in the kitchen can do more than just create yummy food according to a growing range of sources in both the culinary and mental health worlds. In fact, baking has been found to have therapeutic value which helps to ease depression and anxiety. And seeing that one in four people will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives, this wholesome therapy is good for the whole family. But watch the sugar. How about making healthy versions of your favourite treats.


Cooking is meditative

Any activity which takes your whole attention- especially if it is simple and repetitive – can have a calming, meditative quality. The process of weighing out butter and sugar, whisking eggs, beating and folding creates space in the mind and eases negative thinking processes.


Baking stimulates the senses

The feel of the flour, the sound of the blender and of course the smell of the delectable final product. All these experiences stimulate the senses, which in turn increases feel-good endorphins.


Nourishing Activities Feel Good

Baking and any sort of cooking or food preparation is ultimately about nourishing ourselves and others. To internalize this benefit, make an effort to bring your whole awareness to the healthy ingredients and love that go into your baked goodies.


Baking is creative

Psychologists have found a strong connection between creative expression and overall wellbeing – so experiment with that recipe if you dare and make that frosting the prettiest it can be.


Make other people happy

One of the best things about baking is that you can give away your creations and make other people feel happy – which in turn puts a smile on your dial. It is a win-win.

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