Cooking is a basic skill for daily life and can provide many therapeutic benefits. These include stress relief, the ability to plan and organise, enhanced self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment.
Culinary therapy is now a form of therapeutic intervention at various mental health clinics. It is a form of treatment for a wide range of mental and behavioural health conditions, including depression, anxiety and ADHD. The goal of culinary therapy is to alleviate low mood and boost positive activity. It also increases goal-oriented behaviour. John Whaite, the winner of 2012’s “The Great British Bake Off” wrote a book that describes his history of depression and how he uses cooking to comfort himself.
Preparing food provides a great opportunity to practice mindfulness. For example, when preparing a vegetable, you can start by observing the colour of the skin, the touch, the smell. Then, when you cut the vegetable, notice the rhythmic chopping of the knife. This can help quieten the mind and focus on the task at hand. When you focus on the moment, your mind is still. It isn’t focusing on the past or future tasks you have to do. This stillness can help you appreciate the present moment. Finally, pay attention to the consistency and flavour of the piece of food.
Appreciating your food also helps you to focus on the small things in life. When you prepare a meal think about how that meal came to be. The seed and soil that grew the vegetables, the farmers who harvested them, the shops who stocked them and the probability that you bought that particular item of food.
Cooking provides a great opportunity to get creative. Feel free to adapt on recipes in books or online to include flavours, spices or different types of food you enjoy. When you create a recipe that you enjoy, it will give you a sense of achievement. If the dish turns out well, you will feel proud of your creation!
Eating is an innately rewarding experience. Therefore, cooking which leads to eating, has a powerful built in reward system. Additionally, cooking with a partner can increase communication and cooperation. Preparing and sharing food with others is therapeutic because it’s central to who we are as human beings. So go forth and cook!