Cooking Can Improve Your Mental Health

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This Curiosity article is sponsored by Home Chef

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Anyone who has ever experienced the pride of cooking the perfect beef bourguignon or the rush of pulling a beautiful pot pie out of the oven knows that cooking can be an effective pick-me-up. It inspires creativity, requires a meditative focus, and can be a great way to unwind after a long day. In fact, some therapists and other mental health professionals are using cooking as a way to tackle mental health disorders like anxiety and depression.

Cool As A Cucumber

Remember Julie & Julia? In the book-turned-film, author Julie Powell finds calm, inspiration, and eventually reinvention in her kitchen. But cooking as therapy is more than the stuff of movies. In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal, some healthcare clinics use cooking classes as part of a treatment plan for individuals suffering from mental health disorders including depression, substance abuse, and schizophrenia. It works as behavioral activation therapy, which can alleviate anxiety and other negative feelings "by boosting positive activity goal-oriented behavior, and curbing procrastination and passivity," the article explains. "If the activity is defined as personally rewarding or giving a sense of accomplishment or pleasure, or even seeing the pleasure of that pumpkin bread with chocolate chips making someone else happy, then it could improve a sense of well-being," said Jacqueline Gollan, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Related: The Price Gap Between Eating Out and Dining In Is Bigger Than Ever

But cooking's positive effects go beyond the clinic into regular kitchens, where it can even have an impact on someone having a crappy day. "Cooking is a great destresser because it serves as a creative outlet," stress-management expert Debbie Mandel told the New York Daily News. "And while stress can numb your senses, cooking activates them. It's a sensory experience with aroma, taste, touch, visual delight and even sizzling sound." Services like Home Chef, which deliver ingredients and recipes for cooking meals at home, make it easy for even the most time-strapped individuals to reap the therapeutic benefits of cooking.

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Introducing Culinary Therapy

When it comes to more serious mental health treatment, cooking classes that destress, build self-confidence, and generally quiet negative thinking are part of a larger plan that often includes talk therapy or medication. There hasn't been much scientific research on the therapeutic effects of cooking, though a 2016 study found that doing something creative like cooking each day can improve daily happiness.

Related: Cooking At Home Helps You Eat Healthier, Even When You Don't Cook At Home

But while there's more research to be done, some professionals have turned "culinary therapy" into a specialty. "CAT [culinary artistic therapy] combines emotional wellbeing with a very practical real need that we all have. We all need to eat. And certainly we are all better off if we know and not only feel comfortable in the kitchen, but if we can actually enjoy our food prep time and it makes us a better person," Juliana Ohana, a culinary therapist, told Munchies. "A huge piece of coping and managing anxiety and depression is living in the moment and being aware of that. Life and cooking is a balancing act of thinking a few steps ahead, but also focusing on what is in front of you in the exact moment." Pass the skillet, please.

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Watch And Learn: Our Favorite Videos About Cooking

Why Do We Cook?

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. Anthropologist Richard Wrangham believes that cooking food allowed humans to transition from primitive primates to complex humans. 00:59

  2. Around 1.8 million years ago, the first modern humans emerged, boasting larger brains and smaller jaws. 02:34

  3. Spending less time eating would have enabled our ancestors to spend time developing art, language, and tools. 04:34

Why Cooking Therapy Works

Cooking Made Us Human

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This Curiosity article is sponsored by Home Chef