Cooking is a physical activity that uses small movements of the hands and fingers to make food. It can help burn calories and keep the heart healthier.
Psychologists often recommend cooking as part of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT helps people identify and change unhealthy thinking and behaviors. Cooking also boosts creativity and happiness, according to research from Haley and McKay (2004).
Cooking requires a combination of physical movements, including chopping, slicing, and mixing. This activity also stimulates the brain and boosts memory. Moreover, it promotes good posture and movement in the back and hips. It also builds shoulder and wrist strength. Cooking and baking can help you feel more grounded, even if it is just for a short time. This is because it helps you focus on the present moment and distracts you from thoughts that may be stressful.
Baking in particular, can be therapeutic for those with depression and anxiety. It may help them control their moods by regulating serotonin levels. It also allows individuals to express themselves creatively, allowing them to make a special treat that may bring up fond memories or feelings of belonging. It also gives them a sense of achievement and self-worth.
Culinary therapy, which includes cooking, is becoming increasingly popular in mental health clinics. Therapists often use it to help their clients with various mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety.
In addition to its psychological benefits, cooking can also improve your diet. One study found that a seven-week cooking intervention improved participants’ food satisfaction, dietary intake, and cooking confidence. Additionally, participants’ diets tended to be healthier, which is important for improving overall health. However, more research is needed to understand how cooking can influence psychosocial outcomes.
As much as it’s about mixing, stirring and (patiently) waiting for the food to bake, cooking and baking also has mental health benefits. It’s a mood-boosting activity because it forces you to focus on something else and can distract your thoughts from other problems or worries. Plus, it’s rewarding to complete a recipe and see the results of your work.
In addition, cooking and baking requires mindfulness — you must be fully engaged in the task at hand to get it right, so it can help relieve stress and reduce negative thoughts. In fact, many people who struggle with depression use baking to help stabilize their moods by concentrating on small tasks and feeling satisfied when they are finished.
Cooking and baking also foster connection with others — especially if you work as part of a group, such as a therapeutic cooking class. Studies have shown that group cooking has psychosocial benefits similar to those of other experience-based activities in therapeutic settings.
According to a study published in 2021 in Frontiers in Psychology, participants in a seven-week cooking program reported increased mental and general health while also improving their kitchen skills and enjoyment. If these positive psychosocial outcomes are replicated, it could encourage broader cooking interventions designed to improve nutritional outcomes in at-risk populations. For example, it could help make healthy cooking more accessible to individuals experiencing food-access challenges.
Cooking is an opportunity to exercise creativity and explore new ingredients, flavors and scents. It also offers a chance to practice mindfulness and learn about food and nutrition. This helps to reduce stress, anxiety and depression. In fact, a recent study found that people who regularly cook and bake are less likely to experience depression and other mental health symptoms than those who don’t.
It is also a great way to connect with family and friends, especially when cooking together. It can help improve communication skills and mitigate feelings of isolation and loneliness. For example, a family that regularly prepares traditional meals from one of their country’s cuisine can offer members a shared experience while strengthening their bond.
The act of cooking is also a form of self-expression and can boost confidence levels, according to researchers. In a recent study, participants who participated in a seven-week cooking program experienced higher satisfaction and enjoyment in the kitchen compared to those who didn’t participate in the program. Moreover, those who participated in the program had higher levels of confidence and self-efficacy.
The benefits of cooking and baking are numerous and can be used in many different ways to help individuals with mental illness. As more research emerges on the positive psychosocial outcomes associated with cooking and baking, it may encourage an increase in the frequency and usage of these therapeutic activities among at-risk populations.
If you’re a person who finds it hard to connect with people socially, cooking can help. Baking is a great way to get in the mood for sharing, and it requires a lot of concentration and coordination, which builds self-efficacy. And you’ll always have a finished product to show for it, which gives you a sense of accomplishment. “It’s a way of satisfying one of your basic needs, and it can be an incredible source of pride,” says Rees.
Cooking can also be a form of meditation, and it allows you to achieve a state of flow—where all of your senses are heightened and you’re completely focused on what you’re doing. This helps reduce stress, anxiety, and the kind of future-based thinking that can lead to depression.
Finally, the socialization that comes with cooking can also be a powerful therapeutic tool. In fact, research shows that it has similar benefits to group therapy. “Group interaction has been used as a therapeutic modality in psychotherapy for over 100 years and it may account for some of the positive psychosocial outcomes reported in cooking interventions,” says one study.
While the evidence is promising, more research with large sample sizes and stronger methods will be needed to fully understand the effects of cooking on mental health. However, if researchers can prove that cooking does improve psychological outcomes, it could encourage more people to take up the hobby and even promote healthier eating habits.