Nearly 58 million Americans suffer from depression, anxiety or some form of mental health issue. Nearly 50 million of these people have turned to pharmaceutical drugs, with potentially dangerous side-effects.
You’ve probably seen research that exercise, sunlight and a healthy gut-friendly diet can help alleviate the symptoms of depression. Research also shows that the key to a brighter and more stable mood might be as easy as stepping into your kitchen to whip up a delicious meal or bake a fresh batch of cookies (low sugar and grain-free please – we recommend Wellness Bakeries).
Sound like a pie in the sky idea? It’s not. In fact, a number of mental health care clinics across the country use cooking and baking as therapeutic tools for people who suffer from depression and other mental health problems. And these clinics are seeing great results.
But you don’t need clinical studies or reams of research to know this is true. Instinctively, you know that you enjoy a sense of purpose and accomplishment when you tackle a new recipe or bring a beautiful culinary creation to the table.
Cooking & Baking: Food for the Body, Medicine for the Soul
Psychologists say that culinary activities fit into a type of therapy called “behavioral activation”.
In this form of therapy, the goal is to alleviate a low mood by increasing positive activity and goal-oriented behavior… while curbing passivity and procrastination.
When the mind is focused on following a recipe, negative thinking is curbed. Self-esteem is enhanced as the students chop, blend and sizzle their way to the end goal – a completed dish.
Jacqueline Gollan, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, says:
“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.”
One study published in the British Journal of Occupational Therapy found that baking classes increased concentration, and provided a sense of achievement for patients being treated in inpatient mental health clinics.
And if you have kids at home or grandchildren who visit, including them in culinary activities can set them up for a healthy future, too.
The Kitchen: The Foundation for Lifelong Physical and Mental Health
Recent research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that childhood obesity begins with fewer parents spending time cooking with their kids.
Derek Hersch, lead author of the CDC study and collaborator on the Food Explorers cooking education program at the Minnesota Heart Institute Foundation says:
"It is important to expose children to healthy foods in a positive way. Creating habits and behaviors at this age is the most important part of it."
Hersch found that children ages 5-12 who were enrolled in cooking education programs experienced numerous healthy benefits, including:
• Increased consumption of fruits, vegetables and dietary fiber
• Boost in confidence in food preparation
• A willingness to try new foods
But you don’t need to enroll your kids or grandkids in an expensive cooking program to get the same benefits. In fact, Hersch says that kids can reap even more benefits by cooking in their own home, where they are comfortable.
What’s more, home-cooked meals generally contain more nutrients and fewer calories than those consumed outside the home.
Home Cooking: Missing Ingredient in the Recipe for Health & Joy
Virginia Woolf said it best when she said: “One cannot think well, love well or sleep well if one has not dined well.”
And what better way to dine than with fresh, whole foods, prepared simply in your own home with the people you love.
Not only will you provide your body and your family with more health-promoting nutrients that foster physical health… you’ll also enjoy a greater sense of accomplishment, well-being and purpose that will give your mental health a boost as well!
Kelley Herring is the co-founder of Wellness Bakeries, makers of grain-free, gluten-free, and low-glycemic baking mixes for cakes, cookies, breads, pizza and much more.
- Mental Illness Statistics. The Kim Foundation.
- Citizens Commission on Human Rights - https://www.cchrint.org/2012/07/18/with-49-million-americans-on-psychiatric-drugs-renowned-psychiatrist-issues-call-for-psychiatric-drug-withdrawal/
- Hersch D. Perdue, L., Ambroz, T., et al. The Impact of Cooking Classes on Food-Related Preferences, Attitudes, and Behaviors of School-Aged Children. A systematic Review of the Evidence, 2003-2014. Preventing Chronic Disease: Public Health Research, Practice and Policy, 2014.
- The Road to Mental Health Through the Kitchen. Wall Street Journal. Dec 9 2014.