Friday, May 7, 2010

Cooking Therapy

Many people claim that cooking is a de-stressing activity. It is certainly a great activity for mindfulness with all of the sensory information (kneading dough, smell of cinnamon, steam and heat, colours…)

And cooking does have many therapeutic values.

Physically, it requires motor coordination, range of movement, and muscle strength in the arms, hands, and everywhere else (from standing). The physical sensory information during cooking is also important (for safety, testing doneness…)

Cooking is often viewed as an art form as much as a science. The cognitive processes of problem solving (what can I substitute for milk?) and puzzle solving (following steps) can aid with memory and attention. Furthermore, the process of cooking involves structured planning (buying groceries) and time management skills. When mistakes are made, improvisation and flexibility of the mind are brought into play. The complexity of a recipe and individual experimentation can further enhance these skills, as well as add new spices to the cupboard.

As to why people regard cooking as de-stressing, cooking can increase self-esteem, competence, pride, and perceptions of abilities. A sense of humour and light-heartedness about one’s own limitations may occur when a mistake is made or things just don’t quite turn out to be edible.

Cooking can provide the opportunity increase social relationships. One can join a cooking class or a community cooking group. In both, or even if cooking solo, the product can be shared with others at dinner parties, potlucks, bake sales, and gifts further expanding the network.

On an intimate note cooking can provide comfort (especially in the winter when a warm oven is running). It can add a romantic quality to relationships that one desires to be romantic. A particular recipe can get one in touch with their domestic roots. It can also be a time of reminiscence, perhaps an old recipe your grandmother used to make or her handwriting on a recipe card.

A daily routine connect you to your home, life, family, and vitality by allowing you to nurture yourself and others.

Cooking can raise awareness about nutrition and this information can be used when ordering in restaurants.

Without going too much into eating disorders, cooking provides a necessary framework and indeed most hospitals have a cooking group as part of treatment.

A person with an eating disorder may already be adept at cooking as it is not unusual for such people to collect recipes and cook frequently, though without eating the product themselves.

Cooking groups in treating eating disorders offer the same benefits as above, but in addition they can decrease anxieties associated with food. Cooking in treatment programs is still social, but it also redefines and explores relationships and their context with food. There may be special activities such as mother/daughter cooking classes or role playing in the kitchen.

An interesting study done this year examining the effect of cooking shows on students eating habits:

“A television show on nutrition and cooking may be influential in changing students' knowledge, but it seems to have little impact on dietary behaviors. With a recent increase in popularity of cooking shows, future research should investigate the impact an extended cooking and nutrition show series might have on young adult viewers.”

Oh, and also cooking can be fun; that’s just what I’ve heard.

References (because I needed them): 1