food

Curing depression just got delicious.

Image: iStock

It’s easy to see why so many people are obsessed with baking and cooking.

Anyone who regularly whips up a batch of cupcakes will tell you there’s something therapeutic about following (or improvising) a recipe, preparing and combining ingredients, then eagerly awaiting the finished result while delicious aromas sneak out of the oven.

Frozen snacks that’ll keep you cool – without giving you a sugar high.

Of course, it also goes without saying that licking raw batter off a pair of beaters is one of life’s simplest, yet greatest joys. Same goes for sampling that first spoonful of a fresh bolognaise sauce you’ve had simmering on the stovetop for an hour.

As if these aren’t good enough reasons to get your Nigella on, it turns out baking and cooking can have a deeper effect on your frame of mind than just delivering an icing sugar-induced high.

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According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, health care clinics and counsellors in the States have started incorporating culinary classes into therapy for people with mental health problems like depression, anxiety and addiction. Often, these classes are undertaken in conjunction with more traditional forms of therapy, like medication or counselling.

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These therapists believe redirecting the mind to focus on following a recipe can alleviate stress and negative thoughts, and contributes to improved self-esteem. The WSJ reports:

“Psychologists say cooking and baking are pursuits that fit a type of therapy known as behavioural activation. The goal is to alleviate depression by boosting positive activity, increasing goal-oriented behaviour and curbing procrastination and passivity.”

It’s not only the cooking process that can ease negative thoughts – experts say the sense of reward and accomplishment that comes with making food, or seeing somebody else enjoying the dish that’s been created, can have a positive impact on wellbeing.

Sharing the experience of cooking and eating with other people also helps boost confidence and social skills in people who feel socially disconnected.

Imagine if we treated physical illness the same way we treat mental illness.

So… cake really is happiness? Excellent – that’s reason enough for us to dig out the cookbooks and pre-heat the oven.

However, it’s important to remember that cooking a healthy meal, and eating it in regular portion sizes, will deliver the same mental and emotional benefits as baking sweets – so save them for a rainy day treat.

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“A lot of times when people cook, they eat less high-calorie stuff, because they’re eating less fast food,” occupational therapist Cantana Brown tells the WSJ.

“It’s a huge issue, not only because of obesity, but because a lot of [depression] medications that people take tend to be associated with weight gain.”

So next time you find yourself in the company of negative thoughts, stress, loneliness or anxiety, invite some friends around and experiment with a new dinner recipe. Not only will it make your tastebuds happy, but it’ll do wonders for your heart and mind too.

Does making food bring you joy? What’s your favourite recipe?

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