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Culinary Arts Therapy: Use Cooking As A Form Of Therapy 

Culinary Arts Therapy: Use Cooking As A Form Of Therapy

Cooking … some love it, some dread it. Some can seemingly whip up a three-course meal with their eyes closed; others claim they don’t know how to boil water. Whatever your experience with cooking, those who do cook know that it can be a therapeutic form of self-expression. In middle school and high school, my time in the kitchen was my frequent stress reliever. Chopping vegetables, experimenting with spices, and even formulating my own recipes, helped remove me from the academic bubble that I often trapped myself in.

After cooking dinner or making freshly baked goods, I was not only nourished physically but mentally refreshed and ready to return to my studies. Despite the wonders cooking and baking did for me, I never truly thought of it as a form of therapy until I did some research and subsequently found out that Culinary Arts Therapy (CAT) is a relatively novel form of therapy used by professionals to help their patients.

Diet and Mental Health

There is a growing body of literature strongly suggesting that diet plays a significant role in mental wellness. According to the Mental Health Foundation, about 2/3 of people without mental health problems report eating fresh fruits and vegetables, while those who report mental health problems report eating more unhealthy foods (take-out, processed foods, etc). Another article summarizes three nutritional studies that found: 1) Diet may contribute to depression rates, 2) Children and teens who consume more fast foods and sugary foods are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, 3) Of 67 depressed adults who were given private nutritional consulting sessions, 30% achieved remission, compared to 8% in the group that did not receive nutritional consulting.

The research clearly indicates that a healthy, well-balanced diet is not solely important for physical health, but imperative for mental health as well. As such, it makes sense to use food and cooking as a form of therapy while improving dietary routines.

Culinary Arts Therapy

Culinary Arts Therapy is the official term for therapy used by some healthcare clinics and healthcare professionals to treat certain groups of people. Julie Ohana, a culinary therapist in Michigan, explains CAT in this interview. To her, this therapy is an effective alternative to traditional cognitive therapy, where people identify their problems and potential solutions. Cooking in the kitchen is a more creative, less talkative outlet that allows people to forget their daily stressors and focus on living in the moment. The therapy also makes sense because it incorporates food, something we all need, and emotional well-being.

Clients can improve their mental wellness while learning a nutritious recipe and gaining very important practical skills in the kitchen. In the past, CAT has been used to treat people with anxiety, depression, ADHD, eating disorders, and other conditions. As Ohana says, cooking is especially useful for treating depression and anxiety because it teaches us how to focus on the moment. A large part of managing depression and anxiety is learning how to live in the moment.

Cooking with a partner or in a group may also improve social skills and build communication skills. Learning to share a kitchen and prepare a meal together requires trust and teamwork. Preparing dinner with my sibling in the kitchen has definitely shown us both how to communicate, trust each other, and divide the workload. Some of my best memories with him are also made in the kitchen, from having incredibly off-key sing-offs to wild dance parties.

Cooking For Beginners

Though there are professional therapists and clinicians that hold CAT sessions, I believe anyone can reap the benefits of cooking from the comforts of their own home (I certainly did, without knowing it!). Cooking definitely is not for everyone, and if you have a strong aversion to the kitchen that is completely fine 🙂 If, however, you do want to try cooking or baking as a stress reliever, there are definitely some tips and tricks to make it easier for you:

  • Start small. It’s good to be ambitious, but you want your first recipe to be something you feel comfortable making. Cooking, like much else, requires practice, and if you master the basics, then you’ll have an easier time with the trickier recipes.
  • Take your time. When you cook, you should be relaxing, not working as a line cook in a busy, chaotic restaurant. Don’t let anyone rush you; set aside a block of time to cook, turn on some music, and just have fun! It’s nice when your food turns out delicious, but it’s more important that you keep an open mind
  • Preparation is key! This is an important one that I learned the hard way. Before you start the actual searing, grilling, sauteing, or broiling, always have your ingredients washed/chopped/seasoned and ready to go. Keeping everything within reach saves a lot of time.

Above all, remember that cooking is meant to relax you and relieve some of your stress. Happy cooking!

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