We all know that eating certain foods can help us physically and emotionally, but what about the act of cooking itself ? Claire Munnings talks to those who have found solace…
If you’ve ever stood at your kitchen counter and kneaded dough as a way to release tension or found comfort in the steady ‘chop, chop, chop’ of your knife as you dice vegetables, you’ll know how therapeutic cooking can be.
And now it seems an increasing number of us are viewing our kitchens as safe and meditative spaces where we can work on our physical and mental wellbeing. It’s no exaggeration to say the past few months of lockdown have seen more banana breads and sourdough loaves emerge from our ovens than ever before and there’s good reason.
Culinary therapy is a steadily emerging trend and research has backed up its benefits – in fact a study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology found those who regularly engaged in small creative projects, such as cooking or baking, reported feeling happier. For Michael Kocet, a professor at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, it’s an area of growing interest. He developed one of the first graduate courses in the field, and has seen the self-development opportunities it offers first-hand.
“I define culinary therapy as the therapeutic technique which uses cooking, gastronomy and an individual’s personal, cultural and familial relationship with food to address various emotional and psychological problems,” he explains. And, its benefits are multifold, according to Michael. There’s the gratification in creating something new, the opportunity to step out of your comfort zone with a challenging recipe, the comforting link between food and memories, the calmness that can be created by the rhythm of cooking, and the sense of control that can be gained from organising your ingredients.
Bre Graham, an Australian writer and editor who lives in London, credits food and cooking as the things that helped her heal after a traumatic event changed her life.
“Cooking was always a refuge for me during tough times but after I was sexually assaulted a few years ago it became something that anchored me to the parts of myself I felt that I’d lost,” she explains. “Trauma is powerful and can quickly disconnect you from your own feelings, but cooking was one of the main ways that I could start processing how to live with what had happened to me.”
Bre, who is currently working on her first book about how food can change the way we feel and bring us more than just a meal, describes how having other things to concentrate on gave her purpose and meaning, and allowed her to process her emotions when she felt ready.
“Taking the time to plan a three-course dinner or an elaborate sandwich for lunch on a mundane Monday were easy ways to pull focus from otherwise painful and intrusive thoughts,” she says.
Gemma Ogston, the founder of Gem’s Wholesome Kitchen and author of The Self-Care Cookbook (gemswholesomekitchen.com), says she also benefited from the sense of control cooking gave her when she experienced multiple miscarriages.
“When we were going through our journey of experiencing miscarriages (of which I had five in total), my anxiety and low mood peaked. This is when I started my journey into plant-based wholefoods,” she explains. “I began changing my diet slowly by cutting out refined foods and eating less meat and I could see how this impacted my mood as my anxiety levels dropped. It felt good as I could finally be in some sort of control of how I was feeling and this really helped me cope with the trauma.” A multi-layered approach
Making the conscious decision to cook with certain foods can not only help us feel like we are taking meaningful action in our own lives, but create real changes in our body.
Lee Holmes understands the power of this. The author of Supercharge Your Life (superchargedfood.com), was diagnosed with a non-specific autoimmune disease and fibromyalgia about 10 years ago and found changing her diet transformed both her health and emotional state
“I turned to food to see whether I could use it as a healing instrument in my life,’ she explains. “I went back to basics and started to really enjoy the process of using my intuition to create a dish. And as my gut health improved so did my emotions.”
“Cooking is therapeutic because you are using your hands and your senses, and you are there in the moment,” Lee says. “I’ve come to realise that food that’s selected and enjoyed with genuine love will bless the body more than many of us really know.”
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