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Cooking and Baking as a Treatment for Depression?

Cooking and Baking as a Treatment for Depression?

I can’t be the only one who spends a lot of time over the oven when I’m stressed or depressed — there’s something about the routine of measuring out ingredients, working with batter or dough, molding it into something great, and waiting as it bakes that’s very soothing. It turns out that my love for baking might be more than just a sweet tooth: it could be an instinctual knowledge of the benefits of cooking therapy.

A psychiatrist working in London, Mark Salter, suggests that cooking and baking activities could be therapeutic for patients with depression. They can stimulate cognition, get people working on memory tasks and allow patients to connect with a feeling of nurturing and protection. I’d argue that cooking and baking have another benefit: the possibility of sharing, and the enrichment of interpersonal relationships that occurs as a result.

His claims are supported by some counselors, therapists and mental health treatment centers which use cooking therapy as a tool for their patients. In addition to helping people learn skills for independence and self-care by teaching them how to cook wholesome, balanced meals, cooking can also help patients get more active, grounded and connected with their environment. And evidently the focus on tasks can be beneficial for a brain in turmoil.

Other researchers have issued the inevitable buzzkill for those of us with mental health conditions who want a good excuse to waltz into the kitchen and whip up some cupcakes. The field of psychology and psychiatry has long been aware that routines, repetitive tasks and non-stressful structured environments can help patients feel better. Numerous therapies in fact rely on just that, including art therapy, music therapy and other approaches to helping mental health patients work through psychiatric crises, express themselves and develop coping skills.

So cooking might not be the only choice for patients who need a way to find more balance in their lives through a routine and comforting task. But it’s certainly an option, and it’s one with a lot of interesting potential. One common issue for mental health patients is trouble eating well, especially on medications associated with appetite loss or gain. Enrolling in a cooking therapy program could help a patient rebalance her diet and learn some tips and tricks for feeding herself well, like freezing healthy meals, prepping vegetables when she has more energy and keeping certain danger foods out of the house.

Sometimes, you really do just need to make a batch of cookies or bake a pie, so you might as well learn how to do it well, have fun doing it and expand your recipe repertoire in the process. While some therapists caution that cooking therapy could lead patients down a dangerous path (too may sugars and an imbalanced diet can come with their own health problems, including psychiatric ones), there’s no reason patients can’t share the bounty of what they’re cooking, join cooking clubs and find other ways to turn cooking into socialization. Given the isolating effects of many mental health conditions, an excuse for getting out and about could be just what the doctor ordered.

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Photo credit: Frédéric BISSON.

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89 comments

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4:37AM PDT on Apr 25, 2014

The information you have given in the blog really marvelous and more interesting. panic away

11:22AM PDT on Oct 23, 2013

Baking has so many valuable aspects to it. It takes concentration; there's a definite process to follow; there's a start and an end to the creative process; it produces tangible results AND you can share the results with people to make them happy too!

5:09AM PDT on Sep 24, 2013

I enjoy cooking, but some don't. I also think this article could be dangerous. If someone is really depressed, they could try cooking to alleviate it and it not work and maybe end up killing themselves.

6:40PM PDT on Sep 13, 2013

This temporary solution. Good for sadness, but not depression ... I knew for a long time that cooking helps me relax and forget all the problems ... But what if someone does not like to cook?

3:20AM PDT on Aug 31, 2013

ty

8:22PM PDT on Aug 29, 2013

Makes sense to me. I always feel the urge to cook something (usually one of my "comfort foods", like pumpkin soup or corn bread) when I'm feeling stressed out or depressed.

6:40AM PDT on Aug 29, 2013

Absolutely. There is also retail therapy as well, but you've gotta watch that one does not get out of control (especially for those with bi-polar disorder);)

2:13AM PDT on Aug 28, 2013

I often bake when having mood swings, so I guess it's interesting to read this.

12:21PM PDT on Aug 26, 2013

ty

11:24AM PDT on Aug 26, 2013

I absolutely agree, though I don't need to be depressed to be in the kitchen whipping something delectable. To me it's a joy, and because I'm now alone and can not possibly eat all that food, I get to cook for neighbors. Cooking is great for feeling blue or alone, it's a great outlet for those "creative juices" as well. Yeah, that's a bit a of pun.

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