Some health-care clinics and counselors are using cooking or baking as therapy tools for people suffering from depression, and anxiety.
Therapists believe the classes can help soothe stress, and build self-esteem by focusing the mind on following a recipe. Many times the courses are part of a larger treatment plan that can also include talk therapy or medication.
Catana Brown, an occupational therapist in Glendale, Arizona says she and others in the profession emphasize healthy recipes and portion control when cooking as a therapy tool.
“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,” she says. And she adds, “a lot of times when people cook, they eat less high-calorie stuff, because they’re eating less fast food,” she says.
Psychologists say cooking and baking are activities that fit a type of therapy known as behavioral activation. The goal is to alleviate depression by boosting positive activity, curbing procrastination, and increasing goal-oriented behavior.
“If the activity is defined as personally rewarding or giving a sense of accomplishment or pleasure, or even seeing the pleasure of that pumpkin bread with chocolate chips making someone else happy, then it could improve a sense of well-being,” says Jacqueline Gollan, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.
Helen Tafoya, a clinical counselor at the University of New Mexico says preparing food with others is therapeutic because it’s central to who we are as human beings. “The ability to eat and share food is very, very primal,” she says. “Eating or breaking bread with someone has healing capacities beyond anything that we can really quantify.”