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Ten reasons why cooking is good for your body and mind

A recent study reveals how the kitchen can be a therapeutic space for those who enjoy cooking. Our experts tell you why 

Cooking together can also be a great bonding activity for couples and families.
Cooking together can also be a great bonding activity for couples and families. (Pexels)

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While we're all well aware that eating homemade food is good for the body, cooking at home also has multiple benefits for one's mental health. You may have seen that cooking makes chefs and bakers feel peaceful and calm. 

A recent study titled How a 7-Week Food Literacy Program Affects Cooking Confidence and Mental Health, conducted by Edith Cowan University (ECU) in Australia and published in the Frontiers in Nutrition, confirms this. The study researched 657 participants who participated in cooking classes conducted in mobile food kitchens from 2016 to 2018 and measured the program's effect on the participants' confidence levels, satisfaction, diet-related behaviours and self-perceived mental health. The findings revealed that learning how to cook significantly improved the participants' mental health and contributed to inculcating healthy eating habits in them. 

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Divija Bhasin, Counselling Psychologist, New Delhi, warns that cooking can only be helpful if done voluntarily. "Some people may not enjoy cooking cause maybe the process seems tedious," she says, pointing out that several factors like their job, personality, the kitchen environment, cooking skills etc., have an impact. And yes, people can enjoy cooking even if they are not good at it. However, if someone is entirely against cooking, it might be challenging to reap its psychological benefits. "Different activities work for different people in improving their mental health," explains Bhasin. 

We chat with her and Dr Kedar Tilwe, Consultant-Psychiatrist, Fortis Hospital Mulund & Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi, to explore how cooking can contribute to mental well-being and the reasons behind the same. 

Divija Bhasin, Counselling Psychologist, New Delhi

1. Positive reinforcement: We use a lot of executive, motor and emotional skills in cooking. When we complete cooking tasks, it gives us positive reinforcement, which improves self-esteem in some cases. 

2. Engages behavioural activation: It also helps because it makes you feel more motivated to complete "cooking goals". This is known as behavioural activation. This means that you get access to positive emotions associated with cooking just by indulging in the activity itself. 

3. Leads to a sense of belonging: Cooking is often a social activity, and human beings thrive when put in supportive social environments. It leads to a sense of belonging associated with improved mental health. 

4. Better eating habits: Research shows that healthy eating is associated with an improved sense of well-being. Depending on the person and their environment, it can be therapeutic for individuals who may be depressed, anxious, low on motivation, etc. Eating habits may also improve if you cook regularly. 

5. Bonding with family: It can also be a great bonding activity for couples and families. I often recommend it to my young clients as a bonding activity with their parents, and it seems to work well for many people. You don't need to do anything "extra" for it, so it's easy to bond over it since it is already an everyday chore for some family members. 

Dr Kedar Tilwe, Consultant-Psychiatrist, Fortis Hospital Mulund & Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi

1. Boosts self-confidence: Cooking can help us feel that we have mastered an activity. It also gives a sense of task completion, which can boost our self-confidence and help us feel more at ease.

2. Sense of control & satisfaction: The overall effect comes from how tasty the food is and the cooking process, which gives a sense of control and predictability, the pleasure of having served someone and hearing their feedback while bonding over food.

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3. Sense of achievement: Cooking is a daily routine task that can give us a sense of mastery, control, and satisfaction and help us tick off one of our scheduled activities. As a result, it can boost our self-esteem, give a sense of achievement, and is a simple daily stress-buster as it allows us to channel our stress in more constructive ways.

4. A great icebreaker: Cooking together is a great icebreaker activity and can help reduce any uneasiness or stress between couples. At the same time, the shared sense of accomplishment can help them take time out and find common ground during an argument. In addition, giving good feedback to your partner who cooked the meal would earn you brownie points and enable you to initiate a conversation. 

5. Hastens recovery: Cooking can be a confidence boost, especially when one receives positive feedback, hastening recovery from any mental illness.

Divya Naik is a Mumbai-based psychotherapist

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