By: Kenzie Davis, LMFTA

We all know (or think we know) what therapy traditionally looks like- two or more people sitting in a room together discussing intense private topics. Now, this is correct more or less, but it is time to expand our horizon of what therapy is. Have you ever pictured cooking when someone refers to therapy?

 A new growing trend is culinary therapy. Culinary therapy has been described as the therapeutic technique that uses arts, cooking, gastronomy (the art/science of good eating), plus an individual’s personal, cultural, and familial relationships with food to address underlying emotional and psychological problems. Cooking therapy has benefits in decreasing a range of mental health issues such as; behavioral health, depression, eating disorders, anxiety, addiction, and ADHD.

Cooking therapy is used as a treatment because it is accessible to most people. Cooking can be cost-effective, and more healthy. The physical benefits can mimic a low-impact workout (standing up, mixing, chopping, and cleaning)! Furthermore, the output produces a scrumptious meal that can be shared or enjoyed alone.

3 M’s

The main themes of culinary therapy lie in the 3 M’s of cooking: metaphor, mindfulness, and mastery. These assets are very important in exploring the presenting issues an individual comes to therapy with. Metaphors help explain ideas or comparisons. It is a figure of speech describing an object or action in terms that are not literal. For example, as we break eggs for the recipe discuss what it is like “walking on eggshells” at your job. Or using kneading dough as a punching bag to externalize negative emotions.

With the continued metaphor connection, the intention is to bring about a more mindful take on the food. Mindfully use all your senses to be present with the food and all its goodness. For example noticing the outside skin of an avocado before cutting it by looking, touching, and smelling it makes correlations with the client’s outward self. Then as you cut into the avocado, being mindful of the sights, tastes, touch, and smells it; the therapist may softly make a connection to the individual’s inward emotional state. 

The metaphors and mindfulness up to this point should have the client feel really connected to the food they are preparing and really excited about eating soon. Throughout the process, hopefully, the client is able to unearth revelations or learn something about themselves. In addition to this, there is also that boost of serotonin because the client has created a unique dish. This asset of mastery allows an individual to feel confident in themselves and their skills. 

Pair/Group Cooking

Another benefit of culinary therapy is connection! This is something that can involve everyone in the household. Deciding on a recipe together will increase bonding and decrease conflict. Cooking with others encourages communication and cooperation from everyone. If the opportunity for conflict arises due to mismatched food likes/dislikes, it is best to come to a compromise (as to not delay eating). Making food together means putting aside differences and working together towards a common goal.

Culinary therapy can help reduce negative emotions and improve mental health. The lessons you learn during the cooking process can be applied to life situations. The benefits are heaping such as creativity, connection, and accomplishment. Culinary therapy may not be for everyone, it is important to consider the therapist rate plus the money for ingredients for the recipes that will be made. 

I found these tips by Heed Kocet on how to begin mindfully cooking right now. 

  • 1. Pick a simple recipe with ingredients that you are familiar and comfortable with. Even chopping some vegetables for a salad can be a great place to start.
  • 2. Set the stage for a positive experience. Make sure you have enough free time and space, and prep ingredients beforehand to reduce stress. You don’t even have to serve your dish to anyone but yourself if that eliminates anxiety.
  • 3. Remember to have fun! Let yourself get creative; it’s not about perfection. Put on some music and enjoy yourself.
  • 4. Always pat yourself on the back for trying. When you end up with a dish that’s just okay, make it again. Try new things, take small risks, and practice.
  • 5. After cooking mindfully, slow down and eat mindfully, too. Enjoy your food and the flavors. Take time to smell your meal and savor each bite.
  • 6. Honor the cooking process by doing the dishes by hand afterward. This can become a mindful, enjoyable practice as well.
  • 7. Remember that it’s impossible to cook and eat every single meal mindfully — and that’s okay. Acknowledging that you’re stress-eating or scarfing down a meal is still mindful eating.

I hope these were tasty tidbits of information and allow you to view cooking in an alternate way. I really enjoy cooking and hope to incorporate this into my therapy practices with the appropriate clients. 

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