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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Cooking Therapy: Just What the Doctor Ordered

We spend loads of money and time on all sorts of therapeutic activities from physical therapy to gym memberships to visits with family or individual therapists.  What if there was one activity that could incorporate the benefits of all these therapies, could be done in your own home, with your entire family and provide a meal to boot? We'd all be scrambling to get our hands on such a magical elixir.  The truth is that this therapeutic wonder-cure is sitting dormant in your home - in your kitchen to be exact.  Here are some reasons to take up cooking therapy.  

Physical Therapy 
A lot of physical therapy is all about movement to allow you to participate in activities of daily living.  Think about the act of cooking.  You have to leave the couch, the controller and the console. It requires you to bend, reach, stretch, lift and twist. And if you cook like a ninja, you could burn all sorts of calories! 

Mental Therapy
Cooking is edible meditation. Mindfulness in the kitchen helps you focus on the moment so that you can't fret over earlier mistakes or what-ifs.  Stress and anxiety numb our senses, but cooking enlivens them.  Consider the sensory experience of the smells, taste, touch, sound and visual aspect of food and cooking.  

You can't help but be caught up in the process of the moment and let future worries fall away.  It is also practice at letting go of perfectionism - rarely does a recipe turn out just as it looks on Pinterest.  But adjusting expectations is a type of therapy in itself.

Emotional Therapy

Cooking is comfort, and a very effective way to work through grief or heartache.  It is a wonderful creative outlet that provides a very real, tangible sense of accomplishment.
Unlike other chores, it carries its own built-in reward system - eating! Cooking also helps people feel good because it allows us to nurture other around us.  The physical, mental and emotional experience of cooking boosts self-esteem.

Family Therapy
Cooking with a partner or family members requires communication, cooperation and compromise.
Eating a meal together as a family leads to healthier habits as children become adults.  Family meal-time promotes better grades, less high-risk behaviors and eating disorders and better relationships between parent and child.  

So no more excuses that you don't have time to cook.  An hour in the kitchen for some physical activity and 2-3 therapy sessions is a serious bargain!

De-Stressing Your Diet

In spite of the so-called conveniences of our technophilic world, we seem to be more stressed out and suffer more anxiety, fear, depression and unhappiness.  Often people use food to medicate the negative symptoms of our hectic lifestyles instead of using food to prevent and blunt the effects of stress in our constantly hyped-up lives.

Here are healthful tips to de-stress your diet:

  1. Limit or avoid alcohol and caffeine.  

    There may be a short-term calming or boosting of energy, but both substances leave you altered, edgy, nervous and interfere with sleep.  Cutting those substances out of your routine may take a little patience and determination, but the benefits of a more stable mood and energy level will make a huge impact in your ability to cope with and reduce stressors. If you're looking for a bit more motivation to cut the caffeine, keep in mind that when your body eliminates caffeine from your system, your serotonin levels take a big dive.  Caffeine also blocks certain chemical pathways needed to make serotonin, so the more caffeine you consume, the less your body can produce it's own serotonin. In a nutshell, dependence of any kind means stress - chemically and mentally.  
  2. Balancing your diet with some protein, some complex carbohydrates and a generous amount of fruits and veggies will reduce stress on many levels.
     Firstly, your body will have enough nutrients for optimal metabolism and healing and overall health.  Secondly, a high-plant, low-processed diet naturally leads to a healthier weight, lower blood pressure and less mental stress over your body and health.  
  3. Don't fear carbs.  
    The macro and other popular diet crazes lead some people to strictly limit or eliminate carbohydrates.  While it's good to limit the amount of refined flours and sugars, remember that not all carbohydrates are created equal.  Your body and your mind run on the preferred fuel of carbohydrates, so having adequate amounts of complex carbohydrates is essential to maintaining not only your energy and feeling satisfied at meals, but also is needed in the production of more stable levels of serotonin (as opposed to the peak and crash serotonin mode that comes from downing sugar). 
  4. Consider probiotic-rich foods.  Not only is there some evidence of a link between probiotics and lower anxiety, but the majority of the serotonin receptors are found in the gut, so a happy gut means a happier you all the way around.  
Don't forget to slow down, enjoy and find satisfaction when you eat.  Mindful eating ensures that you have a pleasant, relaxing, stress-relieving breaks multiple times throughout the day.