Experts Say The Mental Health Benefits Of Cooking Are Even Better Than The Food Itself

My personal food icon, the fabulous Chrissy Teigen, has done it again. This woman always makes a point to be candid in anything and everything she does, so, naturally, the same held true when, in her new cookbook, she opened up about how the mental health benefits of cooking helped her cope with postpartum depression. As a foodie myself, I've always seen cooking as a therapy of sorts; it's a way to create something totally unique, completely from scratch, and the best part is, you have a delicious treat to enjoy when all is said and done. All of that aside, though, as per usual, Teigen was on to something when she wrote about how cooking has affected her well-being.

In her cookbook Cravings: Hungry for More, Teigen wrote, "It sounds like a cliché, but starting to cook again really helped me get back on my feet and get back into normal life." According to experts, the 37-year-old celeb is 100 percent right: Devoting time to cooking can definitely benefit your mental health. "Cooking is a deeply human activity — nourishing ourselves and others is beneficial to our mental and emotional health," Pip Waller, a medical herbalist, holistic healer, and author of the book Deeply Holistic, tells Elite Daily in an email. "It can also be fun and very rewarding to create lovely meals."

Whether you're just starting to learn a few simple recipes, or you're such an expert in the kitchen that you think you could hold your own on Chopped, cooking clearly comes with a whole bunch of benefits. Just make sure that your cooking time is quality, says Waller. "Doing anything in a stressed rush is counter to encouraging good mental health," she explains.

Obviously there's a time and place when a quick, microwavable meal is all that fits into your schedule, but that probably won't do a whole lot for your mental state. For those nights when you have a little more time to get creative in the kitchen, though, remember it will definitely pay off.

It's An Opportunity To Practice Mindfulness

Lisa Bahar, a licensed marriage and family therapist, told Psychology Today that involving all of your senses and really connecting with your ingredients can be a great mindfulness exercise. “Start by observing its skin—the color, the touch, the smell,” she explained. In other words, instead of just rushing through the steps of making dinner, take a little extra time to appreciate the beauty of food.

"When you are able to slow down, [you] become completely present in the preparation of food, [and you] bring all your five senses into the cooking experience," Lisa Diers, a registered dietitian nutritionist and yoga therapist, tells Elite Daily in an email. "Pause before eating to give thanks for the final product."

By being so connected with the whole process, Diers says, your mental health automatically gets a little boost. "You increase your ability to feel more connected and present, laying a solid foundation for mental health," she explains.

It Connects You With Loved Ones

The other day I saw the cutest cookbook full of two-person recipes: a serving for you and a serving for your cat. I'm not sure whether I think this is totally genius or low-key kind of sad, but according to the Mental Health Foundation, sharing a meal with someone has huge benefits for your mental health. "Mealtimes offer people the opportunity to stop, to stand still psychologically, to reflect on their day and days ahead, and to listen to and interact with others," says the foundation.

Cooking Allows You To Express Your Creativity

One of the things I love most about cooking is giving myself permission to abandon the recipe and just try something totally wild instead. Last weekend, for instance, I decided to add a bunch of fresh rosemary to my pie crust dough for an apple and fig pie. Shockingly, the herb that I generally associate with savory dishes actually worked really well in a sweet dessert.

For a study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology, researchers asked over 600 young adults to pay attention to how they felt after doing simple creative activities, and found that spending time on things like cooking and baking can make people feel that they are "flourishing."

"You are the 'master chef' and get to envision, explore, craft, and concoct your ideal meal with different flavors, textures, and colors," Nikki Ostrower, nutritionist and founder of NAO Wellness, tells Elite Daily in an email. "A plate of nourishing food is just as beautifully poetic and deeply soulful as a poem or a painting."

Cooking Yourself A Meal Is An Act Of Self-Care

“If you’re cooking good food for yourself or things that make you feel good, cooking can literally be nourishing to yourself and that’s important," Nedra Shield, a licensed independent clinical social worker at the Northampton Center for Couples Therapy, told Huffington Post. Only you know exactly what your body is craving at a given moment, and being able to cook whatever foods will fit your needs can help you connect with yourself on a deeper level.

There's definitely no shame in cooking simple foods, BTW, if you don't have a lot of practice, says Dyers. "For some, getting into the kitchen is anxiety-provoking. If that’s you, but you want to reclaim cooking, start off with something easier and manageable." Grilled cheese, anyone?

Being In The Kitchen Makes You Feel Totally Empowered

"Making our own food gives us a sense of confidence, empowerment, and control over what we are choosing to feed ourselves with, and has a very positive impact on how foods affect us and make us feel," says Ostrower.

In other words, it doesn't matter if you're cooking up a batch of chocolate lava cupcakes or a pan of roasted salmon fillets; if you're the one doing the cooking, you're the one calling the shots on every detail of the dish.