Feeding the soul


Counselors and health-care clinics are turning to cooking classes to help people cope with mental health problems. Teaching them to feed their mind and body all at once. Cathy Ramirez is finding comfort in cooking after three strokes sent her into a major depression. She takes classes where creating a meal, and enjoying it with her classmates, is helping soothe her stress.

"It makes you feel good inside to accomplish something," Cathy said.

That's exactly the goal: to build self esteem and curb negative thinking by focusing the mind on making a meal, but they're creating much more than that. "Learning a skill and getting a sense of competence, competence motivation we call it in psychology, or another term is self efficacy, the feeling that you can do something and do it well, is enormously important," according to Frank Farley, former President with the American Psychological Association.

Culinary therapy is being offered alongside traditional therapy at a growning number of healthcare facilities from coast to coast, helping patients from their teens to their senior years.  Experts say it can help with many mental wellness issues. Farley explained when he said, "One of the facets of depression is the loss of interest in everyday things. Apathy, so here you're trying to get them involved in something that's intrinsically interesting."

Plus, according to Helen Tafoya, Clinical Manager at the University of New Mexico Psychiatric Center in Albuquerque, it lets people focus on the positive. She said, "Normally in life, especially our clients may be hearing what they can't do… you can't do this, you can't, you can't, you can't, what we want to focus on here is what can you do."

Tafoya oversees cooking classes at a rehabilitation center.  "What we find in recovery is success builds on success, so if somebody has success in making a simple gravy, and you can get them to make a more complicated macaroni and cheese, or some enchilada casserole, or something like that, they're building a success upon a success. It increases self esteem," Tafoya said.

She has seen that cooking can offer a great distraction, allowing people to open up in ways they otherwise wouldn't. "Someone might be making a gravy, making a casserole, chopping vegetables, and as soon as their hands get busy, and they start getting involved in the food preparation, something might come up, a memory, or an experience and they start talking about that, and someone else says a similar thing happened to me and before you know it, people who are pretty shut down in traditional therapy sessions are really talking fairly openly about things that are very important to them."

The various components combine, just like ingredients, to create the perfect recipe.  Cathy says her cooking class feeds her mind, body…and soul. "It's a place of comfort," she told us.

There is concern about weight gain with the cooking classes, so it's stressed that the lessons involve healthy options and portion control.