Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food – Hippocrates
Food, glorious food. It’s so much more than fuel for your body. It’s like breathing – an essential part of being, but more delicious.
Have you ever noticed how all the best things involve food? Birthdays, movie nights, date nights, weddings, parties, Christmas, Easter, New Years Eve, catch ups with friends, Christenings, even funerals!
Food brings people together. It brings connection and togetherness. Helps repair broken hearts, broken bonds, or grief. It grows friendships, love, and purpose.
I recently watched an episode of Nadiya’s American Adventure where Muslims and Latinos build relationships and understanding through Holy Tacos (Halal!). Maybe the secret to peace is food? How many arguments have you started purely because you were hungry? Exactly.
If food brings so many people together, irrespective of their language or culture, it’s really no surprise it can bring us closer to ourselves too.
Food is good for you. For your body, mind, and soul. But I really want to focus on the mind.
The belly rules the mind – Spanish Proverb
I always knew I liked the Spanish.
When facing periods of mental health difficulties, it can be hard to do even the simplest of things. Showering, dressing and feeding yourself, or leaving the house. You know it’s easy to do, you know how to do it, but you can’t. However, if somebody talks you through it or guides you step-by-step, it becomes so much easier.
Now, take baking. A simple practice of following a recipe, with actions, timings, and descriptions. Something to follow and focus your mind on, step-by-step. When everything feels heavy and out of your control, being able to follow something and be in control of the outcome is a beautiful thing.
Personally, I found great relief in heading to the kitchen, grabbing my utensil of choice, and switching off. I never realised the impact it had on my mental health until I stopped cooking and baking. Sometimes the things that bring you the most peace are the things that go unnoticed.
I was diagnosed with depression four years ago. It’s crazy to think that’s how long it’s been. I went to a therapist to help deal with something completely unrelated and came out with a diagnosis of depression four weeks later.
I started to forget what I did for enjoyment until I finally remembered my love of cooking. My mother taught me how to cook and cooking made me feel closer to her. As I made my way through recipe books and magazines, I started to realise I was in control of something. I couldn’t always control my mood or my worries, but I was able to control the outcome of the food I was preparing.
When my mood was really low, I stopped all together. Everything felt like too much effort and I felt too tired to stand in the kitchen for long periods of time. Recently, I forced myself to make cupcakes – they’re simple and quick but equally delicious – and I noticed a change in my mood almost immediately.
The outcome baking can give you? Mindfulness. Calmly measuring ingredients, precision – a non-negotiable for baking! – stirring, kneading, melting, folding, all calming activities. Whisking, potentially not so much, but good for anger release?
Then there’s a delicious treat on your table. An outcome you had control over, every step of the way. Your achievement of the day, despite the challenges your brain gave you: you got up and made something edible. Which would be rude not to eat (two birds with one stone – don’t forget to feed yourself!)
Invest in that self-care, spend that time in the kitchen, let the recipe guide you. Find comfort in what you can control and reward yourself with that sweet, sweet smell of freshly baked goods. You deserve it.
A Foodie’s Recipe for Comfort
Step 1. Find your favourite dessert, pudding, cake, biscuit. Fried, frozen, baked – whatever is going to make you smile, pick that.
Step 2. Buy the ingredients. I’d encourage you to take a walk to the shop and take in a bit of fresh air to further increase your mental wellbeing.
Step 3. Get yourself into the kitchen. Channel your inner Nigella, Nadiya, Mary, Nigel or Jamie. The kitchen is your playground – have fun! Sing along to tunes as loud and tone-deaf as possible; twerk your way around the kitchen.
Step 4. Patience. The biggest problem with baking is the wait. But like everything in life, the best things are worth waiting for. Don’t start the housework, don’t start tidying up, this is time for you, and only you. Have a cuppa and a moment to yourself.
Step 5. Eat. It’s only right to do the taste test, and if you’re not quite sure, have another. And another. Eat it all. You deserve it. Self-care my friend.
Or even better, why not get yourself a subscription with Bookish Bakes and use step 4 to dive into the pages of a great book while you wait for the oven to ping!
Heather loves words almost as much as she loves food. South African born, she now finds herself in the UK, and loves to bring a fresh perspective on simple every day topics. She believes that there is so much good to be found right beneath our noses, sometimes we just need that little nudge.
For more of Heather's thoughts and essays, subscribe to her on Substack.