What is Culinary Therapy for Teens and Young Adults?
Culinary therapy, also known as therapeutic cooking or cooking therapy, is a form of therapy that integrates cooking and food-related activities into the treatment process for individuals, including teens, with mental health issues. It combines the therapeutic benefits of cooking, nutrition, and the sensory experience of food to promote emotional, psychological, and social well-being.
The core principle of culinary therapy is that engaging in cooking and related activities can have a positive impact on mental health by providing a creative outlet, promoting self-expression, and fostering a sense of accomplishment.
Culinary or cooking therapy offers many mental health benefits and can be very stimulating for all of the senses.
Much like in our Art Therapy Program for Teens, culinary therapy enables teens and young adults to express themselves artistically through the food they create. Cooking also helps channel emotions and energy, which is beneficial for those who struggle with mental health issues. Teens are not limited in what they can create in the kitchen. Culinary therapy encourages creativity and provides a means to express it.
Mindfulness and Relaxation
Cooking can be a peaceful activity for teens and young adults. Engaging in cooking activities requires focus and concentration, which promotes mindfulness and relaxation. The process of chopping, stirring, tasting, and otherwise preparing food can help teens become more present in the moment, reducing anxiety and stress.
Sense of Achievement
Successfully preparing a meal or dish can boost self-esteem and provide a sense of achievement for teens. This can be particularly valuable for those who struggle with self-confidence or have experienced setbacks in other areas of their lives.
Cooking can be an excellent group activity for teens. Individuals can either prepare meals and/or eat the meals together. This allows teens to interact with others, develop social skills, and foster a sense of belonging and connection.
Develop Practical Skills
Learning to cook equips teens with practical abilities they can carry into adulthood. In our Young Adult Transition Program, we’re especially focused on teaching our residents how to be independent and make the transition into adulthood. Developing independence in the kitchen and being able to prepare nutritious meals can contribute to their overall well-being and self-sufficiency.
Culinary therapy can incorporate education about nutrition and healthy eating habits. This knowledge helps teens develop a better understanding of the connection between their diet and mental well-being, promoting healthier food choices. This type of therapy and education is very important in our treatment of eating disorders in teens and young adults because it provides tools to help prevent future eating problems and combat the adverse effects of an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia.
How Does Nutrition Benefit Recovery?
Nutrition plays a vital role in treating mental health because it provides the necessary nutrients for brain function. Proper nutrition can also reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, regulate blood sugar levels, and address nutrient deficiencies.
Our culinary therapy for teens and young adults promotes a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of whole foods, lean proteins, healthy fats, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. They can contribute to improved mental health outcomes and support the recovery and management of mental health disorders. Here’s how nutrition can benefit teens and young adults receiving mental health treatment:
Improve Brain Function
The brain requires a constant supply of nutrients to function optimally. Nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, vitamin D, zinc, and magnesium are involved in neurotransmitter synthesis, which affects mood regulation, cognition, and overall mental well-being. Adequate nutrition ensures the brain receives these necessary building blocks for proper functioning. During treatment for mental health, it’s especially important to provide these nutrients and help the brain function to the best of its ability.
Neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, play a crucial role in regulating mood and emotions. Proper nutrition supports the production and balance of these neurotransmitters. For example, tryptophan, an amino acid found in protein-rich foods, is necessary for serotonin synthesis. A deficiency in nutrients can disrupt neurotransmitter production and contribute to mental health disorders.
When we treat depression in teens and young adults, balancing the production of these neurotransmitters is important since the mental condition often depletes reserves of serotonin and dopamine.
Improve Digestive System
The gut and brain are closely connected through the gut-brain axis. The gut microbiota, which consists of trillions of microorganisms in the digestive system, communicates with the brain through various pathways. A healthy gut microbiome is essential for optimal brain function and mental well-being. Proper nutrition, particularly a diet rich in fiber, prebiotics, and probiotics, supports a diverse and balanced gut microbiota, positively influencing mental health.
Inflammation and Oxidative Stress
Inflammation and oxidative stress can negatively impact mental health and lead to other health risks, such as neurodegenerative diseases. Nutrient deficiencies and a poor diet high in processed foods and added sugars can contribute to chronic inflammation and increased oxidative stress. This can disrupt neuronal function and increase the risk of mental health disorders. A diet rich in antioxidants, phytochemicals, and anti-inflammatory nutrients can help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, supporting mental health.
Blood Sugar Regulation
Consuming a diet high in refined carbohydrates and sugar can lead to blood sugar spikes and crashes. This negatively affects mood and energy levels and over time may cause a teen or young adult to become aggressive or chronically fatigued. A balanced diet that includes complex carbohydrates, fiber, and healthy fats can help regulate blood sugar levels, providing a steady and sustainable source of energy for the brain.
Nutrient deficiencies can impact mental health and exacerbate symptoms of mental health disorders. For example, deficiencies in omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, vitamin D, iron, and zinc have been linked to depression, anxiety, and cognitive impairments. Ensuring an adequate intake of essential nutrients through a varied and nutrient-dense diet or targeted supplementation can help address these deficiencies and support mental well-being.
What to Expect in Culinary Therapy Program
In a culinary therapy session, teens will be carefully guided through the preparation of meals. They’re encouraged to be slow with the process and practice mindfulness. While cooking teens and young adults may gain more self-awareness and also become more comfortable discussing topics relating to their mental health, such as trauma. Culinary therapy can also be a good way to connect to family history and learn about culture through making certain dishes.
At Innercept, we offer weekly culinary classes to give teens and young adults in our programs hands-on cooking experience. We believe that not only will this experience help develop practical skills for adulthood, but culinary therapy also help create a relationship and understanding of food and how a nutritional diet contributes to overall health.
Our team of registered dietitians teaches individuals how to meal plan, select nutrient-rich ingredients, and prepare meals through various cooking techniques.
Our Weekly Culinary Classes Help Treat
At Innercept we use culinary therapy for teens and young adults as a holistic therapy that is complementary to other treatments. Cooking therapy can help treat mental health disorders, including:
Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD):
Cooking is a structured activity that promotes focus and mindfulness, which is useful in the treatment of ADHD in teens.
Culinary therapy offers a calm experience and the process of cooking and engaging all of the senses can help reduce anxiety symptoms. We use culinary therapy to treat anxiety in teens and young adults because the activity provides a sense of control and offers relaxation.
Cooking and meal preparations help learn routines and establish stability. This is a valuable component for treating bipolar disorders and can complement medication-assisted treatment.
Our culinary therapy program for teens and young adults can help alleviate symptoms and treat teen and young adult depression. The food teens cook in culinary classes also can help balance the production of neurotransmitters and improve brain function.
For the treatment of eating disorders in teens and young adults, developing a healthy relationship with food is crucial. Culinary therapy helps individuals learn more about nutrition and healthy eating habits.
Engaging in cooking activities may help confront and manage compulsions in a supportive environment. Culinary therapy may also help treat OCD in teens and young adults by providing exposure to certain stimuli and teaching coping techniques.
Culinary therapy can help treat panic disorder by promoting relaxation, mindfulness, and stress reduction. Engaging in cooking and focusing on the sensory aspects of the experience can help distract from panic symptoms and provide a calming effect.
Culinary therapy can contribute to the treatment of personality disorders by fostering self-expression, enhancing social skills, and promoting a sense of accomplishment and self-worth. The structured nature of culinary activities can help individuals with personality disorders develop routine and stability.
Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):
Culinary therapy can serve as a therapeutic modality in treatment for individuals with trauma and PTSD. Engaging in cooking activities can provide a sense of safety, control, and grounding. It can also help individuals reconnect with positive sensory experiences related to food.
Culinary therapy can be a beneficial component of a comprehensive treatment plan for schizophrenia. It can enhance life skills, promote social interaction, and provide a sense of purpose and accomplishment through learning cooking techniques and engaging in meal preparation.
Engaging in culinary activities can provide a positive and enjoyable experience, which may contribute to a more balanced and holistic approach to overall well-being. So while cooking doesn’t directly treat somatoform disorders, it’s helpful in recovery.
Mental Health Treatment at Innercept
Our Culinary Therapy Program offers a unique approach to mental health treatment for teens and young adults. Through weekly culinary classes with registered dieticians, your child can develop a healthy relationship with food and learn eating habits and skills that will promote overall wellness throughout their life. Nutrition has a significant impact on mental health and the process of cooking can be very therapeutic.
You can learn more about our program and comprehensive treatment of mental health disorders by contacting our team at Innercept. Come tour our facility in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and discover if it’s the right place for you or your teen.