Psychologists and behavioral therapists have begun integrating cooking into their treatment strategies, extending the benefits of meal preparation far beyond satisfying hunger.

What is a pleasurable pastime for many confers similar benefits on those suffering from depression, anxiety, drug addiction, and other psychological disorders. At its most basic level, cooking offers a valuable life skill, teaching those who live according to chaotic schedules how to prepare a nutritious meal.

Chef Patricia D’Alessio, who helps runs a Connecticut treatment center for teens with mental illness and substance abuse problems, says that cooking classes can help soothe stress, build self esteem, and curb negative thinking. Big Think expert Lidia Bastianich (below) argues that the very act of teaching someone to cook creates a positive social relationship and opens them to the joys of nature:

Since our primeval ancestors picked berries and hunted wild game, eating has been a communal activity. The kitchen is a wonderfully social place and making a meal is the best way to gather everyone around the table. For individuals with social phobias, cooking is a great excuse to engage others in meaningful conversations and build relationships.

"[S]eeing the pleasure of that pumpkin bread with chocolate chips making someone else happy...could improve a sense of well-being," says Jacqueline Gollan, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

As Big Think expert and British primatologist Richard Wrangham said, cooking fundamentally changed the size of our brain, increasing its size and complexity. This evolutionary change helped contribute to our social nature, simultaneously shrinking the size of our gut. All in all, cooking has virtually made us who we are today:

And if you've noticed that "foodies" have become all the rage, it actually may have something to do with our struggling economy. Cooking means taking yourself out of our consumerist culture and producing something all your own, says Jennifer Rubell, food writer and studio artist. In this sense too, cooking helps build communities:

Read more at the Wall Street Journal

Photo credit: Shutterstock