How our relationship with food affects our well-being
Understanding how food affects how we feel.
Being British is something I definitely think impacts my relationship with food, as well as a string of other influences. And having made friends and acquaintances from around the world over the years has certainly contributed towards this feeling. Whilst we have a booming pub and takeaway culture, and are famous for our Great British Bake Off’s and chefs, you will scarcely find a young British person as passionate about the process of cooking as your average Italian or Spanish citizen for example. It has always puzzled me as to why this is, and it’s seemingly because we don’t like cooking. According to YouGov, 1 in 8 Brits avoid cooking, and opt for pre-made or frozen meals. It seems that we see food either as a means to an end, such as weight loss or gain, or as secondary to an occasion, such as on Christmas. Tying food to these things means that it almost becomes binary, and many of the benefits of food and cooking culture are missed out on by many due to this oversimplification.
Speaking to my friends that are impassioned about food and looking at these statistics has certainly made me stand up and pay attention to the way I see food.
We all know food is important, for obvious reasons. We also are beginning to learn about what foods directly impact our physical health. However what doesn’t receive the same attention is how both food and the process of creating it, can impact our mental health.
Eating healthy foods such as fruit, veg and wholegrains boost mood, cognition and serotonin output (the happy hormone), but the food you eat doesn’t necessarily have to be healthy in order to create happiness. MindFood.com describes the actual process of cooking as extremely rewarding, and good for your overall mental health. Having an outlet for creativity and focus in the kitchen certainly affords us a few opportunities to improve our lives a little bit. For those of you with young families too, putting more emphasis on such processes can be a great way to teach the little ones about the world. Especially when we have access to so many interesting ingredients from around the world through our supermarkets and local businesses. Many ethnic groups within the British population have used food to educate their children on mindfulness and their heritage and ancestry, and there’s no reason the rest of us cant join in on the fun!
Food has always been used as a device for storytelling, and as an educational tool to bridge gaps between different groups of people. The popularity of certain foreign cuisines within many western countries shows how effective that storytelling can be, and now many of us accept them as our own, and become part of our own culinary stories. Food is great for mindfulness in this way because it reminds us how big the world is, and at the same time how similar we all are, and how we can learn to love the differences between each other. This could be as stark as learning to love your Vietnamese friend’s pho, or learning to deal with your friend that puts ketchup on everything!
Whether you only get 10 minutes after work to cook in a day, or you find yourself with an abundance of time in lockdown or on furlough, taking some time to think about what you’re going to eat and actually cooking it will provide some benefit. This could also be seen as an opportunity to bond with a significant other, whether you cook together or for one another, which might be important now that many of us have gone from seeing our partners every minute of every day to just in the evenings or mornings after work. Whilst that used to be the normality, you can be excused for being a little extra clingy after the pandemic!
In summary, food is not just food. It is a language, in which you can learn to communicate and bond with others, but you can also communicate with your own body and mind, by treating them as friends. After-all, you learn more about yourself and the people around you through engaging in such an emotive and creative craft. So why not spend a little more time in the kitchen, and see what changes?
Ryan(W) | Wangie Mentor
Firth, J., Gangwisch, J., Borsini, A., Wootton, R., & Mayer, E. (2020). Food and mood: how do diet and nutrition affect mental wellbeing?. BMJ, m2382. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m2382
How to eat yourself happy. BBC Food. (2021). Retrieved 25 May 2021, from https://www.bbc.co.uk/food/articles/good_mood_food.
Martin, M. (2021). The Joy Of Tandoori Chicken And Chips: 3 Families On The Meals That Make Their Week. HuffPost UK. Retrieved 25 May 2021, from https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/how-british-families-teach-kids-about-their-cultural-heritage-through-food_uk_5cdc1bbfe4b061f71b88e75d.
McGuire, J. (2021). Eating Makes Me Happy. Eating Disorder Hope. Retrieved 25 May 2021, from https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/blog/eating-makes-happy.
One in eight Brits avoid cooking from scratch | YouGov. Yougov.co.uk. (2019). Retrieved 25 May 2021, from https://yougov.co.uk/topics/politics/articles-reports/2017/09/14/one-eight-brits-avoid-cooking-scratch.
Why Cooking Makes You Happy. MINDFOOD. (2021). Retrieved 25 May 2021, from https://www.mindfood.com/article/why-cooking-makes-happy/.