Why Cooking Is a Great Recovery Skill

There are many important skills to learn when recovering from a substance use disorder. Many of these are directly related to getting sober and staying sober. These include skills like distress tolerance, emotional regulation, setting boundaries, clear communication, and behavioral strategies. There are also life skills that are more peripheral to recovery but equally important for staying sober long-term. These include skills like finding a safe place to live, finding a job, managing your finances, managing stress, and so on. Cooking is a life skill and a recovery skill that gives you a lot of bang for your buck. Here’s why.

Cooking your own meals is healthier.

Addiction can take a serious toll on your health. For example, excessive drinking can damage your gastrointestinal tract, making it hard for your body to absorb nutrients, which can lead to malnutrition. It also damages your cardiovascular system, leading to a greater risk of heart disease and stroke. Drinking also increases your risk of liver disease and several kinds of cancer including mouth, esophageal, stomach, liver, breast, and colon cancers. Many substances, including alcohol, can weaken your immune system, increase your risk of other unhealthy habits, and damage your overall health. In short, if you’re just starting to recover from addiction, your health may be precarious.

One of the best things you can do for your health—after you stop using drugs and alcohol—is to start eating healthier. That means eating more nutritious whole foods and less processed junk. A number of studies have found that people tend to eat healthier when they cook more of their own meals at home. For example, one study of more than 11,000 people found that people who ate more home-cooked meals ate significantly more fruits and vegetables and had healthier body-mass indexes and lower body fat percentages. [] This improves your cardiovascular health, and reduces your risk of other problems like diabetes and cancer. When you cook your own meals, you are more likely to eat whole foods. Additionally, you are more aware of how much sugar, salt, and fat go into each meal.

Healthier eating is good for your mental health.

While the physical health benefits of cooking for yourself are considerable, the mental health benefits will be even more important for some people. Depression is a significant risk factor for addiction and relapse, and a number of studies have now linked diet and depression, as well. One meta-analysis examined data from more than 45,000 participants and found that “dietary interventions significantly reduced depressive symptoms.” [] The diets with the best effects are similar to the “Mediterranean diet,” which is rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, beans, legumes, and fish, while being very low in sugar, refined flour, processed meats, and fried foods. It is thought that this kind of eating helps reduce inflammation in the body and brain. Recent research suggests that inflammation may play a major role in some forms of depression, so keeping inflammation under control with a healthy diet may reduce your risk of depressive episodes.

Cooking is cognitively demanding.

People recovering from substance use issues often complain of cognitive impairment during the first few months and even up to a year. There are a number of reasons for this. Part of it is just your brain readjusting to the absence of drugs and alcohol, which sometimes results in emotional numbness, poor concentration, lack of motivation, irritability, and depression. Part of this may also be caused by structural changes in your brain, which weaken parts of your prefrontal cortex responsible for attention and self-control. Basically, your brain has trouble remaining interested in anything besides drugs and alcohol, so you have trouble focusing on—or enjoying—other things.

Like your muscles, your brain gets stronger the more you use it, and cooking can be a great way to start getting your brain back in shape. It combines a number of high-level cognitive skills, like planning, timing, and attention with low-level cognitive skills, such as taste, smell, and touch. Cooking can be either very simple, like cooking a pot of rice or frying some eggs, or it can be complex, like cooking an elaborate meal for friends.

The more complex it gets, the more it challenges your ability to multitask and think on your feet. You have to think about the best way to use your time and estimate how long various tasks will take to ensure all the food is ready at about the same time. While all of this can be demanding, it is also typically more fun and engaging than other ways you might challenge your brain. What’s more, since you’ll be eating the end result, you have a built-in incentive to focus and try to do a good job.

Cooking is socially engaging.

Finally, cooking is a great way to get people together. Social connection is one of the most important parts of a strong recovery, whether it’s connection to a sober network or to supportive family and friends. Cooking is a great way to strengthen that connection. Even just being a competent cook will make you more popular and give you an excuse to invite people over. Home-cooked meals are often more intimate and enjoyable and you have complete control over what goes into them, and you can avoid certain obstacles you may encounter while eating out: no party at the next table sharing several bottles of wine, no dishes with surprise alcohol in the sauce, and so on.

Recovering from addiction isn’t just about abstaining from drugs and alcohol, but rather about finding a better way to live. Learning to cook helps you stay healthier mentally and physically and can be part of a larger move toward a healthier lifestyle. It’s also just a useful skill to have, since it can benefit you for the rest of your life. At Enlightened Solutions, our approach to addiction recovery is both individualized and holistic. To learn more about our treatment options, call us today at 833-801-LIVE or explore our website.


Why Learning to Cook Is the Perfect Recovery Activity

Picking up new skills, hobbies, and interests is an important part of recovering from a substance use disorder. These things give you a sense of direction, keep you occupied, and increase your sense of self-efficacy. There are many great activities for recovery. Many people learn or resume playing an instrument or making art, for example, or get into sports or fitness. One activity many people don’t think of is cooking but it’s an activity with a huge return on your time investment. Here’s why.


Cooking Your Own Food Is Healthier

It’s common for people starting out in recovery to have pretty poor health. Different substances affect your health in different ways. For example, excessive drinking can lead to cardiovascular disease, liver disease, type 2 diabetes, and malnutrition. Addiction can lead you to neglect your health in general. Typically, these conditions start improving once you get sober, but eating healthier can give you a big boost. 


What’s more, a healthy diet is good for your mental health too. At least half of people with substance use issues have co-occurring mental health issues; one of the most common is major depression. A number of studies have found that diet has a significant effect on depression symptoms. People who eat a diet high in sugar, processed grains and meats, and fried food have much higher rates of depression than people who eat whole-food diets rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, legumes, and lean meats.


Cooking your own meals at least a few times a week is the fastest way to turn around a bad diet. One study found that people who cook more of their own meals ate fewer calories overall, ate less sugar, and less fat than people who ate out frequently. The study also found that when these people do go out, these healthier trends persist. Even if you make the same food at home that you would get in a restaurant, it tends to be healthier when you cook it yourself. You are more likely to begin with whole ingredients and less likely to add the huge amounts of sugar, salt, and fat typically found in prepackaged or restaurant food. 


Cooking Is Great Exercise for Your Brain

Cooking is a cognitively complex skill, especially when you’re first learning. You have to plan your meal, get the ingredients, set up the workspace, and coordinate the preparation. You often have to keep track of several things at once and figure out the best way to use your time. This requires planning, visualization, timing, spatial awareness, and focus. You also use your senses of taste and smell more than you ordinarily would. All of this is great training for your brain. Unlike other ways of challenging your brain, cooking is hands-on and engaging. You don’t have to force yourself to think or concentrate. You have skin in the game because you have to eat what you cook.


Cooking Promotes Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a great recovery skill for many reasons. It helps you be more present and better cope with challenging emotions. While many people think of mindfulness as something that happens while sitting on a cushion in a quiet room, mindfulness is supposed to be something you bring to every aspect of your life. Mindfulness teachers often use mindful eating as an exercise. Too often, we gulp down our food while talking to someone, watching TV, or looking at our phones. We don’t even taste our food. 


If you want to eat mindfully, the best way to do it by far is to cook your own meal. When you make your own food, you’re naturally curious to know how it turned out. What’s more, you know what’s in it and you’ll want to know how to make it better. You are more likely to linger over each bite, thinking about things like whether you added enough salt or too much onion, whether you cooked the pasta long enough, and so on. Not only does this exercise bring you into the present moment, but it will improve your eating habits since you will eat more slowly and notice when you are full. 


Cooking Promotes Social Connection

Eating is probably the oldest form of social connection. Humans were likely sharing food before they were walking upright. Learning to cook even moderately well can be a great way of connecting to others. When you think about it, how many people do you know who can cook? Probably not many. Maybe not even one. Yet we all have to eat and we like to eat together. Cooking meals for friends and loved ones is a great excuse to get together and it’s often a more intimate experience than going out. After you cook a few decent meals for people, you will probably notice a bump in your popularity.


How to Get Started

Cooking is as easy or as hard as you want it to be. Most of the staples of the human diet are pretty easy to make. For most people, the easiest place to start is with scrambled eggs. It’s simple, it takes less than 10 minutes, there are few ingredients, and it’s something you can eat often. There are many tutorials on YouTube but Gordon Ramsay’s is probably the best. After you’ve gotten your scrambled eggs under control, add new dishes one at a time. Try to make foods you would normally get elsewhere. Hamburgers, pasta, salad, and potatoes are all easy to make and are both cheaper and healthier to make at home. You’ll quickly discover that cooking isn’t some arcane art; it’s mostly just about following instructions, saving good recipes, and practice. 


Cooking is a great recovery activity because it improves your physical and mental health, it challenges your brain in new ways, makes you more mindful, and it can be a way of connecting with others. Start simple by learning to make a few staple foods you like and build from there. 

At Enlightened Solutions, we know that recovery is not just about abstaining from drugs and alcohol but about building a better life. Our holistic programs help our clients heal in mind, body, and spirit. For more information, call us today at 833-801-LIVE.