Why eating with friends and family is good for your mental health

Friends cooking together. (Getty Images)
97% of Brits claiming that sharing that food is the top source of happiness in their lives. (Getty Images)

If your mental health has taken a hit recently you're certainly not alone. Figures from Mind reveal approximately one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year.

While treatments can vary from medication to talking therapies, experts increasingly believe lifestyle changes could help improve our wellbeing and also aid in tackling mental health issues, including spending more time cooking and eating with our friends and family.

A recent poll from HelloFresh has revealed 85% of families are looking to dine together more often this year with a whopping (97%) of Brits claiming that sharing that food is the top source of happiness in their lives.

Further research from the University of Oxford found that the more often people eat with others, the more likely they are to feel happy and satisfied with their lives.

Using data from a national survey by The Big Lunch, the researchers looked at the link between social eating and an individual’s happiness, the number of friends they have, their connection to their community, and overall satisfaction with life.

The results suggest that communal eating increases social bonding and feelings of wellbeing, and enhances one’s sense of contentedness and embedding within the community.

The problem is that during our time-poor day to day lives cooking and eating together can often slip to the bottom of the priority list.

"We lead busy lives and so cooking and eating has, for some, become very functional, something that needs to be done so that we can move on to the next item on our to-do list," explains Alison Goolnik, integrative psychotherapist at www.therapyhere.co.uk

Woman serving dinner with her friends. (Getty Images)
Studies have revealed preparing and cooking food with friends and family is beneficial for our happiness. (Getty Images)

However, cooking and eating together has huge benefits on your mental health.

"The act of cooking is very therapeutic - cooking a dish from start to finish requires focus, patience and mindfulness," Goolnik continues.

"Whether following a recipe or making it from scratch, it gives a sense of achievement and accomplishment and therefore it is a great boost for your self-esteem."

Cooking together also creates a bond, which can strengthen relationships.

"Working together, with a shared purpose, gives you something to talk about, generates conversations and gives you a sense of belonging. This further boosts self-esteem and happiness." Goolnik adds.

Wellbeing benefits of cooking and eating together

There are some other mental health benefits of sticking on your apron to whip up a feast with your friends and family too.

Enhances emotional bonds

Cooking and eating together provides a unique opportunity for individuals to bond over a shared activity. "It's a time for open conversation, sharing stories, and enjoying each other's company, which strengthens relationships and fosters a sense of belonging and security," explains Barbara Santini, psychologist and relationship adviser.

Mother and daughter cooking together. (Getty Images)
Preparing food with friends or family can have benefits for our wellbeing. (Getty Images)

Reduces stress and anxiety

Engaging in the collaborative task of meal preparation can serve as a therapeutic activity, offering a sense of achievement and satisfaction.

"The act of cooking demands focus, pulling individuals away from their worries and reducing stress levels," explains Santini. "Moreover, sharing a meal creates a relaxed environment where individuals can unwind and connect, further alleviating anxiety.

Improves communication skills

According to Santini the kitchen is a perfect setting for dialogue and collaboration. "Cooking and dining together encourages verbal and non-verbal communication, enhancing understanding and empathy among participants," she says. "It's a natural setting for discussing the day's events, expressing concerns, and sharing joys, which is crucial for healthy relationships".

Promotes healthy eating habits

When people cook together, they are more likely to make healthier food choices, which has a direct impact on their physical wellbeing and, by extension, their mental health.

"The shared experience of preparing nutritious meals can inspire more mindful eating practices and foster a positive relationship with food," Santini explains.

Friends eating a meal together. (Getty Images)
Eating a meal with friends has a whole host of mental health benefits. (Getty Images)

Fosters a sense of accomplishment

Completing a meal together provides a tangible sense of achievement. "This can be especially empowering for individuals struggling with self-esteem or feeling a lack of control in other areas of their lives," Santini explains.

"Cooking and eating together can highlight one's abilities to contribute to and nurture the wellbeing of others, boosting confidence and self-worth."

Cultivates mindfulness and presence

Santini says the sensory experiences associated with cooking and eating, ouching, tasting, smelling, seeing, and hearing—encourage individuals to be present and in the moment. "This mindfulness can improve mental clarity, reduce stress, and enhance overall emotional balance," she explains.

"The act of cooking and eating together is a deeply enriching experience that goes beyond mere nutrition. It is a vital practice that nurtures our mental and emotional health, reinforcing the bonds that tie us together as human beings.

"As we navigate the complexities of modern life, making time for this simple yet profound activity can have lasting positive effects on our mental wellbeing and the quality of our relationships."

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