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Anxiety Baking – Creative Processing or Health Sabotaging?

An article came out recently in The Atlantic discussing a not-so-new phenomenon of baking in response to anxiety. According the article, baking is a creative process so it allows us to take a step back from stress, be mindful and let our inner joyful child go play. One could even categorize it as a type of moving meditation for those that get absorbed in the baking process. So what is the final say on this process? Is it truly therapeutic to bake up a storm? Or is it a tempting health-plan sabotage that could be replaced by a non-food activity that is equally as creative, relaxing and nourishing? Let’s hear our coaching experts weigh in!

Psychological Insight by Heather Schwartz, MS, LMFT, CEDS

Lately we have been discussing occupations and how many careers don’t lend themselves to creativity. That’s not a bad thing per say, however creativity is main part of humanity and is vital to mental health. It makes sense that we have some weekend baking warriors: the smells send our pleasure senses soaring, completing a project fills us with that happy completion and accomplishment that is often lacking in life. Then the social media posting and the praise that follows allows us to feel like we may not be coming in last in life. And finally the taste, well, we all know what the mouth feel of fat and sugar do to our dopamine levels.

Creativity is a huge part of my life.  I can actually feel that unmet need rise up in me at times and in those seasons I know I’m not the best version of myself.

The creative process looks very different for everyone. It’s not just about baking and food (although if that’s your desire I highly recommend the recipes Megan outlines for you that are complimentary to your wellness goals and NOT maladaptive.) Did you know there’s actually three BIG reasons to be Creative?

  • There’s some strong evidence that creativity predicts a longer life. In a recent Scientific American article, “researchers found that only creativity—not intelligence or overall openness—decreased mortality risk. One possible reason creativity is protective of health is because it draws on a variety of neural networks within the brain.” James Clear cites studies and research that demonstrate creating art can decrease negative emotions, reduce stress and anxiety, and improved medical outcomes.
  • What about problem solving? Creativity helps us see things from all sides rather than being stuck in a limiting linear worldview. Studies have shown that creative people are better able to live with life’s uncertainties because they can better adapt their thinking to allow for the flow of the unknown.
  • One of my very favorite things is watching people develop confidence! Dabbling in the creative process of your choice brings an aspect of vulnerability in sharing your creativity with others and just like allowing yourself to be vulnerable in relationships it’s a risky. Making the discovery that failure is part of the process in fact it’s usually inevitable and that you can survive that builds a beautiful confidence that can only be born from those moments.

What creative process have you always wanted to do? We encourage you to go for it and try! After all, these brave souls did! 

Nutrition Insight by Megan Wroe, MS, RD, CNE, CLEC

If you’re going to bake, use it as a fun learning experiment to try something new that could benefit your health goals. Try a new flour, a lower glycemic sugar or an alternative to egg in a favorite baked good! Or choose a completely new, healthier recipe that you’ve never tried before! Here are some of my favorite baking ingredients to play with in the kitchen:

  • Chickpea flour: Slightly sweet and full of fiber and protein! The density of chickpeas make this flour better for baked goods that do not need to rise much, like these pancakes or these cookies or go a little more savory with this flatbread (aka “socca”).
  • Chia or flax egg: Such a great way to replace an egg if your diet requires this! Simply mix 1 Tbls. seed with ¼ cup warm water and let sit to gel. The texture will be thick and runny like an egg! Check out this handy how-to guide and try the method with these vegan PB temptations or with this yummy seedy bread loaf!
  • Beans: I LOVE baking with beans because they create such a dense and moist texture for things like bars, brownies and cakes. It’s all about finding the right bean and the right recipe though-don’t go using black beans in your banana bread-that color won’t exactly be appetizing! But black bean brownies like this one? Now we’re talking! Or how about these chickpea blondies that I make with coconut nectar instead of honey? (NOTE: all baking experimentation requires taste testing by your wellness dietitian J )
  • Fruit: SO many possibilities here! Like applesauce to reduce fat and sugar in these muffins or this chocolate applesauce cake (again using coconut sugar instead). You can also go with a fruit-based baked good like this oh-so amazing berry crumble! Also, these frozen chocolate banana bites may not be baked goods, but they sure are fun to make and even more fun to eat as a treat you can keep on hand in the freezer!

Other tips for reducing sugar in baked goods:

  • Use coconut nectar or coconut sugar for a lower glycemic treat with the same sweetness.
  • Use Stevia drops or granules for no blood sugar response (just careful on how much you use-it’s a powerful flavor!)
  • Use applesauce or pureed pears as a 1:1 replacement for sugar, but you likely need to reduce any liquid in the recipe by 2-3 Tbls.
  • Simply cut the sugar amount by ¼-usually the recipe turns out the same and still tastes great!
  • Increase sweet spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom.

Other tips for reducing fat in baked goods:

  • Use applesauce or prune puree instead of the fat 1:1.
  • Use pureed beans.
  • Use avocado instead of oil for a higher fiber fat.
  • Replace cream with light coconut milk.
  • Try Greek yogurt instead of ½ the fat.

Other tips for sweets that are not baked goods:

  • ½ cup fruit + 1 Tbls. chopped walnuts, 1 Tbls. unsweetened coconut and cinnamon!
  • ½ cup Greek yogurt + cacao nibs and 1 tsp. coconut nectar!
  • Freeze a chocolate protein shake in ice cube trays or popsicle molds for a Fudgcicle!
  • Drizzle sliced pears, apples or berries with small amount of melted coconut oil and cinnamon, then bake for 30 minutes.
  • Make 2-3 apricot-walnut “sandwiches” with 1 walnut on either side of a dried apricot.