The Reason Why Baking Makes You Feel Good, According to Psychologists

Liderina/iStock via Getty Images
Liderina/iStock via Getty Images

Whether you're nibbling a slice of zucchini bread or an extra-chewy chocolate chip cookie, it’s always fun to be the taste tester for a friend or relative who loves to bake. And, while eating products created with love (and sugar) probably makes you feel good, the baker is reaping some psychological benefits, too.

Studies have shown that creative activities like baking and knitting contribute to an overall sense of well-being. Boston University associate professor of psychological and brain sciences Donna Pincus told HuffPost that there’s “a stress relief that people get from having some kind of an outlet and a way to express themselves.”

Baking is also a great way to practice mindfulness, because it requires you to focus on following very straightforward directions in a specific order. In other words, most of the decisions have already been made for you, allowing you to concentrate on the details while nudging your mind away from the stressors and anxieties of your life outside the kitchen. Julie Ohana, a licensed clinical social worker and culinary art therapist, explained to HuffPost that baking is therapeutic because it helps you practice the “balance of the moment and the bigger picture.” While you’re measuring and mixing ingredients, you’re probably visualizing how they’ll all come together to create a fulfilling final product, and deciding how and when you’ll share it with others.

Sharing your desserts—altruistically rather than for attention or competition—is another mood-booster, making you “feel like you’ve done something good for the world, which perhaps increases your meaning in life and connection with other people,” Pincus said. It can also function as a mode of communication. Susan Whitbourne, professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts, told HuffPost that “it can be helpful for people who have difficulty expressing their feelings in words to show thanks, appreciation, or sympathy with baked goods.”

If baking just isn’t for you, that’s OK, too—try one of these other stress-reducing tactics instead.

[h/t HuffPost]

The Great Tryptophan Lie: Eating Turkey Does Not Make You Tired

bhofack2/iStock via Getty Images
bhofack2/iStock via Getty Images

While you’re battling your cousins for the best napping spot after Thanksgiving dinner, feel free to use this as a diversion tactic: It’s a myth that eating turkey makes you tired.

It’s true that turkey contains L-Tryptophan, an amino acid involved in sleep. Your body uses it to produce a B vitamin called niacin, which generates the neurotransmitter serotonin, which yields the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate your sleeping patterns. However, plenty of other common foods contain comparable levels of tryptophan, including other poultry, meat, cheese, yogurt, fish, and eggs.

Furthermore, in order for tryptophan to produce serotonin in your brain, it first has to make it across the blood-brain barrier, which many other amino acids are also trying to do. To give tryptophan a leg up in the competition, it needs the help of carbohydrates. Registered dietitian Elizabeth Somer tells WebMD that the best way to boost serotonin is to eat a small, all-carbohydrate snack a little while after you’ve eaten something that contains tryptophan, and the carbs will help ferry the tryptophan from your bloodstream to your brain.

But Thanksgiving isn’t exactly about eating small, well-timed snacks. It’s more about heaps of potatoes, mountains of stuffing, and generous globs of gravy—and that, along with alcohol, is more likely the reason you collapse into a spectacular food coma after your meal. Overeating (especially of foods high in fat) means your body has to work extra hard to digest everything. To get the job done, it redirects blood to the digestive system, leaving little energy for anything else. And since alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, it also slows down your brain and other organs.

In short, you can still hold turkey responsible for your Thanksgiving exhaustion, but you should make sure it knows it can share the blame with the homestyle mac and cheese, spiked apple cider, and second piece of pumpkin pie.

[h/t WebMD]

Why You Shouldn’t 'Heat Up' Your Car's Engine In Cold Weather

iStock/borchee
iStock/borchee

When the inside of your car is no warmer than the frozen tundra outside, it’s easy to believe you need to let your engine “heat up” for a minute or two by idling in your driveway before driving away. The old adage goes that giving your engine time to reach its normal operating temperature is easier on your car than hitting the gas as soon as you turn the ignition on. One 2009 study showed that, on average, Americans believed a car's engine should be left to idle for nearly four minutes in subfreezing temperatures—but it turns out this behavior is not only bad for your wallet and the environment, but your car as well.

In 2016, Business Insider spoke with former drag racer Stephen Ciatti to get to the bottom of this widespread myth. Ciatti has a PhD in mechanical engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has worked on combustion engines for nearly 30 years, so he knows a thing or two about how to best treat your car. And he says that idling your machine in the cold only leads to a shorter lifespan for your engine.

In older car models that relied on carburetors to run, frigid weather did pose a threat to engine performance. Gasoline is less likely to evaporate in colder temperatures, which would have led to carburetors failing to get the right mixture of air and fuel into the engine. This sometimes caused cars to stall out, and that's likely what led to the practice of heating up our vehicles in our driveways in the winter. But if you’re driving a car that was made in the past few decades, this is no longer something to stress over. Beginning in the 1980s, car companies began replacing carburetors with electronic fuel injection, which uses sensors to calculate the correct mixture of air and fuel to supply your engine with.

When temperatures dip below freezing, your engine is already aware of this and adjusts by introducing more gasoline into the fuel mix. By letting your car idle, you’re subjecting your engine to more gasoline-rich fuel than necessary, and this ends up stripping oil from your engine’s vital components.

"Gasoline is an outstanding solvent and it can actually wash oil off the [combustion chamber's] walls if you run it in those cold idle conditions for an extended period of time," Ciatti told Business Insider. He said this washing action can gradually "have a detrimental effect on the lubrication and life of things like piston rings and cylinder liners." So in the end, what you intend as gentle behavior toward your car’s engine could turn out to be the opposite.

Once your engine reaches a temperature of around 40 degrees it switches back to its regular fuel mixture, but idling doesn’t help it hit that point any faster. According to Ciatti, the fastest way to heat up an engine is to actually drive. But don’t take that as an excuse to go gunning down the driveway: Your engine will take between five and 15 minutes to reach a normal temperature from the moment you hit the gas. Until then, go easy on the pedal to avoid putting additional stress on your engine.

This article originally appeared in 2016.

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