Why do you cook? About cooking & psychology

Cooking and psychology – a match made in heaven!

Have you ever asked yourself why you cook? Of course, it’s to be able to eat shortly after, but often there is a deeper motivation behind it. At least that’s the case for me.

I have a passion for food and I’m also really interested in psychology – luckily I am able to combine these two in my daily life as well as in my spare time. For the last years, I was doing market research by day while being hobby chef by night. These two realms constantly overlapped and interacted with each other. Not only was I busy conducting psychological research for big food companies, looking for the next big product, but psychology also played a big part in my daily kitchen life as well.

There is a motivational framework that my former employer Ipsos is using. It helps to explain why people do what they do and as it focuses on what motivates people. The model is called Censydiam, based on the theories of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, and has been around for quite a number of years. The model covers 8 basic human motivations, all with a distinct color.

Ipsos Censydiam Motivational framework


I’m going to skip the scientific background for now. The model is most easily understood and pretty self-explanatory once you tailor it to a certain domain – for example cooking. Weirdly enough, cooking allows me personally to enjoy all 8 different facets, even though they can be the complete opposite of each other. Depending on my mood and the situation, cooking means so many different things to me. Which of the following motivations resonates most with you?


Photo by Katarzyna Grabowska on Unsplash


Orange – Pure enjoyment, without any restrictions!

Cooking is fun and so is eating! I like to go crazy and treat myself with food. There is a reason why people eat chocolate, bacon and melted cheese – it releases feel-good chemicals in your brain. A big slice of pizza, a bowl of homemade stew, or a Doritos-crusted grilled cheese just makes me happy and lifts my spirits. Sometimes when I make something for the first time and realize that I just hit the flavor-jackpot I get a little tingle in my spine. It’s all about the enjoyment and flavors!


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Yellow – Being social!

We, humans, are social creatures and food brings us together. A nibble here and a drink there, help us to socialize and spend quality time together. Food is just a facilitator in these situations, but if I have to spend a day in the kitchen to make this happen, I am more than willing to do so! Serving up snacks for friends and enjoying your time together. Sharing is caring!


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Brown – Honoring family and tradition!

Food is often about honoring traditions and following rituals- even if that means cooking the same dish every single time. Food can bring a routine to your hectic day-to-day life. During my studies I had a ritual with my friend Marius – we would meet each Thursday, fry up hamburgers and fries while watching a movie and having some beers. Another example: A traditional worker’s Christmas Eve meal in Germany is potato salad with hot-dog sausages. Doesn’t sound like much? I totally agree with you, it is no culinary feast. But that is what my grandma made each Christmas, it’s what my mother makes each Christmas and it’s what I probably will serve my kids one day at Christmas. You may eat a turkey for Christmas, a lamb for Easter or just have coffee after each dinner – there are traditions and they are important to us. Many of these traditions have foods attached to them. It connects you with your friends, family, and cultural heritage.


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Blue – Peace of mind!

Cooking after a long day means letting go of the daily stress and finally being carefree. Standing in the kitchen is my Zen moment of the day. Repetitive tasks are a form of meditation for me. Think of cutting vegetables into perfect julienne strips or folding ravioli and dumplings into a particular shape. Nothing else matters, all worldly worries are gone, no one to interrupt. Try it! You either get really bored and annoyed or as close to nirvana as you possibly can.


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Black – Being in control!

With cooking, I was able to get my weight under control. One of the reasons why I started cooking was to make healthier choices. When I started cooking I was 120 kilos (265 pounds). Cooking made me feel in charge of my life for the first time. In charge of the meal, the ingredients and the calories that went into it. Cooking helped me to lose about 35 kilos (77 pounds) back then. Today I still love my burgers, bacon and all the fatty goodness that is so bad for me, but I know how to compensate for this on the next day(s). A nice cucumber salad, meal-sized soups, the occasional protein shake, and just more fruit and veg, in general, help me to stay at the weight I want to stay at.


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Green – Perfection and expertise!

I am a giant food nerd and I want to be one of the great chefs. Executing dishes on a perfect level, getting recognition from people around me, but especially from fellow cooks! Can you pair foods and wine? Make the best Bolognese sauce in your family? Or simply have a cupboard filled with every spice imaginable? You just might be an expert at whatever niche you choose, but it’s about knowledge and mastery. I know so much about food and teaching others about it, is half the fun.


Photo by Stoica Ionela on Unsplash


Purple – Showing off with food!

I wanted to make a name for myself through cooking. Even if I’m a rather moderate person, sometimes I just like to show off in my own way. If I tell people that I have written two cookbooks (book 1 & book 2), the first reaction is most often an “awe” or “wow”. I won’t lie to you, that feels pretty good. Being able to serve great tasting food is sexy. Others buy fancy cars to show off, I make impressive and tasty food. It sounds so completely different, but it boils down (pun intended) to the same: Doing stuff others won’t do or can’t do, sets you apart from the rest and gives you a certain level of status.


Photo by Philip Veater on Unsplash


Red – Pushing the boundaries!

I love to challenge myself with new dishes, crazy combinations and eating stuff I have never tasted before. Eating durian (stink-fruit), offal cuts and trying stuff on menus I don’t even remotely know what they are. Making chocolate-covered bacon, bulgogi-sushi and deconstructed hamburgers. Coming up with stuff like cooking challenges and winning them. Why would you be satisfied with less?


As you can probably read between the lines some of these motivations are more important to me than others. Maybe your motivations to cook are slightly different but you can probably still relate to the scenarios pictured.

Depending on the situation and my mood certain motivations in cooking become more dominant. But if I have to classify myself in a more general way, my primary motivation to cook is ‘red‘ like tomato sauce. Cooking helps me to get more out of myself, enjoy little challenges and I like to push myself in terms of creativity and skills. Food for me is a journey that simply does not stop.

Now the question is: Why do you cook? Let us know in the comments underneath!


A little disclaimer: The Censydiam framework is the intellectual property of Ipsos. For more information visit: https://www.ipsos.com/en-nl/brand-strategy

I am no longer affiliated with Ipsos, but I started writing this post when I was still working there and still wanted to share my vision on it.

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