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The Self-Care Cookbook: Why food is good for your mental health

Gemma Ogston is a mum-of-two and runs Gem's Wholesome Kitchen. Her first book The Self Care Cookbook was released in December 2019.

I grew up in a large family and my mum taught me to cook when I was very young. I would often cook for the whole family from eight years old.

We all had our jobs to do so this was something that was expected of us, and this is where my passion for cooking started.

This is why I have always involved my kids in the kitchen and my daughter Carmen who is nine often cooks us our dinners (with me watching). She is inspiring to work with and is as passionate as me about cooking and food.

The path to my own business

I’ve done a variety of jobs ranging from working on the door at nightclubs, being an air stewardess for Virgin (in my early twenties which didn’t last long) to working in mental health as a drug counsellor in women’s projects.

Cooking is always something I’ve done throughout my life and when I was working on women’s projects you would find me in the kitchen trying to rustle up some healthy and tasty food for my clients.

Food is my passion and I worked out the hard way that what I eat has a direct effect on how I feel.

My relationship with food

During my teenage years, I suffered from anorexia, but luckily recovered thanks to the love and support of my family. But it was a rough ride.

It was a tough time and I made food my enemy and got really poorly. This is why I am so passionate about educating young people on how wonderful food can be and how it can be your best friend, not something you should be afraid of.

Read more: Eating disorders: Where to go if you need help

Showing my own children how fun and wonderful food is and how it can make you feel is something I try to do every day. How choosing a certain breakfast can cheer you up if you may be feeling a little sad before school, and how choosing bright and colourful foods can bring you joy.

When I started my business

My food business started as a vegan takeaway business, and in 2016, Gem’s Wholesome Kitchen was born.

My husband Peter and I run it together now – I do the cooking and Peter looks after the business. I run monthly plant-based nourish packages which is essentially self-care food delivered to your home daily for five days. I also run plant-based workshops and work with brands developing recipes and cooking for events.

The Self-Care Cookbook

I published The Self-Care Cookbook with Ebury Press (part of Penguin Random House) in December 2019 and the book has been brilliantly received with lots of great national press.

I was discovered by Penguin through my Instagram feed. The right food is so vital for our mental health and this is what I am trying to get across to the younger generation who are our future.

Mental health and food

Mental health issues in young people is rising due to huge pressure from social media, online bullying and also not having a positive body image 

We need to teach kids that supporting their own mental health can be done and by starting with something so simple like what we eat.

Showing young people how to cook and become independent in the kitchen leads them to create wholesome nourishing food and will help them feel good from the inside out.

Sharing what I know

Our first mood-boosting tween cook workshop run by myself and my daughter Carmen took place in Brighton at Brighton Community Kitchen run by Brighton and Hove Food Partnership in March. It sold out in record time.

I’m trying to take these workshops into schools and get funding to support me doing this with the help of the council, so fingers crossed watch this pace.

In a world where more than ever we need to be kind to ourselves and others it feels like an important time for me to be talking about this.

To find out more about The Self-Care Cookbook, visit:

Charlotte Harding
Charlotte Harding
Charlotte is a journalist and the co-founder of The Women's Work Collective.


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