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Podcast: A Delicious Ritual to Reduce Stress

 Living in our fast-paced world, many of us find ourselves stressed out, and many others don’t even realize how stressed they’ve become. Many people choose to ignore their stress, others use meditation, exercise, or other endeavors to reduce stress. This episode shares the story of a woman whose solution to stress involves regularly making challah, a traditional Jewish bread. Not only does the ritual of the making of the bread reduce stress, but the history and tradition of the bread are also important to her.

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About Our Guest

Beth Ricanati, MD has built her career around bringing wellness into women’s everyday lives, especially busy moms juggling life and children. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her MD from Case Western Reserve University; she completed her internal medicine residency at Columbia Presbyterian in NYC. She spent ten years in practice at the Columbia Presbyterian’s Women’s Health Center, the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Women’s Health, and the Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute. In addition to the frequent online writing that she does now, Ricanati has been a guest contributor for television, print, and online media, and has published medical articles in peer-reviewed journals. Ricanati lives in the Los Angeles area with her family and one challah-loving dog. Her book, Braided: A Journey of a Thousand Challahs, can be seen on Amazon.



Narrator 1: Welcome to the Psych Central show, where each episode presents an in-depth look at issues from the field of psychology and mental health –  with host Gabe Howard and co-host Vincent M. Wales.

Gabe Howard: Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s episode of the Psych Central Show podcast. My name is Gabe Howard and with me, as always, is Vincent M. Wales. And today we will be talking with Dr. Beth Ricanati. Beth, welcome to the show.

Beth Ricanati: Thank you so much. I’m excited to be here.

Gabe Howard: Well, we’re very glad to have you.

Vincent M. Wales: Dr. Ricanati has a book that just came out in September. It is called Braided – A Journey of a Thousand Challahs, and it chronicles her journey of making bread and her quest for wellness and peace. She is a physician and a mother and we are very glad to have her here. Tell us one thing: what the heck is challah?

Beth Ricanati: Challah is a traditional Jewish bread.  Most of us recognize it as a braided bread that we have once a week on Shabbat. It does come in other shapes and sizes as well.

Vincent M. Wales: And what’s one of the defining factors of it, aside from the shape?

Beth Ricanati: The significance of challah is not just that it’s bread. It’s actually got some symbolism and history wrapped up in it. And it has been made for thousands of years.  One of the things that I really like about challah is that it connects me to the past. When I make challah, I am taking a little piece off and saying a blessing, as people do all around the world. And that signifies the offering that was given to the temple thousands and thousands of years ago and I find that really cool.

Vincent M. Wales: And it’s yummy as heck, right?

Beth Ricanati: Is oh it’s so good. Oh my gosh. We love it on Friday night. But leftovers the next day are even better a little challah French toast…

Vincent M. Wales: Yes! Challah French toast is the bomb!

Beth Ricanati: Right?

Gabe Howard: Well, I feel like I’m missing out, because I you are I’ve never had this, so I will add it to my list of things to try. Can you explain to us how is mental health and, you know, a bread – I mean, even steeped in history – how were they related?

Beth Ricanati: Yeah. So, great question and that was the big takeaway that I learned and it’s actually why I wrote the book. So, what I realized… I started making challah about ten years ago when I was totally stressed out and frantic and just trying to do everything and not doing any of it well. And a friend said, gee you should make challah. It was the Jewish New Year. I did and flash forward about five years into the process, and I realized the mental health benefit that I had been so lucky to have achieved and that is when I make challah on Fridays, I stop. I just stop. I’m present, I’m focused, I’m there, and it’s become my mindful meditation, if you will. It’s an opportunity every Friday to hit the pause button and reset and re-ground with my hands and a bowl of flour. It’s been incredible.

Gabe Howard: So in a lot of ways, it’s not so much about the bread making, it’s about the ritual, the routine. There’s something to look forward to.

Beth Ricanati: It’s my mindful ritual. And I care that we all have a mindful ritual. You’re absolutely right, for me, it’s the bread. But it doesn’t have to be, maybe it’s gardening for you. Or maybe it’s salsa dancing, as somebody else’s recently told me. It doesn’t matter what the ritual is, but that you have something that can help to keep you present, keep your focused, keep you mindful, is unbelievable for so many reasons, not the least of which is to help with stress management.

Vincent M. Wales: Can you talk a little bit more about that. I mean, I don’t think a lot of people are as aware about how important meaningful rituals can be to us.

Beth Ricanati: Yes. So we live, as you know, in a crazy, busy, fast-paced world.  And I think many of us, and certainly I had, had lost touch with the importance of having ritual in our lives. We’re running all over the place, we’re trying to do everything and be everywhere. We’re on our devices, etc., and there’s a lot of stress and anxiety floating around. I see it in my practice, I see it in my own life, and having a ritual – something that can help to bring you back – is such a great antidote to all of that stress and anxiety.

Gabe Howard: One of the things that you say about your book is that it sort of chronicles your quest for wellness and peace. Can you tell the listeners what they would get out of the book if they picked it up?

Beth Ricanati: To chronicle not only my journey, but they’re really three themes of the book. There’s the history of challah, which I knew nothing about prior to making challah. So there’s the history piece. And then there’s the food piece, which we can talk about more in a minute, that not only is obviously the recipe, but also the ingredients, and I’m obsessed with food as medicine and I go into great detail about the six ingredients and the importance of them and the quality and I think what we eat really impact our health. But then, the third piece is the sort of Mom and medical piece, and that’s my story and it’s stories of some of my patients and I one of the really lovely takeaways is that there’s some universal themes that I have gleaned and that that people who have read the book so far have told me that they can really identify with this need to just pause and be mindful and whether it’s making challah, as I said, or anything else, it’s the remembrance and the reminding that we’re all in this together.

Vincent M. Wales: I know a lot of people have their own rituals, but I’m not sure that a lot of people’s rituals are what you would call meaningful – sitting in front of the tube every night is a ritual for a lot of people.

Gabe Howard: That’s my favorite ritual.

Vincent M. Wales: I know it is. That’s why I brought it up.

Gabe Howard: Thanks. Thanks, Vin. Just call me right out on the show.

Vincent M. Wales: But you brought it up first.

Gabe Howard: Listen you are right. I mean it is not a meaningful ritual, but it is my ritual. It is what I do. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt your question, but continue please.

Vincent M. Wales: Yeah I mean, well, you know, rituals can do two things. What yours does, Gabe, is it de-stresses you from your day, which is of course a benefit. But then what Beth here is talking about is something of another level entirely. And that’s something that is meaningful, you know, for as she said, there’s a lot of examples. A lot of them are artistic in nature, in fact.

Beth Ricanati: Yes.

Vincent M. Wales: And that’s, you know, as a writer, I dig that.

Gabe Howard: So based on what you just said there, Vin, I would like to pose the question to you, Beth. How do we create a meaningful ritual out of… like you said, I just I’m just living my life, I do need to de-stress, I’m not going to give up the television. But, you’re right. I would like to have something meaningful to look forward to, so what’s the process to create that?

Beth Ricanati: I think the first step is just doing something. It’s that simple, it’s behavioral modification, at the end of the day, really. I think that it’s the act of doing. So for example, I do this every Friday, and it has now become something that I don’t skip. And I rearranged my life to accommodate it. And we know from research, if you do something for a month, you’re more likely to keep doing it. So for example, if you if you walk and you walk for 15 days, if you skip the 16th day, you may or may not walk again on the 17th. But if you walk for a month and you miss a day, you probably get back to it the next day. So, to begin having a ritual in your life, I think you just have to start doing something and then it’s almost it becomes the realization afterwards. I think what stops so many of us is that we actually are looking for that perfect thing. What’s going to be my perfect ritual, in this case. And then we don’t do anything, because perfect is the enemy of the good. And it’s hard to find what the perfect thing is.

Gabe Howard: You are correct. I am fond of saying that perfection is the enemy of progress because we don’t move forward because we’re trying to make it perfect. So, this is a little bit of a weird question, but I want to pose it to you because I think that it is relevant. How do we determine something that is meaningful? I think that, collectively, we can all agree that sitting in front of the television is not meaningful, but and as you said, you know, cooking or… yeah. Speak on that a little bit.

Beth Ricanati: I think it’s personal. So actually, to go back to the TV example for a minute, you know if maybe your ritual is that you’re going to watch West Wing reruns with your child, that could be really meaningful, actually. I think it depend for the individual as opposed to, oh well, we can only say that that it’s meaningful if it’s X or Y. I think we all have our own individual… what resonates, what touches us.

Gabe Howard: We have our own personal motivations for the things that we try.

Beth Ricanati: Right. I mean, like I can’t garden to save my life and I’ve killed every succulent in our house. I mean I can’t keep a plant alive, but my mom is an unbelievable gardener and that’s her thing. And she does it and does it all the time and it’s fantastic. So I think it just depends on us individually.

Vincent M. Wales: It really does. And, for the record, I can’t keep plants alive, either.

Beth Ricanati: I’m feeling a little better.

Gabe Howard: Hold that thought for just one moment. We’re going to take a break to hear from our sponsor.

Narrator 2: This episode is sponsored by, secure, convenient and affordable online counselling. All counselors are licensed, accredited professionals. Anything you share is confidential. Schedule secure video or phone sessions, plus chat and text with your therapist whenever you feel it’s needed. A month of online therapy often costs less than a single traditional face-to-face session. Go to and experience seven days of free therapy to see if online counselling is right for you.

Vincent M. Wales: Welcome back, everyone. We’re here talking with Beth Ricanati about challah and meaningful ritual. So, one of the things that you had mentioned before is that you view food as medicine. And I know that is a very common thing. But I’d like to hear your twist on that.

Beth Ricanati: Yes. So I think that, and I’ve come to see particularly through my medical work, that the foods that we eat have an incredible ability to promote disease, prevent disease, and treat disease. So for example, turmeric is a hot one right now. It’s a spice that has been shown again and again and again to be anti-inflammatory. I think that’s incredible. Or another example, let’s take broccoli. We know that there’s a substance in broccoli that can turn on and off genes in your body that can promote and/or inhibit cancer. That’s incredible to me that the food that we eat can have this ability to keep it healthy. Or take mental health, for example. If you eat a lot of processed and packaged food, as opposed to foods that are rich in Omega 3s and fresh fruits and vegetables that are loaded with phytonutrients, you’re going to feel a whole lot different if you’re eating, you know, the Doritos versus a piece of salmon. I think that’s just awesome.

Gabe Howard: Let’s not go attacking Doritos.

Beth Ricanati: No, you’re right.

Gabe Howard: No, no, I’m kidding, it’s one of my favorite foods.

Vincent M. Wales: I’m gonna go take the salmon out of my freezer.

Gabe Howard: I don’t like salmon at all. But I completely understand your point, because people talk a lot about how eating fried foods or a lot of cake or donuts, etc. is bad for you, but nobody talks about eating healthy can be good for you. And by nobody I just mean like general conversations, everybody is really quick to smack the donut out of my hand, but nobody is quick to put a salad in my hand. And that’s really kind of your point, right? If you ate better, you’d feel better. And that’s powerful.

Beth Ricanati: It’s super powerful. I see it at work, I see it in our home. It’s incredible. And I see it, honestly, when I make challah. So the ingredients are the same. The recipe that I was given 10 years ago is the recipe that I used just this morning when I made challah and the six ingredients are the same. However, the quality of the ingredients has gone up substantially, as I’ve learned more and more. So take the egg, for example, that that I use in my challah. I used to just buy whatever egg was at the grocery store and I didn’t know that there was a difference. But now, I know that there’s a big difference, and you can go yourself and do this experiment that I’ve done it with my kids, it’s kind of fun. Just go by whatever random egg you want at the grocery store and then buy the organic, cage free, pasture raised, etc. egg, crack them open in two dishes next to each other, and one will have that pale, anemic looking yellow yolk and the other will be this vibrant, almost saffron golden color. Don’t you want that and all those nutrients? I certainly do. So I’ve changed –

Vincent M. Wales: Yes please.

Beth Ricanati: Right? It’s incredible. So I’ve changed, not the ingredients themselves, though the eggs, the flour, or the sugar, etc., but I’ve changed which ones I use, because I don’t want to put bad food… I can just as easily put good food in my body as bad food. And now, luckily, there’s so many more choices that it’s a lot easier to do that.

Vincent M. Wales: Right, and we out here in California are pretty privileged to have so many farmers markets.

Beth Ricanati: Yeah.

Vincent M. Wales: Having grown up back east and in a tiny little town, I grew up eating canned vegetables more than anything else and that’s… that’s a far cry from what we’ve got here right now.

Beth Ricanati: Yes.

Gabe Howard: I’m in Ohio, so thanks for rubbing it in, you too. I really appreciate it.

Vincent M. Wales: Yeah, yeah… anytime.

Gabe Howard: To segue for a moment, and in your own words, do you believe that society in general has just… we’re just devoid of meaning in our lives, that we just get up, go to work, make dinner, pay our bills, go to sleep, repeat. Do you think we’re lacking as a culture things that make us special as individuals? Are we just like collective drones that are designed to work?

Beth Ricanati: No, no no. I just do think that it’s gotten a lot harder. I think individually were remarkable. And I just think, because – for so many reasons, but not the least of which, social media – I think it’s gotten a lot harder to hit the pause button and really stop and reflect and figure out what our individual meaning and purpose is. But no, I think we’re still all pretty unique and special.

Vincent M. Wales: Wow. Sometimes I don’t feel that way, though.

Gabe Howard: Well but I think that’s the point. I really… you’re right. Isn’t that kind of the point of your book, that we all are unique and special and powerful and available for greatness, but at the end of the day, we’re all staring at our phones and on social media and we’re not doing these things that connect us to our past and that create traditions for our future. And for those of us that have children.. you know, what if we don’t create traditions for the future? You have this – you have challah bread. But what is the next generation going to have if you don’t have it, because they won’t be able to go back. They don’t know great great grandma now.

Beth Ricanati: No. And that is very important, you’re absolutely right, to continue this. It’s been really fun, by the way, since the book has come out, to hear from leaders about how this is reminding them of their grandmother who used to bake or something in their heritage. You’re absolutely right about some of these traditions.

Vincent M. Wales: I think that’s great that you’re getting that kind of feedback and you’re having a… Even today, after we’re done with recording this show, you are having a book release party.

Beth Ricanati: I am! It’s so exciting, at our local independent bookstore. I’m thrilled, just thrilled.

Vincent M. Wales: Well I hope that goes well for you and please let us know because it sounds like a blast. Are you serving challah?

Beth Ricanati: Absolutely! I just made eight, this morning. You can’t come to a book launch about a book about challah and not have challah.

Vincent M. Wales: Exactly.

Beth Ricanati: I mean right?

Gabe Howard: The thing that I think is incredible and all of this is that there’s still a bookstore. In Ohio, they’re pretty much wiped out, with the exception of the college bookstores that are on campus that largely stock, obviously, the college textbooks… they’re… these things are gone. And that’s to your point. There’s another thing that we don’t have. I remember, not to age myself, but in the 80s, I got up really really early, like 2:00 a.m., to stand in line so that Stephen King could sign my book.

Beth Ricanati: Wow.

Gabe Howard: And stood outside a bookstore and waited. This bookstore is gone. They’re all gone. This is something that I won’t be able to pass on to the next generation because… I guess I can stand in line for the iPhone. That’s kind of the same, right? But, yeah. All joking aside, these are things that don’t exist anymore. As the world has become more convenient, we’ve sort of lost out on those things. I remember Vin telling me about friends of his that, you know, camped outside to buy tickets for things and nobody camps outside to buy tickets for things, we just sit in front of our computer and keep hitting refresh. So these things are slowly disappearing, which means, to your point, we need to work harder to find these traditions. Is that, is that really the takeaway?

Beth Ricanati: Well, first we have to even realize, to your point, that we may not have it in our lives and therefore, it would behoove us to figure out something to choose to have some meaning in our lives. And what’s so great about it is that you’ll feel better for it. And that was one of my big a-has. I felt better for doing this. It’s not why I started, by the way, but I realized and kept doing it because that’s how I feel when I make it. It’s really fantastic.

Vincent M. Wales: Do you find that, when you’re in the act of preparing the challah, that time just goes really really fast? You’re done before you know it?

Beth Ricanati: Well, yes and no. And what I mean by that is yes, because I get into a zone and it just, you’re right, it’s like I’m done before I started. But on the other hand, when I’m actually in the moment and I’m kneading the dough, then no, it almost is like time stopped. Yeah. When I’m actually deep in the dough, with that one moment, it’s really fantastic because I have to be there. I’m not making it in a KitchenAid or some kind of mix; I’m doing it by hand. And it’s messy. And that’s fantastic, because when in my normal life do I stop and get messy? I really don’t. So this is, this is fantastic. But you’re right, then it’s over all too fast and I’m waiting for the next Friday.

Vincent M. Wales: Right. So can you tell me, from a strictly mental health aspect, how does it help you? What… how can you compare how you feel before you make your challah to afterward?

Beth Ricanati: Yes, I feel calmer. I feel… it calms me down and I feel more focused. I tend to have a running list in my head all the time. There’s always something to do and I’m not good at turning that off. And, it gets harder to turn that off normally because of the phone and computers, etc. But when I have this ritual every Friday, I’m able to turn it off and I love that feeling. And what’s nice is I can then recall that feeling, because once you have something like this in your life and you’re aware of the benefit of it, you can remember how you feel and you can recall that then at other times. And that’s really powerful.

Vincent M. Wales: Now, when we were corresponding via email, I think one of the things that you said was that even when you travel…

Beth Ricanati: Yes. I try and make this… I really do try and make this every Friday. Occasionally, I don’t, but when I travel as well, I do try and make it. So for example, when I go I’ll be back in Ohio, actually, for Thanksgiving, and I’ll make it that week and I’ve already discussed with our extended family that I’ll need to do that that Friday. And when we’re away later on in the year, I will as well, make it when I’m traveling. Obviously, I can’t always do that when I’m traveling, but if I can get access to a kitchen, I do, because it’s part of my life, now. It’s what I do on Fridays.

Vincent M. Wales: And if you were unable to do that for say a month or two?

Beth Ricanati: Well, she might lose it, it might go away. It would… Right? I don’t think you’d skip it for a month or two. It’s that important.

Beth Ricanati: I want to know I don’t either. Yeah I’ve skipped it for two weeks in a row and that has not been fun. But I learned that there should be an 11th commandment, and the 11th commandment is that thou shall always have a frozen challah in the freezer for these emergencies when you can pull it out, because once in a blue moon, I need that frozen challah if I can’t actually make it that Friday. Doesn’t happen often, thank goodness, but once in a while…

Gabe Howard: That is very cool. All right. So I’m assuming that we can find the book on Amazon. Do you have a Web site that we can go to? Give us give us the details.

Beth Ricanati: I do. I do. So yes, it’s definitely on Amazon and you know where books are sold. And my Web site is And I also have an Instagram with the same handle and I post a tip or prescription, if you will, every morning and that’s at Instagram and housecallsforwellness.

Gabe Howard: is where you can go. Thank you so much for being here. We really enjoyed having you.

Beth Ricanati: Thank you.

Gabe Howard: You’re very welcome and thank you everyone for tuning in. And remember you can get one week of free, convenient, affordable, private, online counseling, anytime, anywhere by visiting We’ll see everybody next week.

Narrator 1: Thank you for listening to the Psych Central Show. Please rate, review, and subscribe on iTunes or wherever you found this podcast. We encourage you to share our show on social media and with friends and family. Previous episodes can be found at is the internet’s oldest and largest independent mental health website. Psych Central is overseen by Dr. John Grohol, a mental health expert and one of the pioneering leaders in online mental health. Our host, Gabe Howard, is an award-winning writer and speaker who travels nationally. You can find more information on Gabe at Our co-host, Vincent M. Wales, is a trained suicide prevention crisis counselor and author of several award-winning speculative fiction novels. You can learn more about Vincent at If you have feedback about the show, please email

About The Psych Central Show Podcast Hosts

Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar and anxiety disorders. He is also one of the co-hosts of the popular show, A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic, and a Podcast. As a speaker, he travels nationally and is available to make your event stand out. To work with Gabe, please visit his website,



Vincent M. Wales is a former suicide prevention counselor who lives with persistent depressive disorder. He is also the author of several award-winning novels and creator of the costumed hero, Dynamistress. Visit his websites at and




Podcast: A Delicious Ritual to Reduce Stress

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APA Reference
Central Podcast, T. (2018). Podcast: A Delicious Ritual to Reduce Stress. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 12 Dec 2018 (Originally: 13 Dec 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 12 Dec 2018
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