With claims that chocolate products containing palm oil can cause cancer grabbing headlines, you might be wondering whether it's time to give up the brown stuff. Confusingly, cocoa was officially designated a ‘medicinal' foodstuff by EU regulators this year. Thanks to scientific evidence that nutrients found in chocolate aid blood flow and reduce blood pressure, experts have suggested that taking cocoa supplements could cut your risk of dementia and heart disease. Does that mean you can munch your way through that bar of Galaxy with impunity, then? Sadly, no - the levels of fat and sugar contained in the equivalent amount of chocolate would effectively cancel out the benefits, say scientists. Oh well.
For many of us, figuring out how to stop eating chocolate seems an impossible task. But we're here to tell you that it is possible. Find out how to give up chocolate (more or less) painlessly with our step by step guide...
According to experts, up to 90% of us experience food cravings on a regular basis, and chocolate is one of the prime culprits. In fact, for rats at least, Oreos seem to be as addictive as cocaine and morphine. Eating chocolate stimulates the brain's reward centres, triggering the release of ‘feel-good' chemicals like dopamine and serotonin in the same way as addictive drugs like nicotine, alcohol and heroin. "The more you eat and more often you have it, the more your brain drives you to seek it out," says nutritionist Dr. Joanna McMillan. Habit and learned associations compound the effect. "If you always have chocolate after your evening meal, for example, then you will have a craving for it at that time."
Why do we find chocolate so appealing? Well, evolution has programmed our bodies to crave sugary, fatty, calorie-dense foods. These kinds of foods were key to our ancestors' survival, allowing energy to be stored as fat in preparation for times of scarcity. And whilst few foods combine high levels of sugar and fat in their natural state, chocolate does. "No matter how strong your determination, you will have no more control over these powerful urges than you have over a bowel movement," says Dr. Penny Kendall-Reed, co-author of The No Crave Diet.
Hormones can also play a part. Feeling stressed? Cortisol can block the release of leptin, the hormone that signals to your brain that you are full. Experts have also warned that consuming fructose (a type of sugar often found in chocolate, as well as fruit) may actually increase, rather than decrease, hunger. The result? Another empty wrapper - or three.
How to Stop Eating Chocolate
So what can you do about it?
Experts suggest going cold-turkey for at least 2 weeks in order to allow your hormones to rebalance whilst you break those old habits and begin to form new ones. Wherever possible, remove potential sources of temptation. If you can't get rid of it, stash it out of sight. If you tend to make a pitstop at your favourite patisserie on your way home from work, plot a new route. Can't resist a twofer offer when you do the weekly shop? Order online. You may experience withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, lethargy and irritability but, as your insulin sensitivity stabilises, your cravings will begin to subside. Eat plenty of fibre and protein-rich foods to keep you feeling satisfied. Choose options with a low glycemic index, which release their energy slowly to keep you feeling fuller for longer.
Be realistic. It's not necessarily feasible - or even desirable - to give up chocolate for good. Self-denial will only make it more appealing and, in its purest form, it does come packed with health benefits, remember. After 2 or 3 weeks, try reintroducing small amounts into your diet. We're talking a square or two of high-quality dark chocolate once or twice a week here, not a Creme Egg after every meal... However, if you really want one, and you're not eating them every night, go ahead. Niggling feelings of guilt will only make you want it more and enjoy it less, so give yourself permission and eat mindfully, immersing yourself in the experiences of taste, texture and aroma, and savouring each and every bite.
Stop Chocolate Cravings
OK, that's all well and good, but how do you conquer those cravings? First things first, spend a day or two tracking your chocolate intake and noting your triggers. Is your snacking habitual or emotional? Once you've figured out the cause, you can work on tackling it.
Create an action plan. If you know you always reach for a Twix when stress gets the better of you, plan to take a ten-minute walk or three-minute meditation break after that important meeting, for instance. Crave chocolate-chip cookies when the post-lunch slump hits? Pack a stash of healthy snacks in your handbag before you leave for work. Always crack open the biscuit tin after dinner? Make yourself a mug of guilt-free chocolate tea, instead.
According to scientific research, something as simple as a 15 minute walk can prevent stress-induced cravings. Dr. Kendall-Reed's advice? Go shopping. "Simply buying a magazine or a nail polish has the same effect on the brain as eating a full-fat, high sugar muffin," she says.
Craving taken you by surprise? Drink a big glass of water (we often mistake thirst for hunger), brush your teeth and call a friend for a ten-minute chat. 9 times out of 10, your craving will be history by the time you hang up.
Or perhaps you always crave chocolate the morning after the night before? Low blood sugar, dopamine and serotonin levels + increased cortisol = the perfect recipe for cravings, according to nutritionists. Circumvent hangover-based munchies by lining your stomach with plenty of healthy carbs before you go out, alternating alcoholic drinks with soft drinks, drinking a big glass of water before you go to sleep and eating a hearty, protein-rich breakfast in the morning.
Finally, consider taking a magnesium supplement. Chocolate contains relatively high levels of magnesium, so dietary deficiencies occasionally manifest in cravings.
Try to wean yourself off sugar, fat and additive-laden milk chocolate and onto high-quality dark chocolate. The higher the cocoa content, the more nutritious and satisfying the result. Aim for a cocoa content of at least 70%.
Montezuma Dark Chocolate Absolute Black 100% Cocoa, 100g
Protein snack bars
Always read the label, ladies: many of those natural, ‘healthy' energy bars can boast more sugar and calories, and less protein, than a KitKat Chunky. However, these nutritional powerhouses are low on sugar and calories, high in protein and fibre and pack a deliciously satisfying chocolate orange hit to boot!
Pulsin 25g Orange Choc Chip Protein Bite - Pack of 18
Chocolate nut butter
Love chocolate spread? Spread a spoonful of this raw brazil nut and cacao spread on a wholegrain rice cake for a guilt-free treat.
Raw Health Organic Cacao Brazilnut Bliss, 170g
Swap that 400 calorie hot chocolate for a mug of calorie-free chocolate-infused tea. You'll learn to love it, we promise.
Tesco Finest Chocolate Tea
Cacao nibs = chocolate in its purest, most health-giving form. Use them in baking, sprinkle them on on cereal or blend them with a frozen banana and almond butter for your own yummy superfood ice cream.
Green Origins Organic Cacao Nibs, 150g