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Want to learn how to stop eating chocolate? There are plenty of reasons to change our habits when it comes to eating sweet foods, from cost-saving in the weekly food shop to all the associated health benefits. While there's no doubt that chocolate tastes great in the moment, it tends to lead to a crash by mid-afternoon, leading to fatigue and lethargy.
But giving up chocolate is often painted as an all-or-nothing approach: give it up for good or carry on as normal. With it being such a common ingredient, snack, and dessert though, it's not always feasible (or necessary) to cut it out forever.
Unless you want to go into a full chocolate detox or start eating healthy chocolate exclusively, there's no need to give it up for good to make some changes to your diet and prevent sugar cravings. Here, our experts lay out everything you need to know about how to stop eating chocolate and rid yourself of those pesky cravings once and for all.
Is chocolate really addictive?
Yes, chocolate does have the potential to create addiction-like cravings. This is down to the high levels of sugar and carbohydrate in the snack and the way these affect our blood sugar and hormone levels. For example, as a study by Boston Children's Hospital (opens in new tab) shows, sugar can alter the levels of dopamine in our bodies - a neurotransmitter that controls our brain's reward center.
A small 2013 study from Connecticut College (opens in new tab) even goes so far as to say that, at least in rats, Oreos are equally as addictive as cocaine and morphine. The research found that the combination of sugar and fat in the biscuit stimulates the brain's reward centers, triggering the release of feel-good chemicals like dopamine and serotonin in the same way as addictive drugs.
But is this the case in humans too? Absolutely, according to the study's authors. Along with being a common contributor to emotional eating habits, they say that this sugar overload explains exactly why we often struggle to stop at just one chocolate biscuit.
A later study by the University of California (opens in new tab) confirms this idea, as they discovered that fructose, a sugar additive found in many mass-produced chocolate products, adds to our drive to eat sweet foods as it increases the feeling of hunger, even when we’re full.
It's not just the sugar that makes it so hard to give up chocolate though, nutritionist Dr Joanna McMillan (opens in new tab) says. "The more you eat and more often you have it, the more your brain drives you to seek it out."
The repetitive nature of snacking only compounds the effect, she adds, and it can lead us to believe we're actually addicted to chocolate. "If you always have chocolate after your evening meal, for example, then you will have a craving for it at that time."
Certain triggers, like stress, can also increase our urge to eat sweet foods as any pressure on the body’s central nervous system will play a big role in how we react to food. As the same University of California study explains, the body produces a hormone called cortisol when we're stressed. It also inhibits the production of leptin, which is the hormone that signals to the brain that we're full and we're likely to eat more than we should without this feeling of fullness. It's one of the many health-related reasons to learn how to deal with stress on a long-term basis.
How to stop eating chocolate
1. Drink a large glass of water
If you want to stop sugar cravings in their tracks, hydration is key. Even a very low level of dehydration can lead to feelings of tiredness, as well as temporary low blood pressure, elevated heart rate, and headaches. It’s a combination that often leads to us seeking out comfort food like chocolate, according to the University of Mississippi.
“Without a daily sugar fix, our bodies aren’t getting the same amount of glucose as they’re used to,” explains Dr Claire Shortt (opens in new tab), nutritionist and lead scientist at Food Marble (opens in new tab). “Our liver stores glucose in the form of glycogen but without water, it can’t be released. So we often confuse being thirsty with being hungry or craving food.”
Drinking water and other healthy drinks continuously throughout the day will certainly help with this, she adds. “It can keep us from getting thirsty and it allow the liver to release stored glucose, stopping us from going for sugar or chocolate to fill the gap.”
2. Avoid food and drink that are high in sugar
When it comes to chocolate and other sugary foods, it’s unfortunately the case that the more you eat, the more you want to eat. “If we have a lot of foods high in sugar earlier in the day, we tend to eat more high-sugar foods later on. I'd suggest cutting down on sugary foods in the morning. You will soon start to see a reduction in your chocolate cravings,” says Dr Shortt.
Avoiding sugary foods also includes drinks, however. Many people often forget that alcohol is one of the worst culprits when it comes to sugar content. With the average gin and tonic containing up to four teaspoons of it, it’s not surprising that we often crave sweet foods the morning after a heavy night of drinking. Known as a sugar hangover, consuming lots of sugar in a short space of time will lead to feelings of nausea, headaches, and an upset stomach just as too much alcohol will.
But rather than putting you off a chocolate bar the following day, consuming too much sugar the night before means you're more likely to crave it to compensate. “Low blood sugar, dopamine, and serotonin levels and increased cortisol is the perfect recipe for cravings,” Dr McMillan stresses. When you're out drinking, opt for low-sugar drinks like 'diet' mixers and some of the best low-calorie alcoholic drinks in a can.
To reduce the chance of a chocolate craving the morning after, line your stomach with plenty of rich carbohydrates before you go out. Classic ways to prevent a hangover, like alternating between soft and alcoholic drinks, drinking water before you go to sleep, and eating a hearty, protein-rich breakfast in the morning will also be key here.
3. Go cold turkey for two weeks
When it comes to stopping eating chocolate in the long term, the first thing to do is go cold turkey for at least two weeks. Giving up chocolate completely during this time will allow your hormones to rebalance while you break those old habits and begin to form new ones, Dr Shortt says.
But there’s no denying that cutting anything out of your diet straight away is going to be tough and kicking a chocolate habit is as much a mental process as it is a physical one.
"You may experience withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, lethargy, and irritability. But, as your insulin sensitivity stabilizes, your cravings will begin to subside," says Dr McMillan. "Follow a high-fiber diet and eat 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."
While you'll still undoubtedly have to turn down chocolate plenty of times, there's one way to make it easier on yourself. "Remove the temptation," nutritionist Dr McMillan suggests. "If you can't get rid of it, stash it out of sight. If you tend to make a pitstop at your favorite patisserie on your way home from work, plot a new route. Can't resist a 2-4-1 offer when you do the weekly shop? Order online. Plus, hold yourself accountable by keeping note of your new routine and marking off every day you achieve your goal of not eating chocolate using a habit tracker app, for example."
4. Take a magnesium supplement
There are so many benefits of magnesium. From lowering the risk of a stroke to being one of the natural cures for insomnia, it's really no surprise that this nutrient can help stop chocolate cravings in their tracks.
“Magnesium plays a big role in regulating blood sugar levels and a deficiency can cause cravings. So taking a supplement for magnesium or eating foods with lots of it can really help with managing cravings,” Dr Shortt explains.
But chocolate that contains 70 to 85% cocoa is itself a good source of magnesium, she adds. “This is particularly relevant for the millions of people who suffer from lactose intolerance. Since dark chocolate contains really low levels of lactose too, those who have the intolerance can get their chocolate and magnesium fix without the risk of symptoms.”
5. Create an action plan to stop chocolate cravings
Having an action plan ready to hand when chocolate cravings come up is one of the most successful ways to kick the habit. This could include useful swaps that are similar to chocolate, such as granola bars and other high-protein snacks.
Dr McMillan says, "Crave chocolate-chip cookies when the post-lunch slump hits? Bake some quick no-sugar cookies at home and have these instead. If you crack open the biscuit tin after dinner, make yourself a mug of sugar-free hot chocolate."
While it won't have the same taste as real chocolate, you won't have the sugar crash that promptly follows either, meaning you'll have more energy to see you through the evening.
Or, your action plan could be actually removing yourself from the temptation in front of you. “If you eat chocolate when the pressure gets the better of you, plan to take a 10-minute walk or do a 3-minute meditation break after a potentially stressful situation,” advises Dr McMillan. This has been scientifically proven to dramatically reduce chocolate cravings.
As a study by the University of Exeter (opens in new tab) concluded, taking a post-lunchtime walk cuts the desire for sugary foods by 50% due to naturally spiking endorphin levels post-exercise.
6. Be realistic about giving up chocolate
As the saying goes, everyone wants something they can’t have. While those who don't enjoy a chocolate biscuit or bar are unlikely to miss it, cutting out chocolate for those who like it is going to be a struggle.
"Self-denial will only make it more appealing and, in its purest form, it does come packed with health benefits,” says Dr McMillan. "After two or three 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."
Food scientist Dr Shortt agrees: if you enjoy eating chocolate but sometimes find it hard to keep to a few squares, try dark chocolate with over 70% cocoa. “This has significantly less sugar, so it’s much less addictive. Interestingly, for this type of chocolate to become addictive, you would need to eat 1kg of 70% dark chocolate every single day for 2 weeks before you start craving it like you might crave caffeine.”
But ultimately, if a bar of Dairy Milk is what you’re craving, it’s almost always better to give in. “Niggling feelings of guilt will only make you want it more, eat more of it and enjoy it less, so give yourself permission and eat mindfully, immersing yourself in the experiences of taste, texture, and aroma,” Dr McMillan says.
Healthy alternatives to chocolate
If you're learning how to stop eating chocolate and think your cravings could be linked to habit, try swapping out sweet foods for berries. Fresh or frozen with a dollop of Greek yogurt on top, they're naturally low in sugar, taste sweet and are high in fiber so you'll have a better chance of staying full after eating them. Plus, if you're looking to learn how to start a plant-based diet this year, these will certainly help.
Sweet but highly nutritious, dates are arguably the chocolate of the fruit world - and not just because they taste like it. Much like chocolate itself, these dried fruits contain healthy amounts of vital nutrients like calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium.
A sweet diet staple for almost 6000 years, honey is naturally sugary so it works as a great replacement for chocolate (and even sugar) in most baking or cooking.
4. Peanut butter
Research from Purdue University (opens in new tab) suggests that starting your day with peanut butter can reduce cravings for chocolate for up to 12 hours after breakfast. They concluded this was because participants who ate the nut butter had higher levels of peptide YY, the hormone that produces the feeling of fullness, after eating.
Plus, peanut butter can be naturally relatively high in sugar so giving you that kick without the crash.
5. Sugar-free chewing gum
Chewing gum can be a great way to get through a chocolate detox as it's made from artificial sweeteners which give you that sugary kick without actually containing any sugar.
There are also studies from the University of Leeds (opens in new tab) to suggest that gum fights the craving and due to the simulated motion of eating, can suppress your appetite and make you much less likely to snack throughout the day. While not advisable for everyone, it can also help with how to eat less in general.
6. Protein flapjacks
Protein bars can be mini powerhouses in your snacking routine, with the benefits of protein powder ranging from keeping you full throughout the day to helping you build muscle.
And when it comes to those who are looking for how to give up chocolate specifically, protein bars can help kick the craving as they come in loads of different flavors like salted caramel, yogurt and berries, cookie dough, and more. Just watch out for how many grams of sugar are in each one.
7. Cacao nibs
Cacao nibs are the closest you can get to chocolate without having the real thing. Coming from the cocoa tree, these nibs are the dried, fermented, and cracked beans that would otherwise be processed into chocolate. So they've got that delicious chocolate taste without the added sugar.
8. Dark chocolate
If none of those are working for you, our experts say, then just indulge in a couple of squares of dark chocolate.
"Try to wean yourself off sugar, fat, and additive-laden milk chocolate and onto high-quality dark chocolate," Dr MacMillan says. "The higher the cocoa content, the more nutritious and satisfying the result. You should aim for a cocoa content of at least 70%."
A digital health journalist with over five years experience writing and editing for UK publications, Grace has covered the world of health and wellbeing extensively for Cosmopolitan, The i Paper and more.
She started her career writing about the complexities of sex and relationships, before combining personal hobbies with professional and writing about fitness. Everything from the best protein powder to sleep technology, the latest health trend to nutrition essentials, Grace has a huge spectrum of interests in the wellness sphere. Having reported on the coronavirus pandemic since the very first swab, she now also counts public health among them.
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