Chocolate is a very common go-to snack or treat. Lots of people reach for chocolate when they feel stressed or emotionally depleted, or sometimes a craving kicks in seemingly out of the blue. When a craving for chocolate takes hold, suddenly all you can think about is how to get your hands on some of the sweet stuff. You’ll feel like you will drop everything for a quick fix!
Some people even go as far as to say that they are “addicted to chocolate.” And while they are describing a very real and intense desire to eat chocolate or a lack of self-control in preventing themselves from putting down the chocolate once they’ve started eating it, is it possible to actually be addicted to chocolate?
Now, we’re not going to open the debate about what constitutes an addiction or not, but let’s take a closer look at some of the things that happen when you eat a lot of something as delicious as chocolate.
Chocolate, like most foods with high quantities of sugar, fat and/or salt, release chemicals and hormones into the body. The hormones set off a chain reaction throughout the body that can help relieve stress, quell anxiety, and increase feelings of happiness. It’s easy to see how that might be somewhat habit-forming.
And there is something like conditioning that can happen, and it can happen with any kind of food. You might be familiar with Pavlov’s experiments that first brought the idea of conditioning into public discourse. Essentially, he set up a scenario with a dog and a bell. Pavlov would ring the bell and then right away give the dog a treat. He continued to do this until one time he rang the bell but did not give the dog the treat. However, the dog was expecting one (as measured by his saliva). The dog had come to associate the bell with getting a treat.
In many situations, humans function like this too and it is often agreed to that conditioning is a component of some addictions, especially with food. Think of stress as that bell. Without even realizing it, we might have conditioned ourselves to expect a treat when we get a surge of stress. And it makes sense — food, especially certain kinds of sweet food, is comforting. And since there’s actually a chemical reaction that happens in the body because of the intake of food and the resulting output of calming hormones, we might experience a strong and very real desire to eat something like chocolate when we are triggered by stress.
There can be other habit-forming behaviors that might feel like they become an addiction. For example, many people who work in offices will report that at 2 o’clock on the dot every day, they get a hankering for a chocolate bar. Now, that craving could be the result of several factors that have convalesced into a seemingly unshakable daily craving.
There may be strange and even questionable behaviors linked to chocolate cravings and getting custom chocolate. Things like midnight runs to the cupboard to sneak a square of chocolate, or secretly keeping a stash of the stuff hidden from others. A person might even have an inability to quit eating the stuff, even if there are negative consequences (unwanted weight gain, broken promises to oneself or partner). There are of course countless cases of people trying to quit cold turkey but not being able to. While these are all qualities of addiction, it’s hard to say definitively whether or not it is possible to be addicted to chocolate.
What is probably more accurate is that people can form unhealthy relationships with food and that there can be negative consequences if it gets out of control.
So let’s focus on what we can do to maintain a healthy relationship with chocolate. Because, let’s face it, nobody wants to give up chocolate forever!
Here are a few tips to reframe the way you interact with chocolate when the craving hits hard.
Replace chocolate with something healthy – most of the time
Say you are one of those people who gets a daily craving. Instead of succumbing to it every day, which will only solidify the desire, try having a piece of fruit instead (it’s still sweet!) and giving in only on Fridays. That way you have something to look forward to and will be able to appreciate it more.
Keep it out of the house
It can be as simple as that! It’s much easier to ignore the craving if you have no way of fulfilling it so give yourself a fighting chance!
Next time you crave chocolate, take a moment to pause and think about what the external environment is like for you. Did something just stress you out? Could be work, family, the news, or your noisy neighbor. Or maybe it’s sadness you feel — what happened that made you feel that way? And do you really need chocolate right now or will it be just as effective to go for a run?
Once we see our emotional or psychological connections to our habits, it is a helpful step in transforming them.
Check your lifestyle
Unhealthy lifestyle habits tend to exacerbate. For example, not getting enough sleep tends to lead to worse dietary choices throughout the day. If you’ve had a big unhealthy lunch, you might be less inclined to want to get in that workout you promised yourself. So instead you might feel lethargic and disappointed with yourself (plus you’re tired and didn’t get many good nutrients today) which leads to you overreacting toward your colleague. This stresses you out more and now you can’t fall asleep because you are worried about tomorrow.
You can see how this can snowball, so it’s important to stay on top of healthy living. And that includes watching what you eat, but also giving yourself a break every now and again.