Chocolate: Passion or addiction?

Akron Beacon JournalMarch 4, 2014 

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Is chocolate a passion or addiction?

JERILEE BENNETT — Jerilee Bennett/MCT

There have been times, as I looked at the pile of crumpled silver foil on my desk, when I wondered: Is it possible to be addicted to chocolate kisses?

I know I am not alone here.

Actually, my chocolate addiction is not nearly as big as it once was. I find that as I get older, I have a greater appreciation for the richness of pure vanilla. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that a box of chocolates, or a bowl of foil-wrapped ones, will always turn my head.

Maybe it’s time for a chocolate intervention.

For help, I turned to Susan Albers, a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic, who specializes in eating issues. She has written numerous books on the topic, including “Eat Mindfully,” “But I Deserve this Chocolate!” and “50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food.”

The doctor and I had a little chat about chocolate and whether someone can actually get addicted to it, the way they would alcohol or drugs. That’s a matter of debate in the science community, but Albers knows the desire is real.

“You don’t have the same kind of withdrawal, but the intensity of the cravings is pretty high. People talk about really wanting that chocolate. It’s like a magnet really calling your name from the other room,” she said.

Those intense cravings are what prompted her to start a month-long help session on her Facebook page, offering tips to help folks deal with their chocolate cravings during the month of February. (You can visit at facebook.com/eatdrinkmindful).

The idea came to Albers after last Halloween when heavy rains kept many trick-or-treaters inside. The following day, Albers was with a group of people who were concerned about the large amount of leftover chocolate that was calling their names. She resolved that for the next chocolate-eating holiday, she would offer some help.

Eating mindfully isn’t as difficult as it sounds.

According to Albers, it’s really as simple as taking the time to slow down and be in the moment when we eat. She doesn’t believe in trying to deny ourselves chocolate or any foods we love, because that’s a recipe for failure.

“Forget the just-say-no approach,” she said. “The more you fight it, the more you want it.”

Instead, try the Five S’s:

Sit down: Don’t just gobble up empty calories on the run. Sit down and enjoy the experience.

Sniff it: Take in the aroma of the chocolate before you bite it.

Section it or snap it: If you have a large bar, snap off a small piece to focus on.

Savor it: Eat it really slowly and pay close attention to how it tastes and how it feels in your mouth.

Smile: Take time to pause, and think about how pleasurable the experience was before racing off to have another bite.

The thing is, if you follow the five steps, chances are there won’t be another bite.

Albers said many of the people she counsels find that after eating one piece of chocolate mindfully, they are satisfied and don’t want another.

Many patients find that when they take the time to eat mindfully, they eat less and lose weight as a result.

The better folks get at eating mindfully, Albers says, the better they get at controlling their desire for unhealthful eating, and instead of wolfing down five or six chocolate kisses, they can stop at just one or two.

When cravings come – and they will – Albers said there are ways to deal with them. Walking is an excellent way to control chocolate cravings. If you find yourself dreaming about chocolate, she said to focus on a neutral item, like a meadow or a rainbow, to help block your mind from thinking about chocolate.

You can also enjoy a small amount in a healthful way, like Albers’ chocolate salad dressing. It contains just one ounce of chocolate.

Dr. Albers’ Chocolate Salad Dressing

1 ounce dark chocolate, chopped fine

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon honey, or to taste

Dash of salt and pepper

MELT chocolate in the microwave. Stir in the rest of the ingredients. Whisk to combine.

ADD to a salad with such ingredients as spinach, apples, blueberries, cashews or almonds and whole wheat croutons.

Yield: about 1/3 of a cup.

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