‘Tis the season of decadent chocolate desserts! Milk, dark, or white, chocolate dominates the top-ranking cookies, cakes, and recipes of the season. With its enticing smell and delectable melt-in-your-mouth taste, chocolate is enticing in smell, texture, and flavor.
If you are like most people, you feel an overwhelming desire to eat chocolate from time to time. In fact, chocolate is the most craved food in Western cultural contexts (1). In a study examining chocolate cravings in American and Spanish college students, for example, Osman and Sobal (2006) found that 91% of American women and 59% of American men report craving chocolate.
We love chocolate so much that we eat tons of it—literally. In 2009, the world consumed approximately 7.2 million tons of chocolate (2).
Given our desire to eat chocolate and the increased chocolate-based treats available during the holiday season, how can we manage our cravings? Here are three tips to help you navigate your holiday chocolate eating.
1. Don’t restrict.
Paradoxically, not allowing yourself to eat chocolate when you crave it can actually lead you to feel more anxious and eat more over time. For example. Moreno and colleagues (2012) found that anxiety, chocolate cravings, and food cravings all increased when people who regularly craved chocolate were asked not to eat it over a two-week period (3).
In addition, it may surprise you that research suggests that eating chocolate is associated with lower body fatness (4,5). After considering physical activity and other food consumption (e.g., fruit and vegetables, total calories, saturated fat), Cuenca-García and colleagues (2013) found that higher chocolate consumption was associated with lower levels of body fatness in a sample of 1458 European adolescents. As such, not allowing yourself to eat chocolate when you crave it is not as unhealthy as you may have believed.
2. Plan ahead.
If you are like most Americans, you have probably been on a diet (or many!) at some point in your life. The problem with chronic dieting is that when we think we have somehow failed (e.g., we ate a “forbidden food”) we often overindulge (6,7). According to dietary restraint theory (6), people who chronically adhere to a strict diet are at high risk for temporarily losing control of their eating. In addition to resulting in general overeating, this loss of control can lead to even stronger food cravings and unhealthy binge eating episodes over time (7). The classic (albeit flawed) rationalization for this behavior is, “I’ve already blown my diet today so I might-as-well just keep on eating!”
Given that chocolate is on the “unhealthy forbidden foods list” for most of us due to its high fat and sugar content, it is especially helpful to plan ahead. Before you show up to that holiday party or head home to eat your family’s famous chocolate specialties, make a mental decision about how much you are comfortable eating. In general, not eating any chocolate can lead us to feel deprived whereas eating too much can leave us feeling physically ill and emotionally taxed. Knowing this, plan to eat an amount that is satisfying but not over-indulgent.
3. Enjoy it when you choose it.
Life is short. Chocolate and food should be enjoyed! If you are going to eat a decadent meal only to feel guilt-ridden afterwards, it is truly not worth eating it. When you crave chocolate, make a plan about how much and when you will eat it. Then, when you eat that perfect chocolate dessert, savor every delicious bite and feel no remorse. Let yourself enjoy!
The Naked Truth is this: Although the holidays can be a wonderful time of year, it can also be a challenging time for many of us to manage our eating—particularly around chocolate. To manage your holiday chocolate cravings, don’t restrict, plan ahead, and enjoy the holiday treats when you eat them!
Additional note for extreme chocolate cravers: If you think you may be struggling with your chocolate consumption (or eating in general) more than the average person, it may be time to talk to someone. A common assessment questionnaire of chocolate cravings can give you a good indication of how strongly you crave chocolate in comparison to others (Rodriquez and colleagues, 2007). In addition, if you are concerned that you may be binge eating, contacting your local health professional or an expert in the field of eating and weight could be highly beneficial. The Binge Eating Disorder Association (http://bedaonline.com) and the National Eating Disorders Association (http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org) are excellent resources.
Copyright Cortney S. Warren, Ph.D.
- Osman, J.L. & Sobal, J. (2006). Chocolate cravings in American and Spanish individuals: Biological and cultural influences. Appetite, 47. 290-301.
- Moreno, S., Rodríguez-Ruiz, S., Martin, M., & Warren, C. S. (2012). The experimental effects of chocolate deprivation on cravings, mood, and consumption in high and low chocolate-cravers. Appetite, 58, 111-116.
- Cuenca-García, M., Ruiz, J. R., Ortega, F. B., Castillo, M. J., et al. (2014). Association between chocolate consumption and fatness in European adolescents. Nutrition, 30, 236-239.
- Golomb, B.A., Koperski, S., & White, H.L. (2012). Association between more frequent chocolate consumption and lower body mass index. Archives of Internal Medicine, 2011. 172, 519-521.
- Heatherton, T. F., & Polivy, J. (1992). Chronic dieting and eating disorders: a spiral model. In J. Crowther, S. E. Hobfall, M. A. P. Stephens, & D. L. Tennenbaum (Eds.), The etiology of bulimia: the individual and familial context (pp. 135–155). Washington, DC: Hemisphere.
- Polivy, J., & Herman, C. P. (1985). Dieting and binging: a causal analysis. AmericanPsychologist, 40, 193–201.
- Rodríguez, S., Warren, C. S., Moreno, S., Cepeda-Benito, A., Gleaves, D. H., Fernández, M. C., & Vila, J. (2007). Adaptation of the Food Craving Questionnaire-Trait for the assessment of chocolate cravings: Validation across British and Spanish women. Appetite, 49, 245-250.