Milk, dark, or white — Valentine’s Day is a big chocolate holiday. 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.
In a study examining chocolate cravings in American and Spanish college students, for example, researchers 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.
Given our desire to eat chocolate and the increased chocolate-based treats available this time of year, how can we manage how much of it we actually eat.
Here are 3 tips for managing chocolate cravings.
1. Don’t restrict yourself.
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, one study found that anxiety, chocolate cravings, and food cravings all increased when people who regularly craved chocolate were asked not to eat it over two weeks.
In addition, it may surprise you that research suggests that eating chocolate is associated with lower body fat.
After considering physical activity and other food consumption (e.g., fruit and vegetables, total calories, saturated fat), the study found that higher chocolate consumption was associated with lower levels of body fatness in a sample of 1,458 European adolescents.
As such, not allowing yourself to eat chocolate when you crave it is not as healthy 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.
According to dietary restraint theory, people who chronically adhere to a strict diet are at high risk of 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. 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 afterward, 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 it!
Although Valentine’s Day and other holidays can be wonderful, they can also be a challenging time for many of us to manage our eating — particularly around chocolate. To manage your chocolate cravings, don’t restrict yourself, plan ahead, and enjoy the 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.
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 National Eating Disorders Association is an excellent resources.
Cortney Warren, Ph.D., ABPP, is a clinical psychologist and adjunct professor of psychiatry at the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV). She is also the author of Letting Go of Your Ex and Lies We Tell Ourselves.
This article was originally published at Psychology Today. Reprinted with permission from the author.