Time to cut back
I knew I was in trouble when I looked in my bin after a long day of seeing patients. There were two empty bags of chocolate. I’m not talking about small ones either. They were family-sized bags. Other days, I got through several large bars. And I had been munching my way through this amount of chocolate day in, day out, for a long time.
Moderation is key
I enjoy it too much to stop chocolate altogether completely, but I could see it was time to cut back. And with the exception of smoking, I think moderation is the key with all potentially unhealthy habits. Evidence suggests cocoa in chocolate can have protective positive health benefits, because it’s a rich source of flavonoids, with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Unfortunately, it’s likely that my excess consumption outweighed any potential benefit.
Retraining the brain
My medical knowledge told me that change might not be easy. Studies have shown that certain parts of the brain activate when you’re eating chocolate – or even thinking about eating some. I also had to beat the physiology behind those spikes in my blood sugar, and the brain response that left me craving more. Recent research has suggested that sugar can affect the brain in ways that are similar to addictive substances like tobacco, cocaine or morphine.
So change is really difficult, because the brain is hardwired to do what it has done before, taking the easiest and most efficient route. Breaking that hardwiring can sometimes seem overwhelming, and you have to approach it from several different angles at once.
If at first you don’t succeed…
I thought I could succeed by putting quality over quantity, and savouring smaller amounts of really nice chocolate. So I signed up for a posh delivery service. But the week’s supply turned up on Saturday, only to be gone by Monday morning. Rather than stopping the chocolate binges, I was actually eating more chocolate!
What worked for me
It worked better to cut down gradually. When I was hungry or flagging, instead of chocolate I would try low-carbohydrate, high-protein snacks, in the form of protein balls, brownies or shakes. Generally when you’re hungry, it’s important to have small snacks like nuts, seeds or Greek yoghurt rather than starving all day and then bingeing after work.
On the way home I took a different route that avoided passing the newsagent, a prime source of chocolate for me. I kept myself distracted during the evenings by playing more sport. We kept all chocolate out of the house – not a universally popular move, but it helped.
I was then ready for my own modified version of the so-called 5:2 diet. During the week, I don’t eat any chocolate. At weekends, I have as much as I like.
Adding rewards can also help, so I promised myself a very expensive new tennis racquet if I stayed on track. Though I can’t say it’s made me a better player, it does encourage me to work off some extra calories!