Choc horror - how to conquer your chocolate cravings

Chocolate, especially the dark variety, has been linked to health benefits, such as lower rates of stroke, coronary heart disease and blood pressure.

Chocolate, especially the dark variety, has been linked to health benefits, such as lower rates of stroke, coronary heart disease and blood pressure.

Will you, won’t you? Of course you will. It is difficult to resist the lure of chocolate, especially when it is lying in wait for you at the checkout. (Apparently ninety per cent of chocolate sales in supermarkets are impulse buys. )

And if you are having second thoughts all you need to do is remind yourself that this most delicious of confectionery, especially the dark variety, has been linked to health benefits, such as lower rates of stroke, coronary heart disease (a recent study says it could be associated with a one-third reduction in the risk of developing it ) and high blood pressure and an increase in feelgood hormones.

Why is chocolate so irrestible? For a start, it tastes great and it may be associated in our minds with childhood, happiness and rewards.

Michael Mullen, a clinical hypnotherapist and a master practitioner of neuro linguistic programming [communication and personal effectiveness training] based at New Street West, says as children many of us revelled in the sheer pleasure of eating chocolate.

“Maybe you were rewarded with chocolate for good behaviour or doing household chores or perhaps you enjoyed overdosing on it at Easter and Christmas. These pleasure feelings we get from chocolate make such an impact on us that they becomes anchored in our sensory systems. When we’re eating chocolate over and over again in our formative years, those good feelings become so reinforced that we want more and more of them. Eating chocolate becomes a habit.

“Chocolate in our adult years acquires hypnotic powers and can almost be seen as an instant antidote to feelings such as boredom, false hunger, tiredness, anger, happiness and depression.”

Shapes our lives

While for most of us this popular sweet tasting treat is but an occasional (we tell ourselves that anyway! ) indulgence or habit for others it is a compulsion which shapes their lives, says Mr Mullen.

“There is a subtle difference between a compulsion and a habit. A compulsion is an irresistible urge which has to be satisfied straight away whereas a habit is a behaviour practised often. The two often blend into one another to drive on the behaviour. For some people the compulsion may start off with a feeling in their mouth or a strong desire. Perhaps remembering the taste previously triggers the craving. For others it may be an overwhelming thought that cannot be resisted. Not all habits and compulsions are problematic. Chocolate only becomes a problem when the person loses their ability to be in control of their habit or compulsion by going on regular chocolate binges which they cannot stop.”

The resultant regret and sickly feeling coupled with possible weight gain can be a source of immense discomfort for many, he adds.

Another sign that chocolate has become a problem is if it acts as a replacement for a meal and you are often tired, moody, have a poor diet, irregular sleep pattern and bad concentration levels. Or when you simply struggle to perceive life without chocolate and feel frightened or uncomfortable by the very thought of its absence. What’s important to remember is that the craving is just a signal generated in your body and mind and it can be controlled and switched off by you, according to the clinical hypnotherapist.

Key ingredients

“Mindless chocolate eating is maintained because to keep a behaviour going you need to take time out from what you were originally doing and forget about the effects chocolate may have on your mood or metabolism. This short term forgetting is one of the key ingredients which helps to sustain compulsive chocolate eating. If you had to consciously eat or savour every single mouthful of chocolate you would eat slower, feel full quicker and consume less. By practising conscious awareness around eating times you may find that you are more in tune with your body so you are better able to read the signals which intuitively let you know whether this food feels good for your body or not.”

So how do you learn to control your cravings and cut back on your chocolate intake? Increasing the amount of water you drink together with rebalancing your diet are useful starting points, suggests Michael Mullen.

Eating more fresh fruit, nuts and vegetables and checking the blood sugar levels in your body are key areas that also need to be addressed. Keeping stress levels under control and having a strategy to cope with stress is also very important, especially situations which trigger the need for a chocolate fix.

“Neuro linguistic programming combined with hypnosis and Thought Field Therapy can also help to dissolve cravings making it easier to resist chocolate,” he says. “This is done by interrupting, breaking up and replacing the craving pattern of behaviour with a new state of calmness which allows you to switch off the craving.”

Eating patterns

However, the key to success lies within yourself. You must want change badly enough and show a willingness to practise the techniques which will help you control your chocolate eating patterns.

“It is also worth bearing in mind that subtle changes in breathing patterns like shallow breathing can trigger uncomfortable feelings in the body which are wrongly interpreted as a need for chocolate. Teaching people how to breathe properly is essential for dissolving food cravings. Hypnosis and NLP are very useful for uncovering the motivation behind the unwanted cravings.

“It is important also to resolve any underlying emotional issues which trigger off the need to eat chocolate in the first place. If this is not fully resolved then the cravings may return. But that in itself is not a bad thing if you have the tools to get rid of them. The power of choice lies within you. Finally you will know when you have successfully controlled your cravings the next time you swing your supermarket trolley down the confectionery aisle and glide past the chocolate stand without stopping on your way to the fruit and vegetable display.”

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