Memory Catcher

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Chocolate Cravings Confidential

Will They Find My Body, Lips Smeared with Dark Chocolate?

My friend Bob used to dream of a freezer that doubled as a coffee table, where we could store our frozen Milky Ways. Or a remote-controlled electric train that ran from his Lazy Boy recliner in the living room to the kitchen and back transporting Snickers.

But that was many years ago. While I used to indulge with abandon, now I make a conscious choice every time I eat chocolate, checking my internal barometer. Will I be able to savor a moderate portion? Or is this a dangerous venture that could result in detectives finding a body with lips smeared in fine dark chocolate?

Recently, I attended a Mindful Eating workshop where the food, which was not announced in advance, turned out to be chocolate. A few people, who never eat sugar or chocolate, left.

For those who stayed, we began with a cup of cold Nestles’ Quick. “Quick and Shabbat don’t go together,” said our workshop leader, Rabbi Michael Lezak of Congregation Rodef Sholom.

Next was a Hershey’s kiss. I remembered the smell of Hershey, PA, the air thick with the scent of chocolate, on one of our family outings from my childhood. I heard the crinkle of the foil as I unwrapped it, and smoothed out the tissue thread that said “Kisses, kisses, kisses.” I bit it and held the tiny morsel in my mouth without chewing. Eventually it melted and disappeared. I could not make it stay.

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We covered more territory: greasy white “chocolate” that looked like cheese (with no cacao or other redeeming qualities); dark chocolate, rich and sophisticated; hot chocolate, so thick it rolled down my throat like liquid velvet but was cloyingly sweet.

With each sample, I took just a small bite or swallow and paid attention to all my senses. Taste, texture, smell, sight and sound. As I stood outside the experience, observing my responses, even the good dark chocolate didn’t trigger a craving. I thought how far I’d come from the days of the Snickers fests and how long it had taken me to get there.

I was feeling pretty cocky. But the next week I had chocolate ice cream for dessert, Then I had another portion. The next day, in a doctor's office, I saw a dish of choclates wrapped in tantalizing gold and silver foil. I didn't know if I could stop at one, so I didn't take the first bite.

"Chocolate is good for you," said another patient, plucking two pieces from the bowl. "And beer," he added.

Still, I won't go into that neigborhood on days when it doesn't feel safe.

Stepping away from chocolate begain with looking at the price I paid. In calories. In health numbers (like glucose). In the remorse I felt after overindulging.

Changing my tastes and habits was a gradual process. In fact, it took years of eating and regretting. In stores, I trained myself to look away from displays of foods I’d chosen not to eat. An inner voice would come to me and say, “Stop. Turn around.” Eventually, I saw junk food candy bars as toxic: bad for my health and not worth the price in calories, sugar or guilt.

But the knowledge that certain sweets weren’t good for me wasn’t enough. A few techniques helped me break the chocolate habit.

1. I substituted sweet fruit for chocolate.

2. I substituted other activities for eating — exercise, movies — anything I enjoyed that took my mind off food.

3. I mentally played the scenario through before indulging — from eating the chocolate to how I would feel afterwards.

4. I made my home a “chocolate-free zone.”

5. I reminded myself that if I didn’t take the first bite, the craving wouldn’t start.

While some people find they’re best off if they don’t indulge at all, I did not give up chocolate entirely. It is one of those food I can eat occasionally (potato chips are another matter), but I rarely eat it now and don't waste the occasion on pedestrian fare. I check in with my "internal guidance system." When that neighborhood doesn't feel safe, I walk in another direction.

Writing prompt: Which foods trigger a craving for more?

Copyright © 2013 by Laura Deutsch

Laura Deutsch is a San Francisco-based writer. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and More magazine, among others.

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