How to Satisfy Chocolate Cravings Without Damaging Your Diet

When you get the urge, putting chocolate out of your mind doesn't work.

Posted Mar 24, 2020

Even though chocolate is the most widely craved food and often seems irresistible, it isn't physiologically addicting. Still, there’s little debate that chocolate’s texture and the combination of sugar and fat make it highly palatable. If you tried some of my suggestions to sensibly enjoy chocolate but are still struggling to limit your intake, you may be able to think your way out of cravings.

If you got chocolate for a special occasion (Valentine’s Day, etc.), or even if it’s just a habitual craving, how can you satisfy the craving without doing significant damage to your diet? The usual strategy, when confronted with a craved substance, is to try to put it out of your mind, distract yourself and focus on something else so the thought of the substance goes away. A recent study suggests a counterintuitive strategy.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University had half of the chocolate-loving participants imagine eating 30 chocolates slowly; chewing them one at a time. The other half also imagined the same thing but they only imagined eating three chocolates. After the exercise in imagination, the participants filled out a complicated but irrelevant form. The researchers left bowls of M&M’s on the table. Participants who imagined eating 30 chocolates consumed significantly fewer M&M’s than the participants who imagined eating just three.

If this seems farfetched let’s do a thought experiment. Forget about chocolate for a minute and imagine that a spider is crawling across your leg. If you hate spiders and the mental image is sufficiently vivid, you’ll experience an increase in perspiration and heart rate similar to the effects of having a spider actually crawling on your leg. The Carnegie Mellon researchers suggest that imagining a stimulus results in similar neural processes as the actual experience with the stimulus.

Imagining that you’ve slowly eaten 30 chocolates should have a similar effect as a chocolate binge! After 30 chocolates, you’d have had enough. Even though you only imagined eating 30 chocolates, you’d feel full. But be careful, imagining that you’ve had one or two bites wouldn’t do the trick because you wouldn’t have elicited the feelings of satiety (and perhaps discomfort) that would follow a chocolate binge.

So, if you’re afraid of losing control when you get a box of luscious chocolate, or even a Hershey Bar before you open it, spend a few minutes vividly imagining that you’re slowly eating and savoring 30 pieces. When you’re done, then open the package and enjoy one piece. 

References

Morewedge, C.K., et. al (2010). Thought for Food: Imagined Consumption Reduces Actual Consumption. Science, 330, 1530-1533.