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Why chocolate doesn’t have to be an enemy

Easter can be a time of joy, relaxation and indulgence for some, but for others it is a time of anticipation and fear of losing control over their eating. So many of us silently battle with the temptations of food everyday, so when a holiday centres around a particularly sweet treat (ie chocolate) it can prove doubly difficult. As a society, we have gotten into the habit of labelling foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but this only serves to make us feel guilty when we consume the bad ones. It is unrealistic to think we could completely remove ‘unhealthy’ foods from our diets so why should we? Rather it would be more helpful for all foods to be considered as part of a healthy diet of moderation.

However, people who struggle with disordered eating struggle to recognise that the fear and guilt surrounding food are the real issues, not the chocolate or other sweet treats – that is, the emotions associated with eating certain types of foods are what allow ongoing stress. And consuming any kind of ‘bad’ food can send them into a spiral of negative, shameful feelings about themselves – and contribute to a sense that they are completely out of control. No wonder Easter can be such a stressful time for those of us who struggle with our eating patterns and self-esteem – so how can we make chocolate our friend rather than our enemy?

It is important to mention that (some) chocolate contains lots of antioxidants and nutrients which come with a host of health benefits for the brain and body – and the so-called negative effects of chocolate on health are still under debate (Tan, Lim, Yeo, Lee & Lai, 2021). Of course, this doesn’t mean we should eat chocolate for breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday, but it does give us some perspective for when we indulge a little over the Easter holidays. If this isn’t enough of a reason to make chocolate your friend, perhaps you would find it helpful to try out some of the tips below.

Aim for balance

– Maintain regular activity throughout the day (but NOT as punishment for eating)

– Opt for smaller portions/meals and try to include lots of protein and healthy fats

– Choose the dark chocolate version for a change

– Set some boundaries -> allow yourself 2 chocolate eggs instead of 5 so that you still get to enjoy the sweet treat without overeating or bingeing

Be mindful

– Focus on being in the present moment and eating mindfully – pay attention to the taste, sensations and textures of food as you eat them

– Make active choices to consume certain types of foods – and when you do, sit down and purposefully eat it to allow yourself the space to process this is happening

– Practice gratitude for the delicious variety of foods you have the opportunity to enjoy

– Pay attention to your internal body cues (ie whether you’re feeling hungry, thirsty, tired or anxious) and ask yourself why you might be choosing to eat a certain type of food – if it’s for the ‘wrong’ reason, you might want to reconsider consuming it

Give yourself permission

– Take back your own power rather than giving control to the thoughts/feelings -> accept that all emotions are part of being human and it’s okay to feel the negative types sometimes

– Rather than depriving yourself entirely, try allowing yourself to have some kinds of sweet treats -> the more you restrict a certain type of food, the more the brain craves it and the more you will continue to think about it

– Regretting every bite of food won’t take away the fact that you’re eating it – so why not aim to enjoy the food you do choose to consume?

–  Maintain perspective on the overall situation -> this is just one weekend out of the whole year and so overindulging this one time doesn’t make you ‘unhealthy’ and is certainly not going to ruin all of your health goals

At the end of the day, remember that the main purpose of food is to fuel our bodies so that we can continue functioning – and we need food to nourish ourselves everyday. Life would also get pretty boring if we only ate the same types of foods day in, day out – trying new things and enjoying delicious food is fun and exciting!

But if you are stuck in a perpetuating cycle of shame and guilt about food (and exercise), it might be a sign that you need to seek further support.

You can find it here – Butterfly Foundation

References

Tan, T. Y. C., Lim, X. Y., Yeo, J. H. H., Lee, S. W. H., & Lai, N. M. (2021). The Health Effects of Chocolate and Cocoa: A Systematic Review. Nutrients13(9), 2909. Chicago

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