For those of us with a sweet tooth, our devotion to chocolate may feel like an addiction. But can you really be addicted to chocolate?
The science says yes — well, sort of.
People crave certain foods not because they’re hungry but often because of their emotional state. We tend to be bored or anxious right before having cravings, so in a sense we’re self-medicating with a treat.
Addiction has three stages: preoccupation and anticipation, binge and intoxication, and withdrawal and negative effects. Although this primarily refers to drug addiction, it can explain how people can be addicted to food, particularly chocolate. In essence, we are excited to eat chocolate, binge by eating an entire bar, and then feel lousy or experience withdrawal when we can’t eat more.
Researchers at Yale University conducted a study that examined people’s addictive behaviors toward food. Participants who were deemed to have more addictive personalities were asked to drink a chocolate milkshake. These people experienced greater stimuli in the area of the brain that regulates rewards and less activity in the area that regulates impulses.
Other studies have found that the cacao in chocolate, which is high in sugar and fat, triggers the brain to release more serotonin and similar chemicals that make us feel good, and so we want more chocolate.
On the other hand, if you’re looking to curb your chocoholic tendencies, focus on moderation. One small piece a day might be enough to satisfy. If that doesn’t work for you, replace chocolate with a walk around the block to release serotonin. After all, exercise can make you feel good and will burn off, not add on, more calories. Sweet!