I started this month simply thrilled with my free bag of chocolate! I honestly didn’t know what to expect from Dr. Albers’ mindfulness experiment. I was looking forward to doing some just-for-fun writing and of course some delicious eating. I figured if I gained any knowledge about myself or my eating habits, it would be a wonderful bonus. No matter what, I said to myself on Feb. 1, you get to keep the chocolate…
Yet in spite of my rather low expectations, I did learn a lot this month. It was fun this morning to read through all my posts from start to finish and laugh at the way I tore into the chocolate at the first stressful moment, just a few weeks ago. Now, I’ve not exactly become a Zen master, but I have figured out a few things, which I will share:
And with that, I’m going to go eat my day’s piece of chocolate, ever sooooo slowly. Thank you for spending this month with me. I hope you’ve been trying some of Dr. Albers’ techniques and have found them as helpful as I have. Here’s to our mutual, mindful eating success!
Until last night, I hadn’t been out to eat since dining at an upscale Asian restaurant with hubs at the very beginning of this experiment. That night, I was mostly focused on how to wrestle the biggest share of our “shared” chocolate dessert. Last night, however, hubs and I and the kids went to one of the kids’ favorite restaurants to celebrate the completion of ice skating lessons. It was a “family restaurant,” one that serves breakfast all day, which means my little guy can get a heap of pancakes and my especially picky daughter can at least find some grilled cheese and French fries. And they can both color the placemats.
The whole experience made me sad, in a much bigger way than when we ate at the same place several months ago. I couldn’t find anything I wanted to eat, though the menu was huge. Stacks of pancakes and waffles leave me uncomfortably full, especially for an evening meal. I’m a vegetarian, so that left out 90% of the menu right there. I ended up with a spinach salad with apples and nuts (hold the chicken). It was fine, but certainly not something the restaurant is known for, and thus not especially tasty.
What the restaurant is known for, as are so many others, is providing the largest quantity of food imaginable at the lowest price. This is what really made me sad because I know that our fast-food culture teaches us to value exactly this: Sub-par food in vast quantities at cheap prices. And then in the headlines this morning, a new Gallup poll finding: In the U.S., 27.1% of adults were obese in 2013. This is the highest rate in Gallup’s six-year tracking history, and it includes a new high among those who are “morbidly obese.”
When I was a kid, going out to eat was a rare treat. We ate quite sensibly at home, but when we went out, my mom would bring her coupons, and we’d “save up” by not eating much during the day, knowing we would absolutely stuff ourselves in order to “get our money’s worth.” My family didn’t have a lot of money, so I can sympathize with the impulse, but honestly, we were paying to give ourselves stomachaches. We were paying to line up at a trough, covered by a sneeze guard. It’s the kind of place where my husband will mutter under his breath, strap on the feed bag, like we’re all beasts of burden.
This is absolutely not the message about food I want to give to my own children. When we were out last night, I kept thinking of a little bistro in our town, which I haven’t been to in many months, and really longing for it. It’s expensive, so it’s not a place we can frequent, but eating there is an experience. The food is locally grown, sustainably farmed, artfully prepared, expertly served. Every single step, from the planting of the seed that grew into the wheat that made the flour for the bread, which is heaven in the mouth, seems to be done mindfully. It’s a place where you eat slowly, appreciating the presentation on the plate, the aromas, the complex flavors.
I realized last night at the family restaurant that a real change had happened to me this month. Do you know that when I looked at the cardboard stand-up on the table, featuring a dessert that amounted to a bowlful of broken brownie bits covered in chocolate sauce…I felt…nothing at all. I didn’t want it. I couldn’t believe what my mind was telling me, but it was true. All the cues in that place that are meant to get a person to over-eat had the opposite effect on me. I left still hungry. And I decided that, when I do go out, I’m really going to try to make sure it’s something special.
That said, I’m a busy, working parent, and I know not every one of our family’s meals can be a special experience. But we do eat together. And we do cook our own food, though it’s usually nothing fancy by any means. Most days, I’m just trying to get a couple food groups into my kids before the table conversation turns to poop jokes. Still, I’m working on getting us all to slow down, to appreciate our food a little more, to listen to the cues our bodies are giving us (about what tastes we enjoy, about whether we’re full) and keep foremost in mind that eating can, and should be, a pleasurable experience for the body and the soul.
Perhaps I can’t find them because I had to look them up on Wikipedia. Now that I have a definition, I still can’t find them. Perhaps they do not exist. Or do they? You see, as a human being, I am generally most comfortable when I’m a seething mass of contradictions.
When I first signed on to this project, the term “mindful eating” made me picture people finding their chakras, in loose fitting clothing, in the lotus position, crystal jewelry, incense, chanting “Ommmmm.” That frightened me a little bit, as I am not, by my nature, a mindful person, at least not in the sense of really being in tune with, (and here’s the kicker), owning my emotions.
A few weeks ago, I watched a video on Dr. Albers’ FB page concerning pairing different types of chocolates with various yoga poses. I’ll admit, I thought it was a joke, like a video from one of my favorite satirical magazines, The Onion. If you are a practitioner of chocolate-yoga, more power to you. But, if you are more of a jaded, speed-walking, type A, for whom eating is an exercise in filling needs, and wants, with little thought to the whole process, then maybe you and I should talk.
Because although I might be described as a bit, shall we say, uptight, I decided for the benefit of this experiment to give mindful eating a whirl. In addition to the tips I’ve gained from Dr. Albers’ online postings, I’ve begun reading her new book, EatQ. (Note: I am not a paid employee; I purchased my own book. Also, when I think something suX with a capital X, I will tell you so…for example…chocolate-yoga.)
It seems a little bit backwards, reading the book at the end of my month-long experiment. That’s just how the timing worked out for me, but in a way, I’m glad it did. I’ve had several weeks to pay attention to my eating habits, to learn what triggers my cravings. And so I’m approaching the book already armed with a personal knowledge I would not have had, and am thus able to fully appreciate, and benefit from, the tools found therein.
Mindfulness is not the new-agey, chakra-balancing voodoo I feared it was. Not at all. It’s actually a very rational approach to eating, no gimmicks, no diets, just a very sane, logical approach to food choices that ultimately will put me in control. And I like being in control. So, if you’re hesitant at all, please know that there are strategies here for everyone, not just the free spirits among us.
Here I am, nearing the end of my chocolate blogging month, and I realized I haven’t mentioned exercise at all. Odd, since that’s clearly the other half of the healthy living equation. All this mindful eating is great, but if you’re not moving, you probably won’t reach the goals you have regarding your weight and fitness level.
I’m sure I’m not the only one being dive-bombed with crackpot messages from various media sources that we just need to find that magic food to melt our fat away (Is it bananas? Or is that the food we should NEVER eat? Arrghhh, I can’t remember!). If we find that magic food (or pill), then we shouldn’t have to do any icky exercise, which might induce sweating and make our hair go flat.
I’ve never been one of those people who tries to find a way to get out of exercising. There’s never been a time in my life when I haven’t been engaged in, and more or less enjoyed, being physically active. On the food end of things, I’ve had a fairly healthy diet, have amassed the knowledge of what I should eat, but have still let cravings derail me time and again.
This kind of lifestyle made me a very fit 20-something. Then, my 30s arrived. I added two children, adding pounds with each that did not all go away. Exercise fell to the middle, or bottom, or my to-do list, which meant it was happening once or twice a week instead of four or five times. And I snacked, mindlessly, out of stretches of boredom or stress.
Slowly, I adapted to a new normal, thinking, well, I’ll never get my body back to what it used to be, but maybe I can keep it where it is. But something snapped when I hit 40 (I’m 41 now). I didn’t want to be “where I was” for the rest of my life. Yet, I fully realized how much harder it is to keep weight off in this age bracket, knowing, too, it’s not going to get any easier.
Bu I didn’t start with the food. I’ve never been on a “diet” in my life. My mother used to try every grapefruit/cabbage soup/celery fad that came out in her “women’s” magazines, and I saw how crazy it made her (and how much more weight she gained).
I simply decided to kick my exercise up a notch. Last year, I tried running. Bought some fancy shoes and took my new dog around the block. I wasn’t new to the sport. I’d been a runner in high school, but of the sprinter variety (100m and 200m). A full lap around the track was a bit overkill for me, then and now. But, soooo many of my friends had taken up running! Look, there they go, down my street, looking very fit and *sort of* happy!
I hated running. And it’s pretty clear that if you hate a particular form of exercise, you are not going to do it much. At the beginning of this year, I signed on to a Crossfit gym, and I’m loving it. This is not a commercial for Crossfit, however. It’s definitely not for everyone. The point is that you have to find what fits with your own goals and personality.
My new exercise routine is very difficult, which is why I’m currently only doing it three days a week (today is an off day, and I’m having trouble lifting my very sore arms over my head). But when I’m doing an activity I enjoy, I don’t mind “difficult.” I like pushing my body to see what it can do.
The crazy, lightbulb moment for me this month has been this: controlling my cravings is also very difficult, and the payoff can be just as rewarding. I honestly don’t know why I’ve never consciously made this connection before. I suppose one reason is because the physical aspect of getting in shape is much easier to see. I can feel, in my sore muscles, how hard I worked yesterday. I can set a timer to how many minutes of cardio I completed, and if I wanted to, could track how many calories I burned.
But, it’s much harder to keep track of the (hundreds?) of decisions I made yesterday about food, and thus harder to see my progress. Yet, I know there were at least a few moments when I stopped myself as I approached the kitchen, really registering why I was in there. Was I actually hungry? Or was I just bored, or stressed? Every one of these mindful moments deserves to be counted, as much as every bench press.
My new goal is to give the same attention to my mental muscle as I’m giving to my biceps. If I can get the whole system in sync, it will be very sweet indeed.
I spent my afternoon at a superhero bowling party (my son’s) complete with chocolatey brownies (one with a big Spiderman candle) in lieu of a cake. My son doesn’t like all that goopy frosting that gets piled on bakery cakes and cupcakes. He likes his sweets simple. A brownie, with nothing in it, or on it. At the local ice creamery, which boasts dozens of delectable flavors, he chooses chocolate. Every time. A reminder here, that it’s my daughter who actually has the chocolate cravings. My son is just a dabbler in chocolate world, compared to her (and her mother…ahem).
We had plenty of healthy snacks at the party, too, like carrots, blueberries, strawberries, grapes. I labeled each food with a super-power (e.g., the carrots gave them laser vision). The kids helped themselves to hearty portions of the healthy stuff. When the brownies came, they probably weren’t too hungry. That didn’t stop many of the kids from having seconds, but to be fair, they were very small brownies.
Some observations: The kids ate what they wanted and stopped eating when they didn’t want any more. Kids aren’t afraid to leave half a brownie on a plate, whereas an adult might feel they were “wasting food.” Most adults declined my offer of a brownie. Without really thinking about what I was doing, I became a bit of a pusher. “Are you sure you don’t want one? They are really good!” Now I feel badly about this. They said, “No thanks,” so why didn’t I leave them alone?
I think it’s really part of my background, and I’m sure I’m not alone here, that a celebration isn’t complete without desserts. To turn down a treat is almost akin to not participating in the event itself. I did not turn down my own offer of a brownie. But I only had two (remember…very teensy brownies). And when I was cleaning up the kitchen this evening and transferring the remainders into another container, and I really thought I’d snag another two or three, I resisted. I put them away and retreated to the living room to happily play with the new remote control robot. And, you know, within a minute or two, I’d forgotten all about the brownies. Craving averted.
So, how’s your V-day chocolate stash? Is that heart-shaped box looking a little empty? Whenever I received one of those boxes, I’d set out with a plan to eat one chocolate a day, but then I’d cheat. Maybe the first one was so good, I just had to have another. Or maybe I accidentally chose a chocolate-covered cherry, felt cheated, and had to have another to get the taste out of my mouth (see previous post, Hey! You Got Fruit in My Chocolate!). Regardless, that boxful never lasted long.
But I haven’t received Valentines’ chocolates in years. Now, I know you’re thinking, why on earth would I need a gift of chocolates when I have my big bag of goodies from Dr. Albers hiding in my closet? You are correct. This year, it was a no brainer for the hubs.
In previous years, however, he walked a delicate line, and I’d like to publicly apologize for all the angst that must have caused him. Of course we’ve been culturally conditioned to believe chocolate=love, and so, if your partner loves you, would he or she not give you chocolates, especially on that most important of Hallmark holidays?
But, if you’re married to me, there are many questions to consider before making (or not making) such a purchase.
Here’s a sampling of my potential reactions if he does buy me chocolate: What are you doing, trying to sabotage my whole healthful eating plan? Don’t you want me to lose the last of that baby weight? Or have you just quit caring how I look? How could you buy me these chocolates???
Now, if he doesn’t buy me chocolate: Don’t you think I deserve chocolate? Don’t you think I can handle the temptation of having chocolate around? Do you think I’m fat? Or have you just quit caring how I look? How could you not buy me chocolates???
And so, we made the decision a few years ago that there will be no gifts on Valentine’s Day. There will be love *pretty much* every day. And with the advent of my new chocolate plan, there will be chocolate every day as well, dark chocolate, eaten mindfully, a gift I give myself.
Your handsome packaging enticed me, and despite the fact I’m in a monogamous relationship with chocolate coffee (venti mocha, anyone?), I’ll admit it; I was intrigued.
I like to start my morning with a freshly ground blend of mocha-flavored beans. I’m currently hooked on Larry’s Beans’ Mightier Mocha Java, which I have delivered in multi-packs as I never want to run out. I limit myself to a large-ish mug in the a.m. since I’ve learned any coffee in the afternoon messes with my precious sleep units.
Tea, however, is a different beast. I can, and in the colder months often do, have a small cup of Earl Gray in the early afternoon as a nice pick-me-up, without any insomnia resulting. Could it be that I might have my afternoon tea and my chocolate all mixed together in one wonderful cup?
I was a little nervous, but very optimistic (again, the handsome packaging). I took a whiff inside the opened can while I boiled water and found my nose wrinkling a bit. Not the olfactory pleasure I was hoping for…but still optimistic while I steeped the tea, and finally, took a sip.
What a disappointment. All that anticipation, and…
…Oh, chocolate tea… I’m afraid to say we’re just not a good match. First, it seems like you’re going through some kind of identity crisis. Do you want to be tea or do you want to be chocolate? Because I’m not tasting either in quantities to help me decide. As tea, you are just so, so bitter and odd tasting, and as chocolate, well, this is no kind of chocolate experience I’d like to repeat.
Did I drink the whole cup? Of course I did, for the sake of the experiment, but I did it with a smirk of contempt. You had one shot with me, chocolate tea, and you blew it.
(As always, dear readers, don’t take one curmudgeon’s word for it. Do cheat on your coffee, and report back.)
How does Dr. Stavnezer get right inside my head? Read her article on why we crave chocolate during PMS if you haven’t already and then join me back here. Done? Okay, now, do you recognize yourself in her article at all?
This was perfect timing for me, as I found myself waking up yesterday with an incontrollable urge to, both smash things, and eat things. Since I couldn’t find anything to smash, without consequences, I looked for high-fat, high-calorie things to eat. Did I eat my daily ounce of chocolate? Um, yes, but let’s multiply that by three or four, or ten ounces. I know I was just writing about how great this experiment was going and how I was really taking charge, but yesterday just blew that to pieces. Today, though? Back on track. Cravings minimal. Bluebirds and rainbow-colored unicorns dancing around my head.
One look at the calendar and my suspicions were confirmed. Oh yes, it’s that time again, that time when I temporarily take leave of my senses. Of course we know women experience hormonal changes before our periods, but as Dr. Stavnezer’s article explains, this does not account entirely for cravings. In other words, we can’t just blame our hormones. Dr. Stavnezer writes, “Experience teaches us that ‘that time of the month’ is a set of special circumstances when giving into a chocolate craving will be met with understanding rather than guilt and shame.”
This just means that we gals have each others’ backs, as in, oh, it’s that time of the month, of course, have an extra piece of pie. You’re feeling crazy? I hear you, sister. It is widely accepted in our culture that women have PMS and react to it by indulging in their cravings. The question is, how much of this is a reaction to actual processes taking place in our bodies and how much is learned behavior (chocolate tastes good, I want chocolate at this time of the month, chocolate will help me deal with it, etc.). And does it really matter? Personally, I’m okay with falling off the wagon, if it’s only one day a month, and I hop right back up there.
On a related note, I’ve got my eye on the hubs…he took a half bar (!) of my orange flavored chocolate the other day, and I’ve also noticed that he gets extra cranky a couple days every month. Where is the researcher who can show me a study on male PMS? Because I am absolutely sure (based on my sample size of one hubs) that it exists!
Yet another snow day. I’m keeping busy reading The Hobbit to my 4- and 6-year old. If you are a Tolkien fan, you’re familiar with the “one ring to rule them all” and the hypnotic hold that ring has over anyone who comes into contact with it. Now I won’t pretend that chocolate has quite the same hold over me…but let’s just say at the start of this month, I was clutching my bag of goodies, hissing at anyone who came near it, much like Gollum with his precious ring deep in his cave.
So the fact that I willingly decided to share my chocolate today, with my little children no less, is an accomplishment and I think reflects how I’m starting to get a little more control over my cravings. What surprised me even more was how the kids were actually able to eat their piece of chocolate mindfully.
Of course when I announced that they were going to try mommy’s chocolate experiment and retrieved the bag from its hiding spot, they started to get a little delirious. “Dump it out!” they yelled, and I did, emptying the bag on the dining room table. They quickly ruled out anything with fruit or nuts, both of them choosing a dark chocolate square filled with caramel. I didn’t let them gulp it down. They had to look at it, smell it, and finally taste just a corner.
They didn’t know what expect. They have no experience with dark chocolate. If it had been a Hershey’s bar, I doubt they could have eaten it so slowly. But they didn’t have any expectations in this case. Didn’t know that when they bit into it, their faces would light up as the caramel hit their tongues and they discovered that this dark chocolate, which smelled like “coffee” would be wonderful. The other adjectives I heard, between bites, were “tart,” “chewy,” and “good.” (They aren’t exactly food critics.) The kids did so well that I promised them, if they could continue to eat thoughtfully like this, they could have a piece of my dark chocolate every day. We’ll see if this cuts down on any begging for sweeter desserts. Fingers crossed.
Quick update today from yours truly, Ms. Skeptic, Ms.-I’m-Not-Sure-What-This-Whole-Month-Is-Going-To-Prove-But-At-Least-I-Got-A-Bag-Of-Chocolate.
My cravings appear to be (gasp) decreasing! I do seem to have them earlier in the day, say mid-morning, but if I slowly eat my one piece of dark chocolate at that time, I’m good to go for the remainder. That’s great news, but here’s where it gets really interesting.
My six year old daughter, who shares everything except sweets, inexplicably offered me three pink M&Ms from a mini bag she brought home from her class party. Not one to turn down such a rare offer, I quickly popped them into my mouth.
Within seconds, I was eyeing the rest, wondering how I could best distract her to go in for the grab. I was so consumed with desire for those little monogrammed lovelies that I had to leave the room to get control over my senses. Pathetic…and yet, very important information. You see, at the start of the month, I just wasn’t sure what difference it made in terms of what kind of chocolate I was eating. Now I believe it makes a huge difference. Was it a fluke? I’ll keep you posted.
The hubs and I watched the Academy Award nominated (2000) movie Chocolat last night in honor of this month’s experiment. Hubs had never seen it, and it had been many years since I had. Both of us gave it an enthusiastic two thumbs-up! Of course the most delicious element of the movie was….Johnny Depp. You thought I was going to say the chocolate, didn’t you?
Okay, you got me, the chocolate is delicious, too. And it is definitely not part of the back story; it’s front and center in every scene, driving each plotline to an ultimately uplifting conclusion. One character, on death’s doorstep, decides to live out her last moments by truly living it up (chocolate features prominently). Another character finally learns to live, after giving in to his cravings (chocolate of course is one of them). In what other movie does a chocolatier have the power to toss a whole uptight town on its ear, then rearrange it into something kinder and less judgmental? (The chocolatier is Juliette Binoche, so she looks beautiful doing it, too.)
The chocolate itself should have at least been nominated for Best Supporting Actress/Actor? The shots of the chocolate being cooked, drizzled into cups (many scenes feature melted chocolate drunk from a cup; this ain’t no Swiss Miss), formed into delicate truffles, sifted over nuts…. It’s serious chocolate porn, and it will make you crave it. (Sorry about that experiment, Dr. Albers!)
In addition, there’s gorgeous cinematography. The musical score is fabulous. Oh, just watch it, will you? If you somehow missed it when it came out, or if you haven’t seen it in years, do yourself a favor and set aside a couple hours some night. But do keep that chocolate out of reach.
All my talk about chocolate this month, and I realized I’m missing something, something which looms rather large in my life. Kids and chocolate. I’m thinking especially about this right now because my preschooler and 1st grader both had Valentines’ Day parties in their classrooms this week and came home crazy-eyed from all the sugar-laden sweets.
Now, don’t worry, I’m not going to go into a tirade about sweets at parties. The kids have three class parties a year. If they get a little wired on those days, that’s fine. I’m more concerned about the daily doses of sweets my first grader gets at school, as a reward for doing something well. It frustrates me as a parent because I am trying really hard to instill healthy eating habits in my kids at home…only to find them undermined at school.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who grew up with desserts as a reward. It wasn’t until I was faced with an extremely picky toddler that I took stock of the messages I was sending her. The little thing was born with her father’s eyes…and my sugar cravings. And here I was, promising her sweets if she’d finish those vegetables. Ahhh, it really doesn’t take a genius to see what kind of message I was sending regarding food (sweets=good, vegetables=bad), but it was such a hard habit to break. I’m doing better, but have to remind myself on an almost daily basis.
So, when she started coming home from school showing me all the tootsie rolls, lollipops, mini candy bars, etc. she was getting (for having a clean desk, for being a good reader, for helping another student), I admit I was upset. But I took a deep breath and reminded myself how engrained the whole food=reward idea is in our culture. And then I explained to her how having a healthy body is a reward and having energy to play and living a long life, and all that stuff kids don’t want to hear. But, she’s smart, and she gets it. Doesn’t mean she doesn’t have cravings, though. And it doesn’t mean she doesn’t ever get sweets. We’ve taught our kids that sweets are a sometimes-food, and we try to never use them as a reward.
Given the rising childhood obesity epidemic, it’s not surprising that our public school, like I imagine many other schools everywhere, is trying to send a message about healthy eating to kids through various school assemblies and the like. It’s just that the messages don’t always leave the auditorium. So, I talked to my daughter’s teacher. I was a little nervous about it; I didn’t want her to think I was being confrontational. I talked to her about how I was trying to help my little girl develop healthy eating habits and that I was hoping she could help me out by not giving out candy at school. I was so relieved that she was very receptive. The truth is, she just hadn’t thought about her reward system. She’s been teaching a long time and has always given out sweets. She also gives out small toys, but when the kids had a choice of a toy, or a sweet, she admitted they typically chose the sweet. The result of this discussion? My daughter is no longer bringing home candy from her teacher. She gets stickers or bookmarks, or sometimes just a smile and a pat on the back, and she doesn’t seem to feel any less “rewarded.”
I’m interested to hear what other parents are doing. How do you control the sugar cravings when your kids are in (and outside of) your care? In the meantime, I’m thinking of having my daughter try the dark chocolate mindful eating challenge. Stay tuned.
Recently, on Dr. Albers’ FB page, guest chef Kate Frichtl shared a recipe for black bean brownies that were seriously tasty. It got me thinking about the brownie recipes that fall under the “Better Than Sex” category. In the spirit of Valentines’ Day, let’s explore, shall we?
First off, a lot of recipes claim this title. A Google search for the term got me more than 20,000 hits. I also found “knock you naked brownies” and “slutty brownies,” which seem a tad much, at my age. But, I digress. We’ve already learned from Dr. Stavnezer’s article on cravings that eating chocolate releases a chemical in the brain called dopamine (the same chemical released during sex) so the connection is real.
But, honestly, if you had to choose? Hmmm? I remember the first time I was handed a Better Than Sex Brownie at a potluck when I was a virginal adolescent lass, and I became very, very sad. Because the brownie was okay, but I wondered, were brownies really better than sex? And if so, I might as well hold out a few more years. Now that I’m a much more mature and, ahem, experienced woman, I’m here to say, we must stop spreading this misinformation campaign. Brownies are not better than sex! Or at least they shouldn’t be.
Have you read Dr. Albers’ Q&A with Dr. Stavnezer over at Psychology Today? (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/comfort-cravings/201402/why-do-we-crave-chocolate-so-much) Do it! It’s very illuminating.
Here are some nuggets from the piece that spoke to me:
First, the research that proves that when our cognitive system is stressed, we make food choices “that are higher in calories and more impulsive.” So, in other words, if I choose my chocolate while consoling a crying child, taking a call, and, metaphorically at least, balancing a bunch of spinning plates on sticks like those old vaudeville performers, I am going to make a very poor choice that I will probably regret.
Next, Stavnezer cites a study that indicates a “decrease in craving is driven by all components of chocolate being taken together, and not simply by the biological effects of the chemicals.” We can’t just blame the ingredients of the chocolate bar itself. Oh, no. Our positive responses to chocolate are learned, over many years, and contribute to our cravings. Even ads for chocolate help create this positive response. When have you seen the message that chocolate is horrible? Even under the guise of dieting, chocolate is still presented as a wonderful thing, just something that must be avoided.
All of this should make you feel much better if you have a chocolate craving. You should feel some comfort in knowing all these forces are conspiring to create that feeling. You’re practically powerless against them! All the more reason to give in, but do so mindfully.
Lastly, in discussing chocolate’s correlation with love, Stavnezer brings in the evolutionary perspective, that “love leads to sex, sex leads to offspring and offspring lead to passing on our genes, which, in the end, equals survival.” So, you see? The entire human race depends on your eating chocolate! Get to it!
Anyone remember that 80s commercial for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups where two teens (one inexplicably carrying an opened jar of peanut butter while strolling down the street) bump into each other, mixing their sweet treats? “Hey! You got your peanut butter on my chocolate! Hey! You got your chocolate in my peanut butter!” Tastiness ensues. Mmmmm.
As I’ve already established in my secret recipe post, there’s nothing better than peanut butter and chocolate (coffee and chocolate are a close second). But sometimes, perhaps in an attempt to snack in a more healthful way, we cover fruit with chocolate, which brings me to my chocolate selection for today’s mindful eating challenge: Chocolate covered blueberries.
Can I tell you the truth? I wasn’t excited about this. I ate five of them, slowly, spacing them over ten minutes or so while I was doing other things. When I was done…I…was…done. I didn’t want any more. Also? I felt kind of cheated out of my day’s quota. The same thing happened a few days ago when I decided to let caution fly to the wind, randomly choosing a dark chocolate square from a bag of them, all with various fillings like toffee or caramel. Guess which one I got? Raspberry. I ate it with an ear-to-ear scowl on my face, mentally kicking it. Stupid raspberry filled chocolate.
Now, I love fruit. Raspberries are one of my favorites. But I don’t like my chocolate contaminated with healthy things. Have you ever told a child begging for sweets that he should “Eat an orange. That’s plenty sweet.” I have done this with a straight face, dear reader…knowing it’s utter BS. If you want an orange, you want an orange. If you want chocolate, you want chocolate. If you have to eat a chocolate covered berry to make yourself feel better about eating the chocolate, then, okay, I guess. But why not just eat some fruit, and eat your sweet, pure, uncontaminated by fruit chocolate, later?
As you may have read in my last post, my sister was visiting over the weekend, and she shares my love of chocolate. Her visit got me thinking about my childhood and our family’s (I have four siblings) eating habits. Dinner time was early at our house (5 p.m.) and everyone was there unless they had a really good excuse. We didn’t linger at the table; we all had chores to do, namely milking the cows. (In addition to my dad being a full-time mail carrier, he decided to buy a small dairy farm as a “hobby.”)
We ate balanced meals but always followed them with dessert. My mom liked to bake pies and cakes and cookies, cinnamon rolls on Saturday mornings, coffee cakes on Sundays. If the cookie jar was empty, she went into panic baking mode, frantically grabbing ingredients to make one of the quick stand-bys whose recipe she knew by heart. We didn’t often have chocolate desserts, except for the occasional batch of brownies.
My mom would sit and watch us eat her creations, never having any dessert for herself. She was always on a diet. The result of her abstinence would be snitching sugar-laced items throughout the day, followed by guilt. She liked to run a finger along the inside of the ice-cream carton, believing, I guess, that if she didn’t get a spoon (or a dish for that matter), it didn’t really count.
If we learn how to respond to food from our parents, then my dad taught me if you put in a hard day’s work, you deserve that dessert. It’s true enough that we did so much physical labor on the farm, we never had to worry about the calories. But my metabolism has slowed way down since I was a teen! Plus, I’m not throwing hay bales around so much anymore. My mom’s strategy of deprivation, followed by binging didn’t work too well either, though I think it’s a pretty common combination, one that many women either observed growing up or face themselves.
My sister is visiting! She lives several states over, so we only see each other three or four times a year. I showed her my bag full of chocolate goodies. She reached in immediately, sinking her arm up to the elbow in “the good stuff,” as she put it (exactly my sentiments).
Did you think I would have a sister who eats only broccoli? I guess that could happen, but rest assured, though we are different in many ways, my sis and I share our chocolate cravings. Her weakness? Milk chocolate chips, which she theoretically buys for baking…but seems to burn through at a rate not equal to her cookie production.
As we readied for the mindful chocolate eating, she said, “You know what my favorite thing to do with chocolate chips is?” I finished her sentence for her because I knew she was thinking of our old family recipe.
Would you like me to share it? Okay, pay attention; it’s very complicated.
My sister was a good sport. She gave the mindful eating thing a try, slowly eating a square of dark chocolate. Afterwards, when I offered her another piece, she declined. She felt she’d had “enough.” I count this as a big success. My sis doesn’t typically buy dark chocolate, but she’s going to give it a try the next time she’s reaching for the peanut butter jar.
Remember how proud I was of myself for mindfully eating a piece of dark chocolate, just, oh, like yesterday? Yeah, well, that’s out the window.
I had serious cravings after lunch (which seems to be the most dangerous time period of the day for me, food-wise) and instead of just eating my ounce of dark chocolate, I opened the pantry….insert ominous pipe organ music…why am I opening the pantry when I’ve just eaten a nice healthy lunch, and I’m FULL?
In the dark recesses of my pantry I found an impulse buy from a few days prior, a box of “meal replacement bars.” You’ve seen these, right? They basically look like a candy bar, have many of the same ingredients as a candy bar, and, here’s the important thing, they are supposed to replace a meal, not be eaten in addition to a meal. Ideally, they would not be eaten at all. I like to pretend they are very healthy because they have so much protein and fiber, etc. But I know I am a liar, and so, I hardly ever keep this type of thing (ditto sugary granola bars) in the house. Not even for the precious little ones.
I ate an entire meal replacement bar, not at all mindfully, after my meal, and though it was indeed yummy, would you be surprised to learn, dear reader, that I did not feel satisfied afterwards? That my longings and cravings did not go away and, in fact, only amplified? I had to brush my teeth to keep from having another.
Yesterday, however, when I mindfully ate a piece of dark chocolate, I did feel satisfied. But I think there’s something at work here besides just the mindfulness. I suspect chocolate that contains more sugar (e.g. my meal replacement bars, various milk chocolates) lead to higher cravings. I mean, is it chocolate that I’m craving or would a marshmallow dipped in crushed jolly ranchers do the trick?
Last night, I returned home after a long evening’s work on my new novel. My primary thought, as I trudged home in the snow, was, boy I deserve some chocolate. I know that’s the wrong attitude, but there it was.
A few days ago, I had tried to mindfully eat a piece of chocolate after watching Dr. Albers’ video on the topic, but I learned an important lesson: you cannot mindfully do anything when you are listening for your children’s footsteps. At least until I get better at this, I must find a time when I won’t be disturbed, like late at night, when everyone’s asleep.
Late last night was the perfect time. I selected a square of dark chocolate with hazelnuts. I let it sit in my hand. It was heavy, more than an ounce, surely, but who’s counting? I noticed the little eagle logo imprinted on the square, and if I squinted, I could even make out some tiny print above the Ghirardelli: San Francisco, Founded in 1852. I’d no idea the company was around that long, so you see, mindful eating can be educational, too!
At that point, I was really having trouble not just popping it into my mouth. The chocolate was very bumpy, just completely loaded with nuts. I took a sniff, and noticed something. Whatever those pleasure receptacles are in my brain that go on full, light-up pinball machine when I eat chocolate actually started spazzing out, just from smelling it.
And then, I ate, forcing myself to take several bites instead of one. Did I enjoy the chocolate more by eating it this way? Yes, fine, I’ll admit it, skeptic that I was, I did enjoy it more. The moments spent anticipating it only heightened the pleasure of eating it. Eating it slowly, not too surprisingly, prolonged that ecstatic experience.
I believe Dr. Albers may be on to something here…
This morning, I woke to a large amount of snow covered by a thin, crunchy layer of ice. The plans I had for all the things I was going to get done today were immediately cancelled. The kids were granted yet another snow day. Even the hubs got the morning off work.
Sometimes other forces convene to slow us down from our daily routines. And sometimes, this is a very good thing. I’m sitting in my office now with my morning coffee (mocha java, of course). I work in a bedroom closet (NOT the closet where the chocolate is hidden). It’s not as bad as it sounds; I have a large window in here, which, today, looks out over the ice-coated branches of a Japanese maple, and beyond that, our street. There’s not a sound, except the faint scraping of snow shovels and the rhythmic breathing of my black lab asleep near my feet.
And so, what does this have to do with chocolate? Well, I believe the idea of slowing down, of appreciating, can be beneficial in so many areas of life, not just eating. I BELIEVE this, I don’t often PRACTICE it. But I’d like to change that. Tomorrow, I shall attempt, via the instructions on Dr. Albers’ video, to mindfully eat a piece of chocolate. I’m pretty sure I could mindfully eat a Brussels sprout, but chocolate? Tune in tomorrow, and we shall see…