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…
I love chocolate! With that being said, I decided to do some digging into the history books and research when the first recordings of chocolate being consumed were. If we pull ourselves through a fold in time we will be transported all the way back to the Aztecs. Did you know they made a chocolate drink that was called Xocoatll? I didn’t either! They used the beans from the cocoa tree, refined them, and made them into a drink. I guess you can say it was their version of hot chocolate, except it was served chilled. Here is what you need to make this delightfully spicy drink!
Bring 1 1/2 cup water to a boil in a pot; add the chili pepper, seeds included, to the boiling water and cook at a boil for 5 to 10 minutes. Strain the chili pepper and seeds from the water; return the water to the pot. Add 4 cups water to the chili pepper-infused water, reduce heat to medium-low, and bring to a slow boil. Stir the cocoa powder and vanilla extract into the boiling water; cook and stir until the powder dissolves completely, 5 to 10 minutes. This recipe is compliments of allrecipes.com! I think it is important to have a little chocolate everyday. When I do, I really don’t crave it in huge amounts. I know that when I have my little chocolate fix, I feel satisfied. I look forward to it everyday!
I made this and I have to say it was an interesting combination of ingredients. The chile pepper made the cocoa flavor stand out. I really wasn’t sure if the chile pepper would be overpowering. It surprisingly wasn’t! I am going to continue to research and dig up more information on chocolate and it’s place in our diet! The picture is what my drink looked like. I added a red pepper in the picture because it gives it a pop of color! Make this and let me know your thoughts on the ancient recipe! Let’s experiment together!!!
I received a huge box of chocolate in the mail! I knew it was coming. The anticipation was building over the last 2 weeks. I was told a box of chocolate was coming my way! At last, it had arrived! I ran down to the post office and picked it up because the address was incorrect! I was able to stop this large package of goodies from going back to the sender! I love chocolate! I will do anything for chocolate!( well, just about anyway) I loaded it in my car and decided I would look in the box when I got it back home. I was wondering what was in this huge box! My kids are always trying to guess what is in the wrapped boxes under the tree at Christmas. I was imagining what goodies could be in this box. Yes, I shook it gently, I couldn’t resist! I arrived home, ran into the house and used my car key to get through the tape. You would think I was desperate to get this box open! Inside my long awaited chocolate box were 5 varieties! There were some of my absolute favorite kinds! I LOVE dark chocolate especially when it is mixed with sea salt, caramel, pomegranate, and acai! As I look at this box, I realize I am supposed to only eat 1 per day! This is going to require lots of restraint! My logic tells me that since I am behind on days due to the mix up in the mail, I could eat more than 1 today, so….I played catch up and ate 3! That probably wasn’t very mindful of me but I was very aware of each delicious dark chocolate square that entered my mouth. It started with the reading of the label. Dark chocolate sea salt caramel! I wonder if that is as good as the caramel squares I ate from the grocery store last week? The Ghiradelli square appeared super smooth on the outside. Where was the salt? I am used to seeing the salt on the outside of the chocolate. I wonder if there is going to be course salt on the inside of this very thin piece of chocolate? As I bit into it, the caramel oozed out and I detected the slightly course salt. It was the most delicious combination of ingredients! The flavor was an explosion in my mouth! This is going to be a great month for chocolate! I consider February to be the sweetest month of the year! I can’t wait to eat more tomorrow!
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…
Have you downloaded Dr. Albers’ Chocolate Craving Meter yet? I just did, and I can tell you it’s a pretty thing. Graphically, it’s quite well done. (Do you feel a “but” coming on?) BUT, these indicators don’t work for me at all.
Let’s start with the “Very Low” indicator. It reads: “I don’t really want it [chocolate]. It wouldn’t taste good right now.” I have NEVER felt this way in my entire life! Same with the “Low” indicator: “I could take chocolate or leave it and be okay either way.” Nope. I can’t even think of a chocolate bad enough that would cause me to think this.
We move on to a “Moderate” craving: “A little chocolate sounds good! It would hit the spot.” Then, a “High” craving: “I really want chocolate! I can’t stop thinking about it.” And, lastly, “Very High”: “I must have it! Chocolate is calling my name!”
Now, please do what you want with your own craving meters, but I’m going to do a little editing to mine. First, I’ll completely cut off the “Very Low” and “Low” categories because they’re just wasting space. Now, I’ll need a little re-writing for the other three.
Moderate: “Eating this chocolate will keep me sane for at least, oh, a couple hours.”
High: “I hear you talking to me, but instead of seeing your face, I’m seeing a molten lava cake. Wait, what? Is that you, Auntie Em?”
Very High: “Step away from my chocolate, or you’re toast.”
So, there I was, sitting around dreaming of my chocolate stash, deciding which I would open first. It wasn’t enough to have delicious dark chocolate; I wanted it chock full of something. I was thinking I’d choose a bar with nuts. And then…just as we were getting ready to leave for a family fun afternoon at a nature center, my daughter had a melt-down, which resulted in her being sent to her room, and my husband and her brother going on the trip without us.
Dear reader, I was a blur as I ran to the coat closet to retrieve my chocolate (shhh, nobody knows it’s in there). I grabbed blindly for something, anything, clutching a shiny wrapper in my little paws, tearing open a corner with my teeth like a possessed weasel. Wait, I’m supposed to eat one ounce! I quickly glance at the nutritional content. Screw it! I don’t have time for MATH!
I broke off a chunk and popped it into my mouth, chewed and swallowed, barely registering the taste, until moments later, after I’d re-stashed the bag, when I realized, wow, that was really good, I mean, awesomely good. What was that exactly? I go back to the closet: Ghirardelli Intense Dark Toffee Interlude. I wish I’d, you know, savored that, instead of injecting it directly into my bloodstream.
Will this happen again? Most likely. Is there a moral here? I don’t know. I’ll leave that to the psychologists, but if you’re a type who likes labels, I guess you can slap a big one on my forehead that says, “Emotional Eater.” Let me re-introduce myself. Hi, my name is Marcy, and I’m an Emotional Eater.
The hubs and I don’t get out much. With two young kids and nary a grandparent in sight, our fine dining experiences are few and far between. Because of this, when we do go out, I’ll eat whatever I damn well please. That said, I’ll also eat more slowly, more mindfully, more conscious of the significant other across the table and of the delicious food. Dinners at home are a hurried affair, trying to get enough nutrients into the kids before they lose interest with the whole sitting still/not telling potty jokes at the table kind of thing.
Yet, in the interest of taking our time and making the most of our dinner out, my husband and I also tend to eat more than we would at home. We were at a nice Asian restaurant this weekend. We had sushi for an appetizer. We had wine. We worked on our main courses, swapping plates, then swapping back. And, need I say, we had dessert.
The waiter showed us the evening’s three offerings: some kind of berry-infused cheesecake, a second thing I can’t even remember, and *insert angel trumpeters here* The Hunan Tower, which was a layer of dark chocolate cake covered with a chocolate ganache, on top of a deep layer of fluffy chocolate mousse, on top of a thin layer of plain old cheesecake (two out of three ain’t bad).
We decided to “share” it. I quickly cut off the offending cheesecake layer and pushed it toward hubs. I then got to work on the two chocolate layers. Here’s a little fact you might not know. Come closer, I’ll whisper it…..If you have been with your significant other for more than ten years, it is perfectly okay to stab his hand with your fork if he tries to steal your cake!
I wasn’t even all that hungry for dessert, but I gave in to my cravings and polished off The Hunan Tower. However, since I don’t eat out much, I didn’t feel guilty. I felt full, yes, but not guilty. Tell me, what’s your experience with dessert when dining out?
Hello chocolate lovers! So glad to kick off this sweetest of months with you. I just returned from a meeting with Dr. Albers where I was presented with a very large bag of chocolatey goodness. We’re talking serious chocolate, ranging from chocolate bars to chocolate covered berries to chocolate tea! I have laid out all my loot on the dining room table. My eyes zero in immediately on two items: a bar of Ghirardelli Hazelnut Heaven, and a bag of Dove Roasted Almonds. I feel my pulse rate rising and detect a bit of salivation going on. I want it. I want it bad, baby.
But wait, I already had my chocolate today. Dr. Albers put me through an experiment, with five different types of chocolate, to see if I could order them from least, to highest, percentage of cacao. I’ll have you know, I aced this test. And so I do believe Dr. Albers has met her match…and I do believe I’ve met mine. What kind of monster gives a chocolate lover an entire bag of the stuff and asks her to eat only an ounce a day? Ahhh, we shall see. All in a month’s time, we shall test Dr. Albers’ experiments. And we shall see how a woman who steals the “good stuff” out of her childrens’ Halloween pumpkins while the precious angels sleep, will survive temptation of momentous proportions.
Each day in February, I shall eat 1 oz. (or more;) of chocolate and tell you all about it. I suggest you gather your own chocolate so you can participate, rather than just watch voyeuristically…unless that’s your thing. And now, chocolate be gone! Back in the bag with you! Close the bag, hide the bag, where my kids can’t find it and where it will not be constantly in my sight. I’m weak, dear reader, so weak…