How to beat chocolate cravings

Last updated 05:00 12/02/2011
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LIKE A DRUG: Chocolate stimulates the release of serotonin, the body's happiness hormone.

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So you want to beat that constant craving for chocolate? The first step is to learn to acknowledge and accept the yearning, according to new Australian research.

"If you stop fighting and ... accept something it loses its influence and power over your life," says psychologist and CSIRO researcher Dr Robyn Vast.

The sweet treat has long been associated with love and gluttony. Chocolate stimulates the release of the hormone serotonin - the body's natural happiness drug.

To test what drives our addiction to chocolate, Dr Vast recruited 110 volunteers in Adelaide and divided them into three groups.

Each group was given a bag of chocolate to carry around for a week, with the aim of resisting the goodies in the bag.

The first group was given no intervention, and 43 per cent totally resisted chocolate.

The second group was taught how to control cravings, with 56 per cent able to abstain from eating chocolate over the seven-day period.

The third group was encouraged to acknowledge and accept temptation when it arose.

"The third group was taught an acceptance-based approach with 81 per cent eating no chocolate at all," Dr Vast told AAP.

Dr Vast says cravings are a little bit like an itch: they seemingly come from nowhere and demand our full attention when they occur.

Just like an itch demands to be scratched, so too can cravings be hard to deny.

"What I found was that if people accept craving for chocolate as human behaviour, just something that happens to them, then you take the fight out of it," she says.

"It takes the pressure off."

Dr Vast, who shared her findings at an RiAus seminar this week called Gluttony: The Lure of Chocolate, will publish her study later this year.

Also speaking at the seminar, Haigh chief chocolate taster Brendan Somerville explored another reason why we find chocolate so hard to resist: it simply tastes good.

"Flavour depends on where the cocoa has been grown, and whether it's been imported as a bean or in pre-made blocks," he said.

Somerville, who describes himself as a "quality assurance technician" rather than a chocolate taster, says he never gets sick of testing chocolate, although his palate has become more discerning.

"I prefer dark chocolate, around 70 per cent. You get a better subtlety of flavours. But no - I'm not addicted."

Researchers at the Spanish Council for Scientific Research in Madrid, Spain found that ordinary cocoa and chocolate bars contain a group of alkaloids known as tetrahydro-beta-carbolines.

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The same chemicals have been linked to alcoholism, which may also explain cravings.



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