Can you refuse the siren call of confectionery? Are you a chocoholic? Here’s how to stop a sweet tooth from wrecking your weight loss plan.
Chocolate is like a really great friend. It picks you up when you’re down, comforts you, is a pretty good love substitute and would never tell you that your bottom looks really big in your favourite jeans. The feel-good factor of chocolate and other sweet foods is undeniable. Chocolate does give you a kind of chemical high when you eat it by boosting your brain’s serotonin and endorphin levels, making you feel calm and happy. Other substances in it stimulate the brain’s emotional arousal, giving you a lovely warm glow similar to being in love.
There’s an evolutionary component to the appeal of sweet foods. Human beings have more sweet taste buds than other taste buds and we naturally prefer sweet tastes from babyhood to adulthood. Some scientists believe that humans developed a preference for sweet things because generally they are higher in calories and so pack lots of energy – important in hunter-gatherer times, but less so now that all you have to do is get off the sofa and go to the kitchen cupboard when you feel a bit puckish. If we were as active as we were in hunter-gatherer days and had to work hard to find our food while beating off woolly mammoths, we could stuff our faces with sweet treats and probably wouldn’t put on a gram. Times have changed, but we still have our prehistoric taste-buds.
Chocolate is high in fat, often around 30% by weight, and full of calories. Other confectionery is crammed with sugars and can weigh in at 375 calories per 100 g. They will both give you a temporary rise in blood sugar and a feeling of satisfaction, but then your body will tell your brain that it didn’t supply all the nutrients it wanted. Your hunger is stimulated and if you continue to munch on the sweet stuff, the process just repeats itself. The high and low swings are in response to your body asking for nutrients, not sugar.
When you’re trying to lose weight, it is accepted practice to stay off sweet stuff. In most people’s experience though, total denial doesn’t work because the more you tell yourself you can’t have something, the more you want it. So, here’s the deal. Do have a little of what you fancy, but it really does have to be a little portion. Take time to really enjoy it – sit down at the table or on a comfy chair without distractions and savour every mouthful. This way you can make giving in to temptation a positive experience while not over-eating.
You could also try having your sweet hit in a different way. For example, if you want something chocolatey and a bit creamy, make yourself a milkshake using skimmed or non-fat milk and chocolate powder, or have a hot cocoa made half with milk, half with water. A small pot of low-fat chocolate mousse might hit the spot, too. If it is crunch and chewiness you’re after, try a thin scraping of chocolate spread on bread, crackers or rice cakes. A meringue with some fruit and a dollop of low fat yoghurt, fromage frais or crème fraiche on top satisfies the need for a pudding without the fat and calorie overload. Get used to reading the labels of your favourite biscuits, cakes and confectionery. By comparing and contrasting, you’ll see that some sweet indulgences are much more diet-friendly than others.
Life would be so much easier if you just craved broccoli, wouldn’t it?