Hi Healthy Mamas! I’m thrilled that Dorit is having me on her blog today. I’m Ana-Maria, but friends call me Ana. I’m a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and a mama of 2 boys, under 2. I’m a recovering chocoholic and I love to help busy moms balance their hormones with simple strategies.
On a scale of 1-10 (1 is the lowest, 10 being the highest), how much do you crave chocolate?
Got your number? Cool.
Mine has always been around 9-10. I wasn’t kidding about the “recovering chocoholic” title 🙂
Would it surprise you if I said that there’s no consensus amongst the scientific community as to why we actually crave chocolate? When I think about why I crave chocolate, I come up with what boils down to two main reasons. First, eating it makes me happy. So happy in fact, that I get upset if someone talks to me while I’m savoring it because they “ruin” my mood”. And secondly, it gives me a nice pick me up when I’m tired. Sounds familiar?
Let’s begin our journey
One study has found that 50% of women craved chocolate right before their period and the other half didn’t. So “because I have a period” did not quite explain it. Researchers of that study concluded that women who craved chocolate before their periods were doing so because of the anticipated stress of the period itself. The body does go through quite a lot of changes, so this potentially could make sense.
OK. Stress, they say. Let’s hold that thought and come back to it in a bit.
Carbs make us happy
As mentioned above, one of the reasons I like chocolate is – it makes me happy. Let’s explore that a bit more.
Serotonin is a feel-good neurotransmitter and scientists are still learning about it. So far, we do know that stress, PMS, a difficult day, lack of sleep, exhaustion can all deplete it. Also, women start off with less serotonin then men, so we are more sensitive to its effects.
Some symptoms of serotonin deficiency include depression, anxiety, mood disorders, anger, extra sensitivity to pain, carbohydrate cravings, binge eating, constipation, feeling overwhelmed, insomnia, migraines and that’s to name a few.
You need the amino acid tryptophan to make serotonin and as it so happens, it’s found in things like corn, cereal grains, and legumes, which are carbs. See, there’s a reason why we crave carbs when we’re feeling a little down. I would suggest, that we reach for chocolate mainly as a learned behavior. A way to get our carb fix, but obviously it’s not quite the right tryptophan-containing carb.
Milk and Sugar make us feel good
When we look at the composition of chocolate it is made mainly of cacao, milk, and sugar. Both sugar and milk are known to trigger dopamine (also a neurotransmitter) to be released in the brain, which is why they are addictive.
Now, remember I said that eating chocolate gives me a little energy boost? Here’s one reason why: Dopamine is our motivation neurotransmitter responsible for the brain’s pleasure-reward system. It makes us feel good when our needs are about to be met and also acts as a mild stimulant.
Because dopamine is responsible for our pleasure-reward center, low dopamine levels have been associated with an increased reliance of caffeine, sugar, smoking and the use of stimulants. When our dopamine levels are low, any activity that brings us pleasure will raise it up again.
In an effort to self-medicate, we can sometimes get into addictive behaviors such as not being able to stop until the whole box of Quality Street is empty, shopping, gambling, excessive exercise, and even playing too much video games.
One healthful way to increase dopamine in your brain is to do things you enjoy. Do you enjoy knitting, jewelry making, puzzles, woodworking, painting? Whatever it is, do it. Being a mother doesn’t mean you have to neglect the things that bring you joy.
Physical exercise also increases dopamine, so go ahead try a yoga class or even a spin class. Take on a new challenge and break it down into small achievable milestones. Maybe it’s time to finally print your second child’s photo album?
If I told you from the beginning that the answer to reducing chocolate cravings are routine self-care practices, would you believe me?
There are plenty of reasons why so many health professionals emphasize self-care. We are always on the go, always something to do. Getting the kids ready for school, cooking healthy meals, laundry, house cleaning, work, and errands to run. We forget that our bodies also need to slow down and enjoy the precious moments of life.
If we don’t leave time to activities that fulfill our souls, reaching for a chocolate bar can quickly become a convenient way to raise our dopamine levels.
Stress and blood sugar control
Carbohydrates, sugar included, are broken down into glucose in the body. Insulin is released to usher it into our cells where it will be used to make energy. Whatever our cells don’t take, gets stored in muscle cells and liver as glycogen.
When we experience stress, cortisol is released to mobilize resources to get us going. Cortisol has the effect to release stored glucose (called glycogen) from our muscles and liver into our blood stream to be delivered to the rest of our cells for energy.
When we are operating with the chronic low-grade stress that we just can’t seem to get over, our adrenals are pumping out cortisol. This creates a tug-a-war between insulin and cortisol, which leads to the highs and lows of blood sugar.
Once glucose is back in the blood, the body registers the spike, and insulin is now triggered to put it back in our cells quickly causing blood sugar levels to now dip. When our blood glucose levels reach low levels, our brain thinks it’s starving and it will send some pretty strong signaling to eat. That’s why we have those cravings that no amount of willpower can control. They are one of the body’s mechanisms to raise blood sugar levels. If we have a preference towards chocolate, it may be the carb of choice we reach for a quick burst of energy.
In today’s world, it’s very hard not to be exposed to stress on a daily basis. How many times a week do you rush your kids out the door to get them to school, and still make it to work on time? How about getting stuck in traffic.? Or rushing to get dinner together while listening to your kids become more and more grumpy as their hunger grows. And let’s face it, most companies out there will try to squeeze every ounce of productivity they can out of you.
Getting a good grasp on your blood sugar through better nutrition and stress management practices will go a long way in helping you avoid reaching for that chocolate bar.
Cocoa as a source of nutrients
Raw cacao, the base of what chocolate is made of is incredibly high in antioxidants, B-vitamins, good fats, and minerals such as magnesium, copper, manganese, zinc, iron, potassium, calcium, and selenium.
Trace minerals are hard to come by theses days, For instance, most of us get about 250 mg per day of magnesium yet the RDV is 400. And considering that magnesium alone is a cofactor in over 100 enzymes involved in blood sugar control, we can quickly start seeing problems with our blood sugar levels.
We know that among many others, B6, folate, vitamin C. vitamin D, zinc, and magnesium are needed to convert tryptophan to serotonin.
If we go on the premise that a healthy body knows what it needs, then craving chocolate is your body’s way of trying to get a hold of minerals it’s lacking. Instead of having a milk chocolate filled with sugar and milk, try having a dark chocolate with the highest percentage of cacao you can tolerate and work your way up.
Strategies to stop eating chocolate
- Create a new go-to self-care routine – I learned this concept from one of my mentors. Do something for yourself daily, weekly, monthly and yearly. Daily, might 15 minutes of gratitude journaling before bedtime or having a cup of tea and read a book in the morning before the kids get up. Weekly, might be a warm bath. A monthly soul-replenishing activity can be paint-night with the girls. Vacation is more suitable as a yearly activity.
- Switch to eating complex carbohydrates – Whole grain carbs will help boost your serotonin levels as well as keep your blood sugar steady. Get rid of the white stuff and replace it with the whole grain version. Consider adding, brown rice, black rice, multi-grain bread, oats, miller, and buckwheat to your diet. Rotate your grains to get a variety of vitamin and minerals.
- Eat sources of vitamins and minerals – In addition to adding nutritious whole grains, add whole foods to help you get more vitamins and minerals. You can do this by experimenting with salads. In particular, magnesium and chromium are needed to control your blood sugar. Foods high in chromium are broccoli, barley, oats green beans, tomatoes, romaine lettuce and black pepper. Magnesium rich foods are spinach, swiss chard, beet greens, pumpkin seeds, summer squash, turnip greens, sesame seeds, black beans, quinoa, cashews, buckwheat, pinto beans, brown rice, oats, almonds. All of these ingredients can be used in a salad.
- Makeover your pantry – When I started my journey to eating healthier, I did not follow a diet, gave up food groups or became vegetarian. I started by swapping out processes and packaged foods to whole foods options. I started with my worst offender and worked my way little by little allowing time for my palate to adapt to new flavors and tastes. If you like chips, make your own at home. Kale chips, zucchini chips, and even apple chips can hit the spot and because you can season them with your preferred spices, you control the flavor. For chocolate, there are so many ways you can make your own healthy version with raw cacao powder and coconut oil. Pinterest is just a few clicks away. You need to learn to cook with new ingredients and give your palate and taste buds a chance to adjust to new flavors and textures. If you are ready to start your pantry makeover journey, Dorit is launching her program soon, check it out here.
- Don’t beat yourself up if you’ve just eaten the whole box of Lindor! Life happens and if you are at a birthday party, a wedding, a family BBQ, or even just coming off a busy week filled with take-out and chocolaty treats, don’t beat yourself up. It’s worth way more to enjoy life’s sweet moments with your family and friends as you learn better strategies to avoid a chocolate binge. Guilt never helped anyone! The key is to know what to do to get back on track.
My parting gift to you is a mini protocol outlining exactly what to do after a chocolate binge to avoid your cravings to spread to weeks, months, or even years, so I created a blueprint called “4 Day Reset Plan to Bounce Back after a Binge”. I outline strategies you can use to avoid binging while still truly enjoying yourself and a 4-day meal plan to help you recover in case you do.
About the Author
Ana is a recovering chocolate lover and a sweet addict at heart. She became a Registered Holistic Nutritionist through the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition because she wanted to have the knowledge to teach her growing family a better way to nourish themselves. She now helps busy moms break free of their sugar cravings and balance their hormones by teaching a habit-based approach to health so that they can save time, lose weight, feel energized, and love their bodies again. You can find her over at www.anamariajanes.com
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