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Walk Away Your Chocolate Cravings

Chocolate Craving?
What do YOU crave?

I have always loved eating chocolate. The rich smell it gives off, the bittersweet taste when I take the first bite, the slightly euphoric feeling I get as the sugar and cocoa start to interact with my brain. It's a powerful combination of senses and emotion. Now it appears chocolate may actually be physically addictive, just like alcohol.

The reason for the addiction appears to be a group of alkaloids known as tetrahydro-beta-carbolines. Those alkaloids, also known as neuroactive alkaloids, were discovered in cocoa and chocolate bars by researchers at the Spanish Council for Scientific Research in Madrid. Earlier research has linked those very same chemicals to alcoholism.

Eating chocolate may be a way to self medicate. Combine the newly revealed alkaloid compounds with other known addictive substances found in chocolate, like caffeine and magnesium, and the idea that someone can be a "chocoholic" (addicted to chocolate) becomes much more plausible. People really may experience compulsions to eat a Hershey bar.

Fortunately, there now seems to be a way to end the addiction. In a clinical study at the School of Sport & Health Sciences at the University of Exeter, 25 regular chocolate eaters were put in stressful situations that included a "chocolate cue." Half the subjects engaged in a passive control and the other half took a 15 minute semi-self-paced brisk walk. Then the subjects were asked to complete 2 tasks. The first was a Stroop colour-word interference task and the second was unwrapping and handling a chocolate bar.

The group that took a brisk walk experienced reduced chocolate urges during and after the walk. Exercise also gave the subjects a greater ability to fight the cravings as they handled the chocolate.

It's a win-win for dieters. Taking a walk helps burn calories, reduces stress and now apparently gives us more willpower to just say no to temptation.

The lead author on the study, Professor Adrian Taylor said, "Our ongoing work consistently shows that brief bouts of physical activity reduce cigarette cravings, but this is the first study to link exercise to reduced chocolate cravings. Neuroscientists have suggested common processes in the reward centres of the brain between drug and food addictions, and it may be that exercise effects brain chemicals that help to regulate mood and cravings. This could be good news for people who struggle to manage their cravings for sugary snacks and want to lose weight."

It's estimated that up to 97% of women and 68% of men experience some form of food cravings. The desire is typically for calorie-dense, fatty or sugary foods. Chocolate is almost always at the top of the list. Knowing that something as simple as a brisk 15 minute walk can help curb those cravings is great news for people who want to get healthy.

Professor Taylor concludes: "While enjoying the occasional chocolate bar is fine, in time, regular eating may lead to stronger cravings during stress and when it is readily available. Recognising what causes us to eat high energy snacks, even if we have plans to not do so, can be helpful."

"Short bouts of physical activity can help to regulate how energised and pleasant we feel, and with a sedentary lifestyle we may naturally turn to mood regulating behaviours such as eating chocolate. Accumulating 30 minutes of daily physical activity, with two 15 minute brisk walks, for example, not only provides general physical and mental health benefits but also may help to regulate our energy intake. This research furthers our understanding of the complex physical, psychological and emotional relationship we have with food."

The next time you have a craving, go for a walk. If you have chocolate you're trying to avoid eating, bring it along with and dump it in a trash-can along the route. Walking is good, but getting rid of the temptation is better. Walk and free yourself from chocolate addiction.

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CAUTION: Check with your doctor before
beginning any diet or exercise program.

12/14/2008