You started the day with a bowl of oatmeal topped with fresh fruit and then grabbed a veggie-packed salad for lunch. And for dinner, you’re planning on whipping up a chicken and broccoli stir-fry with a side of brown rice. Not to be smug about it or anything, but you’re basically the epitome of good health. Except that it’s almost three o’clock and you’re starving. Not only that, but you’re hankering after something specific. Yep, you’re craving chocolate real bad. What gives? Here, some possible explanations for why all you can think about is that Snickers that’s lying at the bottom of your purse.
1. Low Blood Sugar
“When we wait too long in between meals, our blood sugar drops and we crave energy, which we get from food,” explains Lorraine Kearney, certified dietitian/nutritionist and founder of New York City Nutrition. And that’s when we turn to foods that are high in sugar since the sweet stuff gives us a quick spike in energy levels. But this isn’t exactly ideal. “Reaching for sugar will give a quick energy boost, but your blood sugar will drop quickly and you’ll end up craving even more chocolate,” Kearney tells us. And before you know it, you’re on the blood sugar roller coaster of highs and lows.
So, what’s the fix? Try not to skip meals, suggests Kearney, and focus on eating high fiber foods that will keep your blood sugar balanced. If you’re not sure where to start (and not into eating All-Bran for breakfast every day), check out the eight best high fiber foods to add to your diet.
2. Magnesium Deficiency
Well, here’s some surprising news. According to Kearney, most people are low in magnesium. And this all-important nutrient can be found in—you guessed it—chocolate. Just one square of the dark stuff contains 41 milligrams of magnesium. (FYI: Women should be getting 320 milligrams per day.)
So, what’s the fix? “Enjoy raw cacao that is minimally processed and is not alkali or Dutch processed,” says Kearney. That’s because the processed stuff means less magnesium. And if you’re experiencing symptoms like achy muscles, anxiety and trouble sleeping, then you may want to get your magnesium levels checked by a healthcare professional. But don’t be tempted to pop a supplement. Instead, get your fill from natural food sources like beans, nuts, avocado and leafy greens.
3. You’re Stressed
You’re late for an appointment, you spilled coffee down your shirt and there’s about 300 items on your to-do list. Oh, and it’s not even noon yet. And since you’ve already had several coffees today, you reach for the next best thing—chocolate. When we’re stressed or anxious, we often turn to food—especially something that we know will make us feel good. (Hey, it’s called stress eating for a reason.) “Chocolate falls into the category of simple carbohydrates, meaning it’s quickly digested and spikes blood sugar,” Kearney tells us. “When a carbohydrate hits the tongue, a neurotransmitter called dopamine is released and lights up the area of the brain that stimulates reward and pleasure. So, for that nanosecond we forget everything we had to do before the bite of chocolate and experience a moment of happiness, but when we swallow, it disappears and in turn we crave the happy feeling so we'll reach for more chocolate.” Translation? We end up suppressing our emotions instead of confronting them.
So, what’s the fix? Before reaching for that Milky Way, take a moment to pause and ask yourself, why am I craving this right now? If you’re feeling angry, sad or upset, then try to address those feelings rather than opting for a quick pick-me-up.
4. It’s a Habit
Every day after dinner, you treat yourself to a scoop of chocolate ice cream or two. (Hey, no judgement.) So, like Pavlov’s dog, right after you’ve loaded your dishes into the sink for the night, the craving for something sweet strikes. It’s become part of your daily routine and that can be hard to break.
So, what’s the fix? This one’s simple—time to start a new habit. Instead of ice cream, try ending your meal with something else instead like a cup of peppermint tea or a piece of fruit. We know, it’s not as immediately satisfying as your usual dessert but after a couple of nights, it’ll be the new normal. (Maybe.)
5. You’re on Your Period
Research shows that close to 50 percent of women in the U.S. crave chocolate when they’re on their periods. And while we wish we could tell you that there was some sort of biological reason for this urge, the truth is that, well, there isn’t one. (Sorry.) Instead, the most likely explanation seems to be that because chocolate is so often tied to menstruation in American culture, women have come to expect and then have that particular craving. In other countries where this association is less prevalent, chocolate cravings aren’t as frequent. Weird, right?
So, what’s the fix? Like your nightly Ben and Jerry’s habit, it’s time to create a new association. Next time you’re on your period, ask yourself if you’re really craving chocolate or if you just think you are because of habit or societal expectations. Opt for a healthier snack first and see if you’re still hankering for that candy bar.
Benefits of Chocolate
Now that you’ve pinpointed the source of your cravings, here’s some good news—there are a couple of very cool perks to your favorite snack. Well, sort of. Allow us to explain: Cocoa is rich in antioxidants (substances that fight harmful free radicals in your body) and studies have linked it to lowering cholesterol and improving memory. So far, so good. But here’s the rub: Your favorite candy bar probably doesn’t have that much natural cocoa in it. Instead, it’s most likely loaded with sugar which, you know isn’t exactly great for you. In order to reap the benefits of chocolate, experts say you should opt for dark varieties—at least 70 percent. And remember, moderation is key. (So, a couple of squares is fine but the entire bar, not so much.)
What to Eat When You’re Craving Chocolate
1. Fresh fruit.
We hear you—boooring. But you know it’s good for you and it just might hit the sweet spot. Make things a little more interesting by turning up the heat—grilling fruits like peaches or pineapple will give you a delicious caramelized flavor.
2. Trail mix.
Sure, the chocolate chips are the best part but the nuts, seeds and cereal are pretty tasty, too.
3. Frozen yogurt.
Skip the sugar-loaded variety and make your own fro-yo dessert instead. It’s easier than you think, promise. Here’s a recipe for frozen blueberry bites to get you started.