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Giving Up Chocolate (mostly)

Posted by tinako on April 29, 2013

I have loved chocolate as much as a anybody.  I was a candy-holic as a kid, and by kid I mean through college, and for quantity I mean I’d ride my bike to the grocery store to buy 3-4 quarts, I’d say, from the bulk bins, and finish it off in a few days.  After college I wasn’t that bad, but I’d still walk to a convenience store and buy the largest Hershey bar and eat it in a day or two.  Maybe I’d share it with my husband.  Maybe.  I remember a coworker having to give up chocolate 20 years ago – I felt so sorry for her.  So I get the appeal.

When I went vegan five years ago, I switched to dark chocolate because there was no vegan milk chocolate readily available to me.  I’m not going to say that dark chocolate doesn’t taste as good, though I think many would say that.  I at first felt like I was settling for ninth best, but it wasn’t long before I was really enjoying its bitterness, its subtle charms.  When vegan milk chocolate became available and I tried one, it was so sweet.  Too sweet!  And I noticed that when I had finished it I wanted MORE; this in contrast to having a bit of dark chocolate, after which I’m happy and satisfied.  Because I realized that having these sweeter bars would A. make me want them more often and B. make me like the dark chocolate less, I knew starting a habit with them would be a bad idea, so I almost never have one, maybe every other year.

I was happy with two squares of 70% dark Ghirardelli baking chocolate every night.  I did this for several years, until about a year ago, when we needed to save some money and I realized how expensive this tiny habit was.  These bars are $2.50, and I was eating one every four days; that’s $20 a month just in a bit of chocolate.  Not only that, but my husband would have the same, so now we were up to $40 a month in chocolate!  For those of you with a daily Starbucks habit, this is nothing, I’m sure, but it’s a lot when you’re looking for every dollar you can cut from the budget.  $40 is a takeout meal for the four of us!

So I stopped cold.  When I did, I noticed three things.

  1. I really craved this chocolate for a few evenings.  I talk about cravings at this post, Care and Feeding of Cravings, and had come across this video by Neal Barnard of PCRM: “Chocolate, Cheese, Meat, and Sugar – Physically Addictive.”  I was able to overcome the chocolate craving with a few evenings of mindfulness.
  2. My complexion improved.  There were a few mornings when I couldn’t remember whether I’d put on my makeup.  I chalked this up to distraction, but then I realized the reason I couldn’t remember is I couldn’t tell.  Most of my acne went away when I cut out sugar, but without chocolate, my face had a clarity, a visual smoothness.  It took me a few more weeks to make the connection, but when I eat chocolate, the next day my face is a little blotchy or something, not quite sure how to say it other than I felt I needed makeup.  So I don’t wear it any more, just a moisturizer with SPF.
  3. My blood pressure went down.  It had been creeping up over the last few years into the 120’s, and I think the last trip to the doctor it was 128 over something.  This is prehypertension:

    “Prehypertension increases the risk of heart disease. According to a 2005 analysis by the Framingham Heart Study, men with prehypertension are 3.5 times more likely to suffer heart attacks than those with normal blood pressures. Surprisingly, although high blood pressure is a major cause of strokes, prehypertension did not appear to increase the risk of stroke.” – Harvard Medical School

    She said not to worry about it but I decided, why not try to improve it?  So I got a blood pressure cuff and borrowed a book, Complete Idiot’s Guide to Blood Pressure, and tried all the suggestions for months, keeping careful records, to no avail.  I had none of the risk factors (“A primary risk factor for prehypertension is being overweight. Other risk factors include a family history of hypertension, a sedentary lifestyle, eating high sodium foods, smoking, and excessive alcohol intake.), but I tried to improve.  I exercise every day, but began exercising much more, no difference.  I eat a whole-foods home-cooked diet, but cut out added salt entirely, no difference.  Meditated more, no difference.  I cut out alcohol and tea, no difference (Here’s a post I wrote at the time).  But when I dropped chocolate, for cost reasons?  It dropped twenty points.  Ate it again, up it went.  It wasn’t a 100% perfect correlation, and it was never right away, always the next day, but it was pretty evident.  And to the best of my recall, my bp had been inching up over the time period when I had been developing the chocolate habit.  I mentioned it to my doctor, who was dubious until she took my pressure: 109 over whatever.

So, my face looks better, my risk of heart disease is down, and I don’t crave it any more.  I have no reason to eat it.  Once in a very great while I have a square of it (that’s not enough to affect my bp or cravings), and I feel free to eat chocolate desserts.  So that’s the “mostly” part.


2 Responses to “Giving Up Chocolate (mostly)”

  1. I’ve always thought that a little dark chocolate was healthful, but I’m intrigued by what you’ve said here. I’ve been vegan for a year, and I expected that this would make my skin perfect. It has improved it, but it’s still usually blotchy. I always wear makeup, and I hate this. And since giving up chocolate has helped with your blood pressure, I’m wondering if it will help with my anxiety. I tend to be an anxious person, and I know that coffee used to make things worse for me. I don’t drink coffee anymore, but I know that chocolate has caffeine and I eat it often. After reading what you’ve said, I’d like to do a trial and give up chocolate to see what happens. I do love chocolate, however; so I don’t know. Can I really give it up? Celeste:)

    • tinako said

      Yeah, I was shocked it affected my blood pressure, after all the good press it gets. You could probably have a little. I think I could have gone back to one piece a night, but the cost was the driving factor there for me. Also, when I discovered how strong a hold it had on me those first two nights without, I didn’t like that my will was being hijacked by a food. Be prepared for cravings, and just be with them. You might follow that link above, Care and Feeding of Cravings where I talk more about that.
      I’d love to hear how it goes.

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