Chocoholics Anonymous…

Aoife Ryan investigates…is there such a thing?

Hi I’m Aoife and I’m a chocoholic.

It’s something we’ve all heard of, but it’s not taken all that seriously. So, can you actually be addicted to chocolate? With Easter eggs everywhere this month, it’s hard to avoid the stuff… but for some people it’s a year-round struggle.

There are three components that need to be seen for something to be classified as an addiction:
Intense cravings
Loss of control
Continued use despite negative consequences

Looking at it lightly, all three can be associated with chocolate.

Chocolate is the most craved food. It’s not unheard of for people to pop out to the supermarket late at night for their chocolate fix. We mostly crave food because of influencing external factors and our emotional state rather than because of psychical hunger. Before a chocolate craving, most likely you will have been feeling some sort of negative emotion, like boredom, anxiety, or just feeling a bit down. When we eat chocolate, serotonin is released in the brain making us feel instantly happier. Many people form a habit of reaching for the chocolate whenever they are under any emotional stress; this habit is what makes the cravings so strong – we feel we need it.

Loss of control is less common with chocolate lovers, but it does happen. Chocolate has a good mix of sugar and fat in it, which means we can eat more of it without feeling sick. So it’s up to us to decide when enough is enough, and quite often, especially around the holidays, people go overboard. Some people can keep a box of chocolates in the cupboard for weeks, maybe taking one every now and then with their cup of tea, or having it to take out when people are visiting. A lot of others would have that box gone in a matter of days. Finding a balance is very important – everything in moderation. Trying to stop over-indulging so often could help reduce cravings and make you feel better overall.

Continuing to eat chocolate despite negative consequences is definitely true in self-proclaimed chocoholics. There might be plenty of healthy options but some people will choose chocolate over them despite knowing that that it’s not as good for them. Chocolate has high levels of saturated fat and sugar. Too much saturated fat in the diet raises blood cholesterol, putting you at risk of heart disease and stroke. The high sugar content in chocolate has no nutritional value and often leads to weight gain, and in some cases type 2 diabetes. If chocolate is something you can’t give the boot, then it’s important to remember to exercise regularly and maintain a healthy diet while keeping the amount of chocolate you do eat low.

So, chocoholism does seem to exist in today’s society. Although it’s not an addiction that will affect someone’s life in the way drug or alcohol addiction would, it is still definitely real. An emotional dependence is developed with chocolate for some people, they feel they need it to improve their mood and make them feel better. Unfortunately, this feeling is often only temporary, and then a feeling of guilt sets in – and a cycle of negative emotions begins. Breaking this cycle can be a challenge, but it’s something that gets easier every day. By making some lifestyle changes and choosing other snacks over chocolate some days, the cravings will feel less strong and you can start enjoying chocolate in a healthier way.

H.A.L.T – tips to help manage anxiety

 Aoife Ryan looks at ways to help reduce anxiety with some simple tips…

Have you ever lashed out at someone close to you for no apparent reason? Maybe on a day that you skipped lunch, or had been annoyed by something separate earlier that day? Or maybe you didn’t get enough sleep the night before? Or sometimes just feeling down on yourself or a little distant can lead you to push people further away. This is normal… everybody lets their everyday stresses overcome how they act from time to time, and unfortunately it’s the ones we love most who get the brunt of it for the most part.

A good tip to remember if you’re ever feeling wound up or stressed is to H-A-L-T (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired).

Hunger is something that can be felt both physically and emotionally. Knowing when to eat seems simple, but we need to remember not just to eat but to eat well. Having a balanced diet is very important because it keeps our bodies and our minds working at their best. We need to fuel ourselves every 3-4 hours. Eating regularly can keep us feeling calm and allow us to see situations how they really are without having our judgments clouded by hunger. So, next time you feel yourself ready to lash out – remove yourself from the situation, if you feel hungry go have a meal or healthy snack and water – the chances are you’ll feel much more relaxed afterwards.

Anger is a very healthy emotion, but it is important to understand exactly what/who has made you angry. If you don’t allow yourself to process the reasoning behind this feeling it is very likely you will deal with it in a way you might regret. So before the anger consumes you, chat to a family member or a friend who isn’t involved about your feelings. Getting the feelings off your chest might be enough to make you feel better and to think more clearly. Then you can decide whether to address the situation calmly and try to fix whatever is making you feel this way. If it is something can can’t be fixed, using techniques such as meditation, creative projects, exercise etc. are often very good ways of relieving anger.

Loneliness isn’t a nice feeling. Some people choose to be alone; usually it’s their way of dealing with other emotions. Withdrawal and self-isolation are very common coping mechanisms for many different negative feelings and can be quite harmful to your mental health. If you realise that you are feeling worse about a situation than you may have before, ask yourself have you reached out to anyone lately, are you feeling lonely? Having a support system is very important when you are feeling stressed, anxious, or just that everything has become too much. Even going out for a walk and interacting with people on a basic level can be really helpful in dealing with these feelings.

Tiredness often makes people more cranky and emotional. Missing out on some of our much needed shut-eye can compromise our ability to think clearly, remember details, or work to our full potential during the day. This can be quite frustrating and add extra stress onto whatever we are already dealing with or doing. Tiredness can also hinder our abilities to cope with emotions and in turn, we might not see a situation for what it really is. If you feel overwhelmed by a situation that might not have been so stressful another day ask yourself, are you tired? Did you get enough sleep the night before? Has your day been more busy than usual? Going for a walk and getting some fresh air, or having a light healthy snack can be helpful in boosting your energy levels.

So, before things escalate, try to take a few deep breaths, HALT and ask yourself are you hungry, angry, lonely, or tired? Satisfying these basic things can help you to keep calm in times of stress/anxiety and help you to work out your feelings in a healthier way.