Why do I crave chocolate every day?
August 1, 2012 6:10 PM   Subscribe

I'm not sure what's wrong with me. If I don't have an entire bar of dark chocolate each day, I have what I guess is called a panic attack. Details within.

It's not a hyperventilation panic attack, but rather a creeping sense of dread that the world is sliding in on me, that I'm all alone, and that nothing will work out. The chocolate makes me feel safe, for a little bit, I guess. But I still feel kind of like crying, although I never can actually cry, which I'd welcome as a release.

The extra calories of the chocolate are playing havoc with my desire to lose weight, and I try not to buy them and tell myself I can breathe deeply through the panic but I usually cave and go to the store mid-morning. Honestly, it's a miracle I limit myself to one bar per day. I could probably binge on two or three if they were in front of me.

I've done some research and have seen some articles about how craving chocolate is sometimes an indication of magnesium deficiency, so I started taking magnesium malate today. Too soon to tell if that's helping. Other articles mention the sugar and caffeine, which I suppose it could be, but why not craving for coffee or other things?

I'm a guy (in case this goes in a pregnancy direction) and I work alone, if it matters.

Has anyone else experienced this? What's wrong with me?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (29 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Compulsive eating immediately came to mind.

I think this has less to do about some mineral deficiency and more to do with the psychological. Frankly, and I know that everyone on askmefi suggests this, but if you are having huge emotional sweeps that are that depressing hit you if you don't have a bar of dark chocolate... that isn't healthy. Have you considered therapy? You're self medicating with chocolate. What happens the day when it doesn't work any more?
posted by gwenlister at 6:18 PM on August 1, 2012 [5 favorites]

I have a feeling that your problem has less to do with the chocolate, and more to do with the habit.
posted by BrandonW at 6:19 PM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Could you have a mild case of OCD? From reading your post, it looks like the daily chocolate bar is more of a ritual that you HAVE to do rather than a food craving that you need nutritionally.

Journal your days for a week or so and see if there are any more non-chocolate rituals that you have to perform to get through your day. And you should talk to a doctor/therapist. OCD can be managed.

Good thoughts coming your way.

IANAD, etc etc.
posted by ladygypsy at 6:23 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, it sounds like there's some root underlying concern or psychological issue that needs to be dealt with. But on the weight-loss aspect, do you like dark chocolate? I find that I like buying unsweetened baker's chocolate and making super-dark chocolate with a sugar substitute like stevia, sometimes with other sharp flavors like coffee beans or unsweetened coconut mixed in. There's still the cocoa butter fat but at least it gets rid of many of the calories from sugar.
posted by XMLicious at 6:25 PM on August 1, 2012

Has anyone else experienced this?

Wow, okay. I've never actually heard of this happening to someone else before. But here is what happened to me.

My anxiety disorder started when I was 10 and included an eating disorder as well. I had a LOT of fear around eating and was extremely underweight for the next few years because of how hard it was for me to eat.

But it was not as scary for me to eat chocolate desserts, like mousse, cookies, etc. I still had panic attacks, but they were not as bad and I'm not sure why. Maybe I was just way more motivated!

This really angered my parents to the extreme, who thought that it meant I was faking everything and just being a picky brat.

When I was 13, and finally at the point where my hair started falling out, I was having heart palpitations, and you could see my ribs from across the room, I was scared that I was going to die. I decided that I did not care what my parents thought, and if all I could get down was dessert, then fuck it and I was going to eat as much dessert as I could, around the clock.

That is exactly what I did and I pretty much stuffed myself with as many Oreos as my body could take. I gained over 40 lbs within 3 months. I recovered from my eating disorder permanently. My anxiety slowly dissolved and it would be a good 4 years before I had another really anxious period.

So, I wouldn't tell you what the medical explanation is. But in response to your question about whether or not anyone else has experienced this, yes, I have.
posted by cairdeas at 6:27 PM on August 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

I see that you're anonymous; feel free to contact a mod to post a followup.

What is the rest of your diet like? Activity level? Do you take supplements, besides the magnesium you mentioned?

Epsom salts (baths, not eating) are another way to get magnesium fyi.

As an anecdote, I get a lot less anxious when I eat very low carb, except for the period of transition.

Dark chocolate has fewer sugars than most chocolates; do you get the same anxiety relief from non dark (i.e. Milk) chocolate?
posted by bookdragoness at 6:49 PM on August 1, 2012

Can you taper off? Go from 1 bar to 3/4, to 2/3, to half, etc?
posted by Slinga at 6:49 PM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think a little of what you crave does you good. 1 bar of really expensive good dark chocolate won't make you obese. If you get the really good stuff, you can probably stretch it out to 1/2 a bar a day.

And if you want to cut down, do what ex-smokers do--store it in a really inconvenient place, so that you have to really make a huge effort to get it. Set a time every day when it's okay to eat your chocolate. And some 70s behaviour mod--wear a rubber band and snap it HARD when you think you want some chocolate and it's not time yet.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:51 PM on August 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Chocolate has a lot of caffeine. Caffeine withdrawal can bring anxiety in my experience, and in some, though not a critical mass, of the studies in this overview (pdf) of caffeine withdrawal symptoms. Maybe try switching to coffee with a lot of sugar, and then start cutting back on the sugar?
posted by salvia at 6:52 PM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Are you getting enough (good) fat in the rest of your diet?
posted by availablelight at 7:20 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

How long has this been going on? When did it start? When was the first time you tried 'treating' it with chocolate?
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:21 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

A normal dark chocolate bar has 30mg...the good stuff might have a bit more....still half that of coke and way less than most coffee.

Interestingly, I'm very prone to panic attacks, BUT oddly more agoraphobic these days...and I'm super addicted to chocolate. I, too, want to lose weight, but for some reason I have a huge chocolate craving issue: I'll get a candy bar AND a Yahoo drink. I try to limit myself to one sweet a day max, but often it's 2-3.

I never felt like chocolate helped my anxiety--if anything, the sugar rush and caffeine would be more likely to create panic I'd think (I haven't had a caffeinated drink since 1985, when I first made the association between panic and caffeine).

I do think this sounds more ritualized/OCD than a physiological need or self-medicating.
posted by whatgorilla at 7:27 PM on August 1, 2012

I went through the same thing with Diet Coke. I don't remember how I went off of it because it was years ago, but yeah, for decades, I needed at least one Diet Coke every day or I was a horrible mess. So you're not alone. I'm pretty sure it's not a physical addiction because I went for about seven years without drinking any soda at all. I dunno, IANAD at all. I just know I used to have that problem, then I didn't, so it's not insurmountable. I don't do therapy, but I hear it helps...
posted by patheral at 7:32 PM on August 1, 2012

Sugar bumps up your serotonin, maybe?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:34 PM on August 1, 2012

Maybe part of the reason that you have this unhealthy relationship with the chocolate bar is because you think of it as a forbidden pleasure that you should not allow yourself to have, and then you have this ritual of being defeated by it every day.

Would it help if you just gave yourself permission to eat the chocolate? A dark chocolate bar is really not that bad for you and is not going to make or break your weight control plan (it's low carb, and it has been scientifically proven to have health benefits!). Maybe if you stopped wrestling all day with the idea of the chocolate and tormenting yourself with "I shouldn't... but I have to!" you'd actually find that you eventually stopped obsessing about it and stopped needing it.

This is just a stab in the darkness but it's what I thought of.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:49 PM on August 1, 2012 [11 favorites]

Chocolate has stuff other than caffeine. It is known to combat depression. I used to carry extra dark chocolate in my purse in place of an albuterol inhaler. It was just as effective and without the drug side effects. Someone was telling me recently about a study where chocolate was successfully used to combat depression and resulted in weight loss, not gain.

You might try eating the extra, super dark stuff that is 70% or even 80% cocoa and see if that does the trick for fewer calories. Chocolate has the same chemical that our brains create when we are in love. I am guessing that might be what are responding to. When my chocoholic son got too tubby, the only dietary change I suggested was darker, better quality chocolate so he could get his chocolate fix for fewer calories. He lost a lot of weight in a fairly short time.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 8:47 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Good dark chocolate contains theobromine. It's a feel-good brain chemical. There are also fats and sugars, and bodies love that. Not much sugar if you're eating 80+%.

Work your way up to 99% cocoa. Then you'll only need a single square.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:48 PM on August 1, 2012

My mother-in-law experienced this, and we finally attributed it to the Xocai Chocolate she'd been buying from a friend. The side effects described here were exactly what she experienced, and at one point she was quite a wreck because she eating more than the daily recommendation because she bought into the health claims. And soon she found herself barely eating anything else because it was easy to pop one and feel temporarily better. She also had underlying anxieties, and with the way her sleep was affected, they worsened and we had to work with her doctor for a bit. Once she started having the chocolate that she loved so much, and at the time that she felt she needed it emotionally, but along with other food - like in the form of an ice cream bar or a chocolate dipped cookie - she had fewer digestion troubles, felt better in general and had more of an appetite for other foods. By all means, enjoy some dark chocolate - but maybe downsize a bit, check the ingredients, and really eat well around it.
posted by peagood at 9:05 PM on August 1, 2012

Dark chocolate's not that bad for you:

AFP: Dark chocolate cuts heart deaths: Australian study

Stressing out about the dark chocolate is probably more damaging to your health than the dark chocolate is. I would say, allow yourself the 100g of chocolate as your one treat for the day, and make sure you go for a good walk each day (and / or gym, etc.) Do all the other healthy stuff; exercise, dropping corn syrup, cooking from scratch most of the time, etc, but keep around the one treat.

Otherwise, you're just going to make yourself more and more miserable about it, especially when another external stressor hits you and taps out your finite pool of self-discipline and you go on a major Ben and Jerrie's binge while trying to deal with the fallout from your cousin's tragic chihuahau-related death or something.
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:46 PM on August 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Magnesium deficiency can cause anxiety, so you're right, I think, to try supplements. You might also try Epsom salt baths, because Magnesium is very efficiently absorbed through your skin.
posted by apricot at 10:08 PM on August 1, 2012

Agreed with those suggesting you go even darker. You will indeed require less, and there will be less calories and a lot less sugar.

But also, since this is an issue for you, spend some money and time and gather a range of very-high-cocoa chocolates, so you can find one you really like so you're contented and don't hanker back for the chocolate you're currently eating, landing you back at the same problem.

And don't poo-poo the idea that you could ever welcome super high cocoa choc, even up to 100%. I used to think I preferred milk chocolate, but after having some really good stuff, and gradually getting used to more and more extreme, I find myself hardly able to enjoy choc less than 80%.
posted by Quisp Lover at 10:14 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Low blood sugar can feel an awful lot like a panic attack. In fact, I have mistaken hypoglycemia for a panic attack, taken Klonopin, and felt a little better. It kind of cut down the shaking. (Not that I'm suggesting you should take any kind of medication - just that you have your blood sugar checked, and make sure you're eating regularly.)

My dad used to eat a banana every single night. One night we ran out of bananas and he woke me at 5am badly shaking to take him to Walmart to buy some bananas. We thing it was the sudden change in his potassium levels. If your body is used to getting something every single day and all of a sudden you go cold turkey, you will often have some kind of a reaction.
posted by IndigoRain at 10:59 PM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just a personal data point on the chocolate/magnesium correlation: I used to LOVE chocolate; it was always my #1 choice of candy, my friend during PMS, etc. I would buy those gigantic chocolate bars from Trader Joes weekly (but the dark chocolate variety just so I could convince myself that I was consuming healthy antioxidants and flavanoids instead of plain ole candy), and still snack on other chocolate treats throughout the week.

One day I too had heard about extreme chocoholism being possibly related to a magnesium deficiency and began taking a magnesium supplement daily to see if it would help. After about three months of consistent magnesium I totally lost the chocolate craving. Like, chocolate tastes alright but I didn't desire it anymore.

I started thinking it was all in my head and quit taking the magnesium, and about a month later I was back on the chocolate bandwagon. So I started taking the magnesium again and after a month or so the craving went away again, and I have stuck to my magnesium regimen ever since and to this day don't crave chocolate, and can eat it in reasonable portions when it's served to me.

Chocolate is universally known to be tasty, a quick source of energy and the ritual of eating and flavor can be quite comforting to a lot of people. It certainly was for me. What I've learned from my little chocolate and magnesium tablet experiment was that sometimes physiological deficiencies can create what seem like psychological problems. I've since learned not to assign too much worry to concerns that aren't gravely important.
posted by french films about trains at 11:02 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Low blood sugar can feel an awful lot like a panic attack. In fact, I have mistaken hypoglycemia for a panic attack, taken Klonopin, and felt a little better. It kind of cut down the shaking. (Not that I'm suggesting you should take any kind of medication - just that you have your blood sugar checked, and make sure you're eating regularly.)

Even before you get your bloodwork done at your checkup, start tracking your energy levels in a notebook, and relate it to how you've been sleeping, eating, and exercising. Including stuff like - "I tend to soar and then crash and burn when I forget to have a handful of almonds in my cereal in the morning, but when I remember to have some fats and protein I do better."

Remember that if you've just done mental work for three hours, your brain is really going to want that hit of glucose and .... Huh. This stuff was interesting (I skimmed it) :
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:41 AM on August 2, 2012

Nthing going to a doctor for some bloodwork. Have them check vitamins and nutrients and such.

If I remember right, good chocolate produces a lot of the same good effects as exercise. Of course, it is possible to be addicted to sugar, caffeine, and good feelings. Also blood sugar/nutrient issues as mentioned above.

A doctor is probably your best bet.
posted by Jacen at 6:00 AM on August 2, 2012

I "treated" dysthymia for years with a box of cookies every night. I felt awful until I ate the cookies and I felt great afterwards. Every time I tried to stop eating them, I just felt awful again. Obviously, I gained a lot of weight. I tried for years to quit, but would always go back after a few days. (I had non-diagnosed reactive hypoglycemia too, for what it's worth.)

Therapy helped me get to the point where I didn't need the cookies anymore and then a low-carb/high-fat diet nearly completely abolished even the urge. (I still have dark chocolate every now and then -- I get the 85% Lindt which is relatively low carb -- but not compulsively.)

Now I'm down over 60 lbs, I haven't had a cookie since October and I really haven't missed them.
posted by callmejay at 6:33 AM on August 2, 2012

If I were you I would just stock up on delicious and good for you dark chocolate and stop worrying. As others have said, chocolate can be a mood elevator for some and that may be you. If so, why fight it. All medicine should taste so good.
posted by caddis at 7:01 AM on August 2, 2012

I might focus on the feelings that you are having before you eat the chocolate. What are the thoughts you are having? Are they rational? Is it really true that you are alone and nothing will work out? Have you tried calling a friend or family member when you feel this way, or exercising?

The chocolate makes me feel safe, for a little bit, I guess. But I still feel kind of like crying, although I never can actually cry, which I'd welcome as a release.

It sounds like chocolate is the thing that soothes you when you are anxious, and it is only providing a small, temporary relief. It's time to see a doctor and maybe a therapist.
posted by inertia at 8:06 AM on August 2, 2012

It's not a hyperventilation panic attack, but rather a creeping sense of dread that the world is sliding in on me, that I'm all alone, and that nothing will work out. The chocolate makes me feel safe, for a little bit, I guess. But I still feel kind of like crying, although I never can actually cry, which I'd welcome as a release.
What's wrong with you, is that you're depressed. This is normal, it is okay, and you can improve. The trick is to improve a little bit at a time. Fortunately, your weight and your social life will improve along with your mood. They are linked.

You haven't said how big of a bar of chocolate you eat however one 100g bar of chocolate per day is not making you fat and merely cutting it out will not, on its own, address that issue. It's your entire diet and exercise regimen, which is a reflection of your whole life, that is doing this.

As you work alone, if you are naturally a social person (and I strongly suspect that you are, as you bring up "that I'm all alone" as part of a sense of dread), this would be contributing to your depression. Do you go to the store partly to physically get out of your workplace and be around people?

If you do have the opportunity to have conversations in the course of going to the store and back, offer someone a bit of chocolate. Every piece you don't eat, is good, and trading it for a conversation is probably going to be helpful to you.

Every day, also buy an apple, banana, carrot or similar fruit, and eat the fruit before you eat the chocolate. This may seem counterintuitive in that it is more food, however bear with it. At the end of a week of doing this, start leaving some of the chocolate uneaten until tomorrow. Just a piece or two to start with.
The purpose of this is to gradually shift you from eating a bar of chocolate, to an apple and a bar of chocolate, to an apple and half a bar of chocolate, to an apple and a quarter bar of chocolate, to an apple and just one piece of chocolate. This will take a few weeks.

While you're shifting your snack, it would be good to examine your whole diet and your routine. If you spend any significant amount of time watching TV, do situps, pushups, deep knee bends, etc. There is no need to go overboard with that or tire yourself out; just do a couple of situps before you sit down, whenever an ad comes on, at the end of the episode, etc. Start off spending about five minutes of every half hour, exercising. Buy a set of light hand weights, or just get a couple of heavy objects, and do arm curls and overhead presses while you sit. Gradually increase this, until your time in front of the TV is entirely spent exercising.

Depending on what you do, you might be able to bring in some hand weights or other heavy items into work to use while you work, and you might be able to take a break every hour or so to do a couple of pushups or knee bends.

Anything in your diet that is unhealthy, gradually phase out by replacing it with something better for you. If you're snacking on Cheetos, replace these with grapes or sultanas. If you're drinking Coke, replace it with mineral water. Replace McDonalds with Subway.

Whatever your weight, subtract five pounds (or 2kg) from it, and keep telling yourself "I weigh ..." every morning and night and at every meal. Check on Sundays, and don't care what the scale says; keep telling yourself how much you really weigh, by which I mean, your target weight. Once your body has shifted to your correct weight, change your correct weight down by five pounds again.

Remember, progress, not perfection; and it's not about the chocolate, it's about your whole routine. You will notice in the course of this that you are gradually starting to feel better, and at some point in this process, you could join meetup.com and start going along to social groups in your area. It doesn't particularly matter what the meetup is for, so long as it is at least somewhat interesting to you. The idea of this is just to meet new people and have new conversations. As you start to feel fitter, make these more physical - a walking group, for instance. Review your current friends; who are the most happy, healthy people among them? Spend time with them. They are now your top choices to go to movies, hang out with, etc. The idea there is not to talk over your problems (although don't go out of your way to avoid it); the idea is to model their behaviour and attitudes, to do what they like to do, and become a more happy, healthy version of yourself.

This will take time, it will involve the occasional setback, and this is okay. It took you a long time, and a lot of tiny increments, to get yourself to the place you are in, and it will take time and effort to go to the new place. You are worth it.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:06 AM on August 4, 2012

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