The term “chocaholic” is generally a joke, said with a smile – and I’m the first to say it’s probably the most gentle and puppydog-like of all possible substance addictions. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a real problem for many people. The bad news is that I’m about twenty kilos more than I should be (yikes) – and it’s chocolate more than pregnancy or motherhood that’s mostly to blame. The good news is that I’ve just lost five kilos (without even cutting out chocolate entirely) and the more mentally healthy I am the easier it gets. It really looks like I might have the ability to get over my addiction and just enjoy chocolate in a healthy (sometimes naughty, sometimes perfectly restrained) way. So as I work through my physical and mental addiction, I lie on the couch of the internet and talk out loud about all the reasons I eat excessive chocolate, and what I can do about it. Some of it’s pathetic, painful or personal, because that’s the nature of addiction – any addiction. You don’t gotta read it if you don’t wanna.
* Self-loathing/self-destruction: Some people drink or do drugs or self-harm for similar reasons (deliberately eating to the point of nausea is certainly a form of self-harm). Luckily, this is a mental illness thing, and as I continue to mentally improve I very rarely have even 24 hours during which I hate myself. I can tell when my mood is beyond normal, and I know I just need to wait it out.
*Anger/frustration: This has also improved as my life satisfaction and mental health improves. If I’m angry or frustrated one way to express it is to buy stuff – a takeaway meal (which also means less chores) or new clothes or something. I can also monitor how tired or stressed I am, and I can (and do) tell CJ when things aren’t going well – which results in some quiet alone time for me in the evening while he minds Louisette. (He minds her every evening anyway, but I usually stick around and stay available.)
*Retail therapy: Spending money helps a person feel powerful, which is part of my chocolate issue and very easy to solve – I just buy very expensive healthy snacks (or at least healthier than chocolate) like nudie juice drinks or Kettle sweet potato chips. This is related to the above and the below.
*Chocolate is a well-established placebo: I’ve been using chocolate ritualistically for years as a self-medication to fill in the gap between what I’m capable of doing and what I feel I need to do (eg I’d eat a bunch of chocolate if I had a lot of work to do, and that would make me feel like it was possible and that I wouldn’t have a panic attack or breakdown). I still feel that chocolate makes me better, stronger and happier. There’s a little bit of truth to this – people only have a limited amount of self-control, and if I spend it on eating healthily then something else has to give. Once again, spending a bit of silly money helps.
*Physical dependence: When I cut down on the amount of chocolate I eat I know in advance that I’ll have a headache for three days, and my blood pressure drops sharply – which I know because I start blacking out when I stand up. (When I eat chocolate after a gap of twenty-four hours or more, my hands will shake so that I have difficulty opening the packet.) I’m already past the worst, but I can also combat this by cutting down more gradually, by using dark chocolate for a while, by getting a lot of rest and by taking panadol. Cutting down on chocolate also screws up my digestive system (it seems to be fine now) and I imagine there are other physical issues I’m not aware of. The most important gets a point all to itself. . .
*Mood regulation: At times in the seven years of mental illness I just went through, I did actually lose weight. It wasn’t pretty: I was so desperately angry and depressed that I couldn’t socialise much (just endure, hidden away somewhere, until the weight loss was done) and when I was driving somewhere I had to remind myself over and over that driving off the road into a tree wouldn’t solve my problems (“You probably won’t die,” I told myself. “You’ll just end up injured and in hospital and then things will be even worse.”) Now that I’m not insane, I just get a few days every so often where I feel like all life and effort is pointless misery. But ennui is a whole lot better than what I used to go through. Of course I still get very irritable, but one thing mental illness teaches is how to (usually but not always) bite your tongue. I’m also attempting to regulate my mood by eating more turkey (like chocolate, a great source of serotonin) and plenty of grass-fed red meat (which has also been linked to better overall moods – also, I love red meat and it’s a great source of iron).
*Iron: Chocolate (especially milo) has an extremely powerful allure to pregnant and pre-menstrual women, because it’s a quick fix for low iron levels (something which I have on a normal day). And of course everyone knows it’s an energy boost. All I can do to fix that lack is to eat healthy foods, and to let myself eat slightly more chocolate at a certain time of the month (so I don’t crash and binge at the much stronger cravings).
*Habit: Chowing down on chocolate is a well-established habit. I can combat that with simple self-awareness, and with nuts (similar size to individual lollies like M&Ms, so the movement is the same).
*Sugar high: I can use yoghurt or fruit or juice or milk to get a modified sugar high, especially at vulnerable times of day (4pm, and evenings).
*Anticipation: It can be hard to get up in the morning (much less so as a non-mentally-ill person) without something concrete to look forward to in the short term. This is easily solved by always letting myself have two squares of chocolate right after breakfast (this also helps with digestion).
*Palate cleanser: People who diet get a gross-feeling mouth and bad breath. This can be easily solved with tic tacs.
*Tastes good and has a nice texture: Food is meant to be enjoyed, so I can get a similar sense of satisfaction by having really nice meals like Peking Duck or fresh cheese and bacon rolls. That also helps with anticipation and with helping me not feel angry or frustrated with life – because I know I have a delicious dinner waiting for me at the end of the day.
I have a long way to go to be in the healthy weight range (it could easily be a lot longer) but I hope that with practise and self-awareness I can break my unhealthy relationship with chocolate and simply enjoy it. The way I eat chocolate isn’t a good thing to pass on to Louisette, and it’s looking like by the time she’s aware of my eating habits I’ll be able to be a good example.