I think it was an early Smothers Brothers routine that told the tale of a man who fell into a vat of chocolate. To summon help, he yelled "Fire!" Why? Because who would come running if he yelled "Chocolate?"
In our apparently endless quest to shed our too, too solid flesh, we seek help from the diet gurus who populate the afternoon talk shows, the monthly magazines, the tabloids, and the endless infomercials. We scan the latest diet program and research reports on a never-ending quest for the secret ingredient that will inexorably melt that fat while giving us guilt-free pleasure. We may yell "Fire!" for help, but what we really want is chocolate.
And now they've given it to us. Without cheating on our diets or lying to our inner selves, we can now honestly quote recent scientific reports that declare that certain properties of dark chocolate are good for us. What a triumph! Godiva and Nestle and Hershey and Cadbury are not our enemies after all. Their decadent morsels are the dietary equivalent of a work-out - something we do to make us healthy and slender. As Woody Allen promised in "Sleeper," science has finally proved that junk food is good for us. It is a dieter's dream, an incredible fantasy transforming diet horrors into orgies of satisfaction.
Wake up and smell the (black, unsweetened) coffee! Does chocolate have a place in a healthy, well-balanced diet? Possibly. Does it merit inclusion in any serious weight loss program? Absolutely no. The key to any of the hundreds of diets out there is to increase activity and reduce the number of calories. No matter what kind of healthful substances it may contain, chocolate carries far too dense a calorie load to be included in any weight loss plan that can expect to have a modicum of success.
We weight watchers are so gullible, so nave, so desperate for relief from the drudgery and boring routine of a diet, that we clutch at any straw that promises an interruption to our misery. We embrace any concept or substance that will make us human again. We erase our guilt with the sure knowledge that we are only following the dictates of objective science.
A co-worker of mine bakes a variety of goodies and brings them in to sell to staff as a side business. She proudly informs her potential customers that she only uses dark chocolate which has been proven to be healthy. The gang goes wild, weekly buying her entire stock of cake and cookies. Munching down on their thousand calorie snacks, they positively purr with satisfaction that what they are eating is healthy and nutritious.
A voice in the wilderness, I remind them that healthy snacks like vegetables or fruit would confer the same benefits but would also avoid that insidious waistline bulge. Happy tubbies all, they assure me that I am not up-to-date on my knowledge of nutrition and that eating dark chocolate is a proven road to health and I should hop to it.
I look around me at women considerably younger than I am, ranging from pleasantly plump to obese. (Okay, there are one or two skinnies who eat anything they want but they are the rare exceptions in any group, even though the objects of all our envy). It is hard to reconcile the sight of a rotund woman, eyes closed in ecstasy, cheeks bulging, with the concept of optimum weight and health.
What are we doing? We are fooling ourselves yet again. We have convinced ourselves that as long as something we eat has some redeeming nutritional value, it's okay for us to eat it. We conveniently "forget" about the energy-in/energy-out equation that is the basis for stable and healthy weight. We assiduously avoid our secret internal recognition that what a skinny or normal weight can enjoy occasionally, we on weight loss programs can not. We assure ourselves that indulgences are necessary to keep up our morale and help us stay on our diets.
What diet? Any weight loss plan that promises us that we can eat all we want (and we want a lot) of any particular food, and never feel a pang of hunger, is, quite simply, a scam. Restricting our intake of food necessarily means that we can't keep eating the way we have in the past - remember, that's what got us fat in the first place.
Losing weight is tough, boring, frustrating and generally devoid of much pleasure. For the few seconds of elation we feel when we step on the scale and detect a definite loss, we must endure hours and days of refusing what we would like in order to do what we must to reach our goal.
Chocolate, like any food that excites and obsesses us, holds the seeds of our weight control destruction within it. Unlike so many foods we can avoid without a backward glance, it carries a toxic temptation that haunts our dreams, crushes our willpower, and murders our unceasing efforts to control our own appetites. It offers the promise of heaven: pure satisfaction for the pleasure centers of our brain.
It is a powerful weapon that we touch dangerously. It is almost impossible to handle it safely - one bite and the restraints fall off. Our taste buds, our tongues, our neurotransmitters, and our very being, all cry out for more. Like the junkies we are, we beg for one more fix.
It is impossible for an alcoholic to stop after the first drink, unthinkable for a meth head to walk away while crystals are still available, out of the question for a compulsive gambler to leave the table while there are still chips to play. For the true overeater, one taste of the sweet, smooth confection is a diet death sentence.
The only way we tortured weight control freaks can handle it is through total abstinence. One day at a time, we must fight the urge for one taste, one morsel, one shaved corner of a forbidden bar. The longer we can avoid the taste, the more its memory will fade but, like the addict, we will never totally eliminate the cravings and must constantly guard against relapse.
Substituting a low calorie chocolate alternative is tantamount to starting a methadone maintenance program - we no longer get high (gain weight) but we need a constant dosage to maintain a sense of well-being. As long as the taste of chocolate is a fresh and vivid memory, even if a low calorie version is used, the lure of the precious stuff remains and will eventually overwhelm our "no" power and lead to the dread of all we yo-yo overweighters: diet suicide.
Virginia Bola is a licensed psychologist and an admitted diet fanatic. She specializes in therapeutic reframing and the effects of attitudes and motivation on individual goals. The author of The Wolf at the Door: An Unemployment Survival Manual, and a free ezine, The Worker's Edge, she recently published a psychologically-based weight control e-workbook, "Diet with an Attitude" which develops mental skills towards the goal of permanent weight control. She can be reached at www.DietWithAnAttitude.com/index2.html. She provides support and guidance in use of the workbook through her regular blog, dietwithanattitude.blogspot.com
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