Chocolate sadness

Admit it, there have been times when you have turned to chocolate as a way of giving yourself a little mood lift. Perhaps you have settled down now to read your daily WellBeing news and have a small chocolate biscuit in one hand and a steaming cup of something warming in the other? Yes, chocolate can occasionally be a little “boost” for many of us and the evidence that chocolate contains many mood altering chemicals is extensive. In a new study though, it has been shown that chocolate’s effects are much more nuanced than simply mood-boosting, especially when you are feeling sad.

In a series of new experiments researchers looked at the effect of indulgent or neutral images followed by induced feeling of sadness on chocolate consumption. In one experiment for instance, some subjects were shown images of “pleasurable” foods like pizza or chocolate while others were shown neutral images of things like washing machines. Immediately after seeing the images the subjects completed a writing task that was designed to make them feel sad. After the writing task the subjects were given the chance to eat M&Ms and chocolate biscuits.

The results showed that when were shown pleasurable information and then made to feel sad they ate less of the indulgent chocolate foods. These subjects were also more likely to indicate that consuming these kind of foods could lead to health problems.

This is explained by the theory that sadness is usually associated with loss and so actions that may cause further “loss” or harm are avoided when sad. Viewing the pictures of the indulgent foods primed the subjects to be thinking about the effects of eating food for pleasure and sadness made them want to avoid that in case further bad outcomes may follow.

In the case of people though, who were not thinking about food as indulgence, sadness did not mitigate their chocolate consumption.

According to the researchers this might help with obesity by helping people regulate their desire to eat unhealthy foods. For you, the normal human who indulges in chocolate binges, maybe next time you are turning to chocolate for comfort you might want to look at why you are doing it and if your motivation is sadness, perhaps you need to look at some flash cards indicating the negative outcomes from chocolate consumption. If you are sad you might also want to make sure that you don’t spend time gazing at the washing machine or who knows how much chocolate you might end up eating.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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