Lessons From Chocolate

Chocolate Cravings – What Do They Mean?

I started writing this post at 10,000 feet in the air, on the way to see my family in Russia. I felt like sharing a very interesting learning experience that happened just before I got on the plane.

You know those few days pre-vacation? They often turn out to be the most stressful.  Running around, packing, finishing up all work-related things, making arrangements for the destination pick ups and drop offs, letting your clients know about your time off, and setting up international data services…

On those days when your to do list is spilling over the top, you feel rushed and anxious as if you were stretched out to the maximum of your daily capabilities. This is how I felt. With client appointments from 8am to 9pm, crossing Manhattan up and down, eating in a rush, and eventually stuck in traffic for an hour and missing one of the appointments, I felt very stressed out.

As soon as I walked into the apartment, I rushed to the kitchen for a chocolate fix.  Standing in the kitchen, still in my shoes, I bit into 75% dark chocolate and followed it up with almonds. One bite after another until half the bar was gone. Oops! Even though the chocolate was dark and almonds are pretty healthy, this was not what I needed!

My mind was racing. It was still craving more chocolate. I was about to take another bite and then I STOPPED! I took a deep BREATH instead. And then another one. And then I was able to put the chocolate down and make a cardamom tea instead. I sat down, put on music, closed my eyes, and calmed down. Finally, my body relaxed.

Why I am telling you my chocolate story?

Because I want you to understand something that I felt that day. It was a great very useful lesson. A very important one for anyone who has those intense cravings during stressful times. (don’t we all!?)

Finally, on the plane, with everything taken care of, healthy snacks packed, yoga nidra loaded on my ipod, I felt calm, relaxed, and comfortable and ready to reflect back on my chocolate lesson.

The lesson was this: Our body’s needs change from day to day, especially in stressful situations. Our body tries its best to maintain a healthy balanced state in all the situations. It uses feelings and sensations, including cravings to communicate those needs to us hoping that we can meet them accordingly.

After a long stressful day a lot of us have a craving for something rich and sweet (chocolate or nuts, for example). This is how we interpret our body’s need to GROUNDING and MORE ENERGY. A tired stressed out body needs to fix depleted energy and to cool down nervous system. Cacao and sugar stimulate the entire system creating an illusion of energy, and while heavy nuts create grounding to calm down the nervous system.

While chocolate and nuts provide a short term relief, they are not ideal for a stressed out body and mind. The energy coming from stimulating substances such as chocolate, coffee (afternoon latte, anyone?), or even green tea is not real. It is borrowed. Real energy comes from sleep and relaxation. Stimulating substances stress out adrenal glands and excite the nervous system preparing the body for a fight or flight situation. Nuts are healthy and have good fats that help to feel more grounded but they are quite heavy to digest for a tired body at the end of a long day. Conclusion: chocolate and nuts are not the best way to address the needs of a stressed out body. Unfortunately.

A more sustainable way to help a stressed out and tired body is to take a few deep breaths, to do a yoga nidra, and to listen to calm music. If you recognize your body’s needs before cravings take over and you mindlessly devour the entire box of cookies or a chocolate bar, you can save yourself a few pounds and an upset digestive system overtime.

Mindful listening to the body through a mental body scan is one of the easiest ways to understand your body’s needs. Relaxation in its turn helps to quiet rambling mind so you can hear and understand your internal voice better. It is a skill that needs to be developed as any other skill. Practice makes perfect.

If you want to learn more about mindfulness, its relationship to cravings, and digestion, join Caroline Zwick and I on September 5th for a FREE Healthy Body, Happy Mind conference call.

For now, let me know in the comment section: How does your body react to stress?


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