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Harvard Medical School
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General Medical Questions
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Question : Can you become addicted to chocolate?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Michael Craig Miller, M.D Michael Craig Miller, M.D., is Senior Editor of Mental Health Publishing at Harvard Health Publications. He is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Miller is in clinical practice at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where he has been on staff for more than 25 years.

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June 13, 2013
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Addiction involves three essential components:

  • First comes intense craving.
  • Second, there is loss of control.
  • Third, people continue to consume a substance despite bad consequences.

People can exhibit all three when it comes to chocolate, or any “addictive” food.

Many people crave food. They lose control over eating. They experience negative health effects that should, but don’t, stop them.

Here’s what we know. Foods that are high in fat and carbohydrates trigger reward pathways in animal brains. Brain activity in people who describe addictive behavior with food resembles activity seen in people who are addicted to drugs.

Yet food and addictive drugs are very different. Food is necessary for survival. Addictive drugs are not. This makes treatment challenging. You can’t go off food cold turkey.

Fat and sugar trigger reward responses in the brain. But these same responses are linked to survival. They are not easily equated with addiction. We don’t know why some people stop eating when satisfied, while others keep craving more.

Whether “chocoholism” exists or not, most of us are stuck with the simple and often frustrating advice to moderate how much of it we eat. Health doesn’t depend on whether we call it chocolate addiction or not. Good health comes from paying attention to the dozens or hundreds of small but important choices we have to make about food every day.

The next time you feel the pull of chocolate, try paying attention to it. Don’t automatically reach for your preferred candy bar. Train yourself to actively decide whether or not to indulge the desire.

If you do decide to have chocolate, focus on each bite. Eat slowly. Extend the pleasure in it.

If you decide not to eat it, enjoy the fact that you’re taking good care of yourself.

Practice this enough, and you may find you’re living a healthier life. You can have a life with chocolate. And with many other pleasures, too.

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