How to  Beat Food Cravings: 7 Easy Steps to Crush Late-Night Chocolate Cravings Forever

Chocolate is often called the “food of the gods” and it's a popular craving. Sure, chocolate tastes amazing, with its rich flavor, smooth texture, and the way it just melts in your mouth. But there's more to our love affair with chocolate than just its taste. The first step on how to beat food cravings with chocolate is understanding their root cause.

Chocolate cravings are not just about the physical desire for a sweet treat but often have deeper psychological implications. The allure of chocolate is multifaceted, with its rich, creamy texture and the immediate pleasure it provides. However, the emotional bond we form with chocolate is often the reason behind chocolate binges at night–or at any time.

If you crave chocolate late at night, there's a reason.

Table of Contents

Why Cravings Are Worse at Night

Nighttime, in particular, seems to be an extra vulnerable time for those who struggle with food. Why do so many of us lose control over food late at night? During the day, we're busy and focused on other things, but at night when those thoughts may come into our minds, we use food as a distraction.

Often, we turn to foods like ice cream, cookies, or chips to numb difficult emotions that get amplified at night. Stress about decisions made during the day can also keep our minds restless when we want to relax. The combination of fatigue, restless thoughts, and challenging feelings boiling over can override our willpower and feel overwhelming.

If you find that nights are the times when you emotionally eat or binge eat, it may feel as if those cravings are impossible to resist. Are you reaching for chocolate because of some nutritional need, or because of hormones, or is it due to an emotional hunger? Let's take a look.

The Biology of Chocolate Cravings

A lot of us turn to chocolate when we're feeling down or stressed, and there's some science behind why. So, what's in chocolate that makes us crave it? For starters, it contains substances like phenylethylamine, theobromine, anandamide, and tryptophan. These are big words, but essentially, they're compounds that can make us feel good. Phenylethylamine, for example, is similar to a feel-good chemical naturally found in our bodies. It's linked to feelings of happiness and excitement. 

Some researchers think this is why some people might say they prefer chocolate over other pleasures in life. However, most of this chemical gets broken down before it can affect our brain, so it may not really influence our cravings.Then there's theobromine, which is related to caffeine but much milder. While it can give a slight boost and increase your heart rate, it's not strong enough by itself to explain why we love chocolate so much. 

The Nutritional Deficiency Theory

The notion that our bodies crave certain foods due to nutritional deficiencies is a widely held belief. Chocolate is rich in several nutrients, including magnesium, iron, and antioxidants. Some theories suggest that if our body is deficient in these nutrients, we might experience cravings for chocolate as a way for our body to signal that it needs these essential elements.

However, chocolate is not the most efficient or healthiest source for these nutrients. Many other foods are much more nutritious without the high sugar and fat content of chocolates. It's more likely that our cravings are influenced by a complex interplay of biological, psychological, and social factors.

A study in 1994 gave participants different types of chocolate including cocoa capsules. It turned out that only milk chocolate really hit the spot for chocolate cravings. 

Even white chocolate, which doesn't have the cocoa and bioactive agents, was preferred over the cocoa. This suggests that the craving for chocolate might be more about its smell, texture, and sweetness, and all the happy feelings we associate with chocolate, rather than just its ingredients.

So, while cravings can sometimes hint at what our bodies need (like craving a steak might indicate an iron deficiency), often that's not the case. People on high-sodium diets still crave salty snacks, and let's be honest, we're not exactly craving kale and brussels sprouts and carrots. High-calorie foods, especially those with sugar and fat like chocolate, are usually what we crave, which points more to an emotional craving than a biological one.

Hormones and Chocolate Cravings

Yes, what about the link between chocolate and PMS? Dr. Julia Hormes, a clinical psychology professor, was curious too. She wondered if there's a biological reason behind women craving chocolate around their periods. Is our body telling us we need something in chocolate? Turns out, not really. 

In her 2011 study published in “Appetite,” she found that the whole idea of needing certain nutrients from chocolate during PMS didn’t really hold up. So, what's the real deal with women and their chocolate cravings during PMS? Dr. Hormes thinks it's all about culture. 

We often see advertisements that show chocolate as this indulgent treat that helps you feel less stressed. The message is that chocolate is this special, ‘allowed' treat for those tough days, especially in a culture where many women are conscious about dieting and beauty standards.

Yet this isn't the same everywhere in the world. In Spain, for example, women don't crave chocolate around their periods as much as women in the U.S. It's not that Spanish women have different menstrual cycles or different hormones; it's more about how chocolate isn't linked to femininity in Spanish advertisements. 

Interestingly, Spanish men and women are almost equally likely to crave chocolate. And in Egypt, chocolate cravings aren't a big thing for either men or women; overall, they tend to go for savory stuff instead.

This indicates that our chocolate cravings might be more about what we've been taught to believe than actual biological needs. Like, if you think about it, post-menopausal women shouldn't really be craving chocolate if it was all about hormones, right? But they do.

Research also shows that those hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle aren't the main reason for chocolate cravings. A University of Pennsylvania study looked at pre-and postmenopausal women and found that their chocolate cravings did not decrease after menopause, which suggests that these cravings were not hormonally driven. 

So, it looks like reaching for that chocolate bar during PMS might not be as hormonally driven as we thought. It's more about the cultural and psychological messages we’ve absorbed. 

The Psychology of Chocolate Cravings

The psychology of chocolate cravings is a complex interplay of emotional, cultural, and cognitive factors. Chocolate is often associated with positive emotions and experiences, such as love, comfort, and reward. This emotional connection can trigger cravings, as our minds seek to replicate these positive feelings.

When we crave chocolate, it may be a sign that we are seeking comfort, reward, or need more sweetness in our lives. This is because chocolate has become a cultural symbol of these experiences, and consuming it can provide a temporary emotional boost.

Chocolate cravings can also be tied to habit and routine. If we're used to having a piece of chocolate after dinner or during a break at work, we might start to crave it at these times. This pattern can create a psychological association between certain activities or times of day and the desire for chocolate.

These cravings can also be influenced by our beliefs. For example, if we believe that chocolate will make us feel better or reward ourselves, we are more likely to crave it. This is known as ‘expectancy theory' in psychology, where our expectations influence our behaviors.

Psychologist Dr. Debra Zellner thinks women crave chocolate because they often view it as a ‘forbidden' treat. It's delicious, but it's also seen as sinful due to its fat and calories. She found that in cultures where chocolate isn't seen as something to avoid, like in Spain, women don't crave it as much. So, it might be more about the guilt and allure of something we think we shouldn't have.

It also turns out a monotonous diet might cause cravings. In a study, people who only had nutrition shakes for every meal for five days reported more cravings than those on a varied diet. So, mixing up what you eat could help reduce those cravings.

Chocolate as a Symbol of Love

Chocolate's association with love and romance can be traced back to ancient civilizations. The Mayans and Aztecs, for example, considered chocolate a luxury and an aphrodisiac. They often used it in rituals related to marriage and fertility, thereby establishing a symbolic connection between chocolate and love.

Fast forward to the Victorian era, and we see chocolate becoming a popular gift for lovers. Richard Cadbury, of the famous Cadbury chocolate company, was one of the first to sell chocolates in heart-shaped boxes. 

This marketing strategy reinforced the association of chocolate with romantic love and made it a staple of Valentine's Day celebrations.

Psychologically, the act of giving chocolate can symbolize a desire to make the recipient feel special and cherished. It's a socially accepted token of affection, and its sweet taste can evoke feelings of warmth and pleasure, further enhancing its symbolic connection to love.

“It's not that chocolates are a substitute for love. Love is a substitute for chocolate. Chocolate is, let's face it, far more reliable than a man.”  ~Miranda Ingram

When we don't have enough love in our lives, we may turn to chocolate as a substitute. Keep in mind that if you're turning “to” food, it's always for a reason. Emotional eating, including the consumption of chocolate, can be a form of self-soothing. When we're stressed, anxious, or sad, we might reach for chocolate as a way to alleviate these feelings. 

So next time you're craving something, consider why you're craving it. Bingeing on chocolate, whether at night or anytime, can be a sign of emotional eating, triggered by stress, loneliness, sadness, emptiness, anxiety, or other difficult emotional states.

Sweet Alternatives to Chocolate

Once you understand why you reach for chocolate in times of stress, sadness, or even boredom you can cultivate new ways of coping and ultimately replace the act of binge eating chocolate (or anything) with healthier, more fulfilling alternatives. 

Since chocolate is associated with love, comfort, and reward, it's important to cultivate new ways of responding to yourself and being sweet to yourself. Often people who crave chocolate are yearning for sweetness in their lives that goes beyond the literal sense. This metaphorical sweetness is a concept of experiencing joy, pleasure, and contentment. 

Here's how you can infuse your life with a deeper level of fulfillment:

1. Engage in Creative Expression

Creativity is a powerful conduit for experiencing richness in life. Whether it's painting, writing, music, or dance, find a medium that resonates with you and dive into it. Creative activities allow you to express emotions, grapple with your inner world, and produce something beautiful, which can be incredibly fulfilling.

2. Foster Meaningful Connections

Human connection is a profound source of sweetness in our lives. Invest time in building and nurturing relationships that are supportive and genuine. These connections provide comfort, joy, and a sense of belonging, which are essential to our emotional well-being.

3. Pursue Your Passions

We all have things that stir us deeply and ignite our enthusiasm. Identifying and pursuing your passions can bring a sense of purpose and excitement that sweetens your daily life. It doesn't have to be a grand endeavor; even small activities that you're passionate about can enrich your life significantly.

4. Embrace the Arts

The arts have a unique way of touching our deepest selves. Whether it’s attending a concert, visiting a gallery, or watching a play, immerse yourself in the arts to experience a range of emotions and insights. The beauty of art can bring a sense of wonder and sweetness into your life.

5. Give and Receive Love

Love, in all its forms, adds a profound sweetness to life. Allow yourself to love and be loved, to care for others, and to open yourself up to being cared for. Love can transform the mundane into the extraordinary. That love can include the love of friendship and of pets. Dogs in particular can offer love and companionship to people. They are referred to as “man's best friend” because of their loyalty and the unconditional love they provide to their humans. The bond between humans and dogs can be incredibly strong, providing emotional support, reducing stress and anxiety, and enhancing overall well-being.

6. Engage with Nature

Nature has a gentle way of soothing the soul and providing a respite from the chaos of daily life. Spend time outdoors, revel in the beauty of the natural world, and let it infuse your life with calm.

7. Celebrate Small Victories

Often, we overlook the small victories and joys in pursuit of larger goals. Start celebrating the little moments and achievements. This practice can bring a sense of accomplishment and happiness that is inherently sweet.

Chocolate's appeal is undeniably powerful, but by understanding the psychological reasons behind our cravings, we can start to create lasting change. The journey to understanding and empowering ourselves is far more satisfying than any sweet treat can offer.

How to Beat Food Cravings for Chocolate Forever

So, how to beat food cravings, particularly for chocolate? It's all about understanding their psychological source and finding alternative ways of satisfying these emotional needs. Remember, cravings are often messages from our emotions, crying out to address unmet needs. Instead of relying on food, seek out activities that bring real joy and fulfillment. Pay heed to what your emotions are telling you, explore your feelings and engage in self-care practices that resonate with those feelings. The path to overcome your cravings is not about willpower, but introspection, self-care, and emotional awareness. With these tools, you can truly master your food cravings and embrace a healthier relationship with both food and self.

Frequently Asked Questions

Understanding how to beat food cravings is the first line of defense against emotional eating. By being aware of the emotional triggers that lead us to chocolate and other comfort foods, we can identify effective alternatives for these emotions, such as exercise, creative expression, or mindful meditation. 

This not only fosters healthier habits but also proactively addresses the underlying emotional needs, therefore, building a more balanced and fulfilling relationship with food.

1. Why does chocolate often satisfy emotional needs? 

Chocolate has become a symbol of comfort, indulgence, and self-reward in our culture. It's associated with positive feelings of love, romance, and stress relief. When we crave chocolate, we may in fact be craving these associated feelings rather than the chocolate itself.

2. How can I manage my chocolate cravings?

Understanding the emotional triggers that lead to your chocolate cravings can be a significant step in managing them. By finding alternative ways to meet these emotional needs, such as self-care practices that resonate with your feelings, you may be able to reduce your reliance on chocolate.

3. What are the signs that my chocolate cravings are due to emotional reasons?

If you notice that you crave chocolate when you're stressed, sad, or wanting a reward, these could be signs that your cravings are more about emotional needs rather than physical hunger. Taking note of the circumstances when you reach for chocolate can provide some insights.

4. Can understanding my chocolate cravings help improve my relationship with food?

Absolutely. By acknowledging and understanding the root of your cravings, you can begin to address them without relying on food. This can pave the way for a healthier relationship with food and contribute towards overall emotional health.

5. What's the 'Binge Cure Method'? 

The ‘Binge Cure Method‘ was developed by psychoanalyst Dr. Nina Savelle Rocklin. This method tackles the psychological aspects of cravings by exploring the narratives we have around food and challenging habits tied to emotional eating. This focus on the ‘why' rather than the ‘what' of food choices leads to a healthier relationship with food and ourselves.

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 The Author


Dr. Nina Savelle-Rocklin is a psychoanalyst, author and radio host specializing in binge eating disorder. She is the author of The Binge Cure: 7 Steps to Outsmart Emotional Eating and Food for Thought: Perspectives on Eating Disorders, and co-editor of Beyond the Primal Addiction. She hosts The Dr. Nina Show radio program on LA Talk Radio.

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