Chocolate is undoubtedly a favorite treat world over; in the United States citizens devour around 1.3 million kilos of chocolate annually — this is the equivalent of around 5.5 kilos per person.
Chocolate in moderation is believed to be beneficial for health, with studies linking moderate chocolate intake to better cognitive function and heart health. However, the potential harms of consuming too much chocolate cannot be overlooked; its high fat and sugar content can increase the risk of obesity and associated conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.
Chocolate lovers know only too well the difficulties of resisting a cocoa-filled treat; once the thought of chocolate enters the mind, it can be near impossible to ignore. But a new study is now offering some hope for chocoholics.
Exploring the idea that initial thoughts about a desirable object are amplified by mental imagery, the researchers behind the study found that targeting both desirable thoughts about chocolate and mental imagery of chocolate, it was possible reduce chocolate cravings.
The two-stage psychological technique involving cognitive defusing and guided imagery was found to help abolish chocolate cravings. Cognitive defusing targets the initial thoughts of the desirable product, in this case, chocolate and focuses on taking the initiative to move away from such thoughts, and realizing that we do not need to respond to these thoughts with action.
Guided imagery targets the second craving stage, whereby we start to imagine what it would be like to smell and eat chocolate. It replaces these thoughts with unrelated imagery, like a forest or a beach.
The team found that cognitive defusing led to a reduction in intrusive thoughts, vividness of imagery, and craving intensity in both groups, while guided imagery led to reductions in chocolate-related thoughts, intrusiveness, vividness of imagery, and craving intensity only among the chocolate cravers.
Although chocolate consumption did not differ between groups, the researchers believe that their findings indicate that engaging in greater self-awareness when chocolate-related thoughts first hit, could stop us from succumbing to cravings.
Learning to nip off cravings at the early stage — by imagining a constructive distraction such as imaging a walk in a forest — can help to lower the intrusiveness of the thoughts and vividness of the imagery. It is important to target the initial craving thoughts before they become full-blown cravings," said the researchers in the conclusion to their study.