Love that yummy chocolate

When I got to work this morning I found a heart shaped choco­late sit­ting on my door handle. My first thought was “Score! Choco­late for break­fast!” It didn’t occur to me to con­sider a secret admirer (that fan­tasy was broken along with my heart long ago in eighth grade).

Later, when I went to the kitchen to heat up some Texas chili for lunch, I found a bag of caramel Kisses just waiting to be eaten.

I LOVE Valentine’s day…if only for the increased chances of guilt-​​free choco­late consumption.

A recent paper from Bouvé Col­lege of Health Sci­ences vis­iting pro­fessor Rachel Rodgers, along with her col­leagues at the Uni­ver­si­ties of Toulouse and Western Aus­tralia, explores this notion of chocolate-​​related guilt.

Appar­ently there’s an inter­na­tional inquiry into our rela­tion­ship with choco­late taking place across the globe called the “ori­en­ta­tion toward choco­late ques­tion­naire.” Clin­ical psy­chol­o­gists have admin­is­tered ver­sions of the ques­tion­naire in Aus­tralia, Ger­many, Hol­land, and now, in Rodgers’ recent work, France.

Specif­i­cally, these studies explore the expe­ri­ence of “craving,” which the authors say “is often char­ac­ter­ized by ambiva­lence.” According to the paper, ambiva­lence stems from the known awe­some­ness of ingesting this divine sub­stance cou­pled with our incli­na­tion to resist such indul­gence (because of cul­tural rules about eating high-​​fat foods) and the guilt we sub­se­quently feel if (when) we cave.

In the “anglo­phone” studies, increased ambiva­lence cor­re­lates with dis­or­dered eating habits, such as anorexia and bulimia.

French women, on the other hand, rep­re­sent a unique sort of pop­u­la­tion. “It has been sug­gested that France has a spe­cific pos­i­tive and hedo­nistic food cul­ture, focusing on the plea­sur­able aspects of food,” Says Rodgers. “In this con­text choco­late is per­ceived more as a ‘plea­sure’ than a ‘guilty-​​pleasure.’ In many ways this is a healthier atti­tude towards food, since avoiding foods and cat­e­go­rizing them as ‘bad’ has been shown to be related to dis­or­dered eating.”

The preva­lence of anorexia ner­vosa and bulimia in France is 0–0.3% and 1.2–1.43%, respec­tively. Com­pare those num­bers with Amer­i­cans, where the range is 2–6% for both. On the other hand, while obe­sity is on the rise in France, it still affects only ~12% of the pop­u­la­tion. Here in the US, nearly 75% of the pop­u­la­tion is obese, despite our guilty feel­ings about indulgence.

Rodgers’ study was unique because it probed the dif­fer­ences in chocolate-​​related guilt between normal– and over-​​weight women. She found that only the over-​​weight group showed high levels of ambiva­lence (ie., they indulged a lot and then felt guilty about it).

So, most of the French young women in our study felt very little guilt over eating chocolate!”

I say we try to adopt a more Fran­cophilian (I think I just made up a word) approach to our choco­late indul­gence. Let’s let Valentine’s day be every day — let’s not be so cruel to our­selves about our eating habits, and start forming a pos­i­tive rela­tion­ship with food. Maybe then we’ll see less in the way of “dis­or­dered eating.”

In her two year appoint­ment here at North­eastern, Rodgers plans to work with Pro­fessor Debra Franko (a coau­thor on the paper) to “under­stand and pre­vent body image, eating and weight con­cerns, par­tic­u­larly in ethnic minori­ties.” They are cur­rently con­ducting a body image work­shop for female students.

Photo: Todd Nappen, “Amanda and a Heart of Choco­late” Feb­ruary 13, 2008 via Flickr, Cre­ative Com­mons Attribution.