Chocolate: It’s irresistibly delicious, and for some people it can seem addictive. But it’s not considered an addiction.
Chocolate addiction isn’t an official diagnosis. Still, it’s possible to experience chocolate cravings and eat more than you should.
Chocolate contains ingredients — such as sugar and fat — that also exist in other addictive foods. They’re the reason many people cave to chocolate cravings.
If you want to tame your indulgence in this sweet treat, there are tips you can try that may help.
In this article, we use the term “chocolate addiction.” While your cravings for chocolate may feel like an addiction, it’s not recognized as a clinical term and cannot be medically diagnosed. Still, it’s a common phrase people use to describe an excessive craving for and eating a lot of chocolate.
No, but it’s possible to feel like you have a chocolate addiction.
Chocolate isn’t the same as cocoa but they’re both made from the seed of cacao, or “the cocoa bean.”
Both chocolate and cocoa are the refined and processed versions of the cacao bean. Chocolate is a treat that includes ingredients such as sugar and fat. Cocoa is also an ingredient in chocolate.
Cocoa bark contains important minerals such as:
So, chocolate does have some health benefits. But it has other ingredients that can cause addiction-like reactions, such as cravings and withdrawal.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR) doesn’t recognize chocolate addiction as a diagnosable condition.
Instead, it contains two condition categories that may relate to chocolate addiction:
- feeding and eating disorders
- substance-related and addictive disorders
Research from 2019 found there may be a link between food addiction and eating disorders as described in the original DSM-5. The study also found that food addiction can sometimes cause impairments such as those from substance use disorder (e.g., cravings and withdrawals). This study was limited and more research is needed.
So, even though chocolate addiction isn’t a real diagnosis, it may still create addiction-like symptoms that can affect how you feel.
If you feel like you have a chocolate addiction, it’s not just because of its delicious flavor.
A concentrated dose and rapid absorption rate are two properties that many addictive substances share, and highly processed foods such as chocolate have these qualities.
Higher glycemic load is also a factor. Glycemic load is the level of blood sugar that results from food and drink consumption. For example, a piece of sugar-containing chocolate has a higher glycemic load than a cucumber.
Glycemic load is a quality connected to foods that seem addictive. The study found that foods with a higher glycemic load that also contained fat were most frequently linked to eating behaviors that mimicked addiction.
Cocoa contains other compounds, including:
- caffeine: central nervous system (CNS) stimulant
- theobromine: plant molecule and CNS stimulant
- serotonin: neurotransmitter
- tryptophan: amino acid
- histamine: immune response chemical
- tryptamine: tryptophan metabolite
- phenylethylamine (PEA): CNS stimulant
- tyramine: amino acid
- octopamine: neurohormone
- anandamide: endocannabinoid
Some of these compounds can affect the way you feel.
For instance, tryptophan helps form the neurotransmitter serotonin, and phenylethylamine releases the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine. Serotonin and dopamine both affect mood, and norepinephrine increases alertness and attention.
Anandamide is a lipid that binds to brain cannabinoid receptors and mimics the effects of cannabis.
So, if chocolate makes you feel better and more alert, it can seem like it’s addictive.
While professionals may not call it a chocolate addiction, your relationship with chocolate may be causing you some distress. Some signs to watch for include:
- excessive cravings
- an inability to resist or limit your chocolate intake
- continued use, consumption, or engagement despite unwanted consequences
Cravings can occur for several reasons such as:
- nutrient deficiencies
- forbidden status
- not enough sleep
- association (such as popcorn with movies)
It’s helpful to assess these factors before deciding whether your symptoms are caused by an excessive craving for chocolate.
Cravings are only one of several signs that you might want to change your relationship with chocolate. Others may include:
- feeling anxiety while you eat it
- viewing it negatively
- binge eating large amounts
- hiding the amount you eat from other people
- eating it until you feel ill or experience stomach pain
- creating strict chocolate-eating rules
- eliminating it completely from your diet
These behaviors may also point to signs of an eating disorder.
It’s OK to eat a moderate amount of chocolate. But if your cravings for chocolate are impacting your daily life, it’s important to seek help.
Consider speaking with a healthcare or mental health professional about what you’re experiencing. They can provide an accurate diagnosis and refer you to an eating disorder specialist if needed.
An indication you may be eating too much chocolate is when you feel the effects of stopping. These signs are also likely because of sugar withdrawal.
As you cut down on chocolate, you might experience:
- changes in your sleep habits
- trouble concentrating
These symptoms will likely be mild and short-lived and pass once your body has adjusted to a reduced chocolate intake.
If you’d like to eat less chocolate, there are tips you can try to make this easier.
Food cravings can be a sign of dehydration. Sometimes thirst feels like a food craving or hunger. Try drinking some water and wait to see if the craving persists or passes.
It’s much easier to replace than stop a behavior. To break your chocolate habit, try eating something healthier or more filling instead such as:
- fruit (fresh, frozen, or dried)
- roasted chickpeas
- seeds (pumpkin, sunflower)
- Greek yogurt
- peanut butter
You can’t eat sweets that you don’t buy. Eliminating or scaling back on chocolate purchases means you might eat it less. If it’s easier, consider having someone else do your shopping, or taking a friend with you to keep you on track.
If you experience a craving for chocolate, it may help to redirect your attention by doing something else. For example, try going for a walk or spending time on a hobby.
Less addictive chocolate
You can look for chocolate with less sugar and fat — the ingredients that make food more addictive. An example is dark chocolate, which may also have the most beneficial antioxidants.
If dark chocolate isn’t as sweet as you’d like, try a different treat such as a homemade smoothie. Mix unsweetened cocoa powder with a fruit such as banana and pineapple and regular or nut milk. You can also experiment by adding or changing ingredients to find a combination you like.
You may also want to try supplements made out of chocolate but also contains vitamins. The chocolate used in these supplements is often less addictive.
You may have acquired a habit of turning to comfort foods such as chocolate as a way of managing stress. You can try other strategies instead, including:
- mindfulness training
- getting enough sleep
- a less busy schedule
- a new hobby
- more social contact
Chocolate is a favorite treat for many people. It’s woven into multiple traditions and is a part of almost every special occasion.
Chocolate addiction isn’t a real diagnosis. Even so, chocolate contains ingredients that are found in the types of foods that can cause addiction-like reactions. It might still affect your life even though it’s not a diagnosable condition.
Cutting back on sweet treats such as chocolate benefits more than your physical health. Excess sugar intake can also been linked to mental health issues such as depression.
It can help to have support.
Sometimes excessive chocolate eating is part of an eating disorder. There are treatment options available that can help you regain your sense of balance and self-control.
Excessive eating can also be a coping strategy for a mental health issues such as anxiety. You can check out Psych Central’s hub on finding mental health support for more information about finding resources and support.