Why Chocolate Tastes Better While You’re Dieting

Guilt is the tastiest ingredient. A new study from Northwestern University finds that feeling guilty about eating forbidden food makes it taste better.

In the study, 40 women were split into two equal groups. One group was shown healthy living magazines with images of people looking fit and slender while the other group looked at magazines whose pictures did not relate to wellbeing. After study participants were done reading, they were given a chocolate bar and asked how much they enjoyed it. Those who read the healthy living magazines reported that they liked the sweets 16 percent more than those who did not.

“People experience a greater amount of pleasure when they have just a little bit of guilt,” says lead researcher Kelly Goldsmith, an assistant professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. “We have a relationship programmed in our brains between guilt and pleasure. If you feel guilty doing something, you just expect it to be pleasurable. It’s an automatic feeling,” she adds.

What this guilt/pleasure relationship doesn’t mean: Feeling guilty will not make you choose to eat the forbidden food. “If you read about the importance of health, you’re not more likely to go pick up a chocolate cupcake,” Goldsmith explains. “You’ll just enjoy it more if you do.”

But while you may enjoy the sweet side of your guilt trip, it can actually become dangerous and cause overeating. “It’s easy to think denying yourself your favorite foods will help you be good, but that often backfires,” explains Karen Ansel, R.D. “After too much deprivation, even the most dedicated dieter won’t be able to take it anymore and will end up binging.”

It’s not all bad news, though. If you’re looking to lose weight, you don’t need to deprive yourself in the first place. “Women can eat their favorite foods as long as they have a portion control strategy. The key is to balance your diet with lots of healthier, lower-calorie choices,” Ansel says. If you’re trying to drop some extra pounds and don’t want to give up some of life’s tastiest foods, follow Ansel’s advice for how to enjoy every bite—no guilt necessary.

While high in fat, chocolate actually has some pretty awesome health benefits. “It’s made from cocoa powder, which is shown to lower blood pressure and protect your skin from sun damage,” Ansel says. The first step to guiltlessly enjoying chocolate is to choose the right kind. Dark chocolate, which is higher in antioxidants than milk chocolate, is always a safe bet. Next, Ansel recommends portion control. Think miniature. “Dark chips or dark chocolate kisses guarantee instant portion control,” Ansel says. Here are her suggestions on how to incorporate these small sweets into your healthy diet:

*Melt a couple of dark chocolate kisses into low fat milk in the microwave for a decadent hot chocolate that’s high in protein and calcium
*Stir dark chocolate chips into cooked steel cut oats
*Melt dark chocolate kisses in the microwave and drizzle over fresh strawberries, bananas, kiwis, or pineapple for a healthy antioxidant packed dessert
*Stir dark chocolate chips into non-fat Greek yogurt

It’s time to start liking stinky cheese. “Choosing cheese with a strong flavor makes it easy to use less,” Ansel says. When trying to pack a salad with flavor, opt for blue or Gorgonzola cheese rather goat cheese. And, as always, portion control is key. Here are Ansel’s suggestions for healthily enjoying cheese:

*Sprinkle Parmesan on air-popped popcorn
*Put a couple cubes of Brie alongside a pear for a super indulgent snack that’s under 200 calories. Bonus: This snack provides a smart combo of protein, fiber, and a little fat to keep you full for hours.

French fries:
Fast food French fries will never be healthy. They are drenched in oil and covered in salt, which masks the potato taste! But sometimes you just have to have them. In that case, Ansel suggests:

*Balancing them. Pair them with something lower in calories like a veggie burger or a grilled chicken sandwich instead of a big greasy cheeseburger. Make it even healthier by eating your burger or grilled chicken over greens instead of on a bun.

For those times a fry substitute will do, lower you calorie count by:

*Tossing sliced parsnips with olive oil, rosemary, and garlic and baking in a 450-degree oven for 20-25 minutes. This also works with zucchini.

photo: Photos.com/Thinkstock

More from WH:
9 Health Benefits of Chocolate
Make Your Junk Food Healthier
The Grown-Up Guide to Grilled Cheese

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Obsessed with Dieting? Blame Your Genes

How strongly do you feel that skinny equals beautiful? Don’t rush to blame Top Model marathons—turns out, your DNA might actually be the culprit. A new study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders says genetics may influence how strongly women idealize thinness as beautiful.

The researchers asked 343 female twins between the ages of 12 and 22 how much they wanted to look like people from movies, TV and magazines. They were assessing the girls’ “thin idealization”—basically, how much they believed that being skinny was key to being beautiful. The researchers found that identical twins (who share 100 percent of their genes) had more similar thin idealizations with each other than fraternal twins (who share just 50 percent of their genes). Meaning: thin idealization may be genetic.

Obviously, we’re all susceptible to this line of thinking—thanks, in part, to images we see every day in the media. “Technology is way ahead of us in terms of our emotional development,” says Judith Banker, founder and executive director for the Center for Eating Disorders. “Even if you intellectually understand that many of the images you see are altered,”—by beautiful lighting, great photography, and retouching post-production—“it’s easy to forget and you can start to think you should aspire to what you see.” What this study suggests, though, is that people genetically predisposed to thinking skinny is beautiful are possibly more sensitive to these media portrayals than those who lack the thin idealization gene.

But just because you may be susceptible to carrying these skinny-means-pretty traits, doesn’t mean you have to fall victim to them. Try activities that are internally rewarding, where there is less focus on external performance, says Banker. “Maybe you’re great at tennis, but you focus on too much on how you play. To get out of the mindset, add in a different sport and focus on the fun of it,” she says. By fortifying your internal sense of well-being, it is easier to be less self-critical.

For more help silencing your inner critic, click here.

Image: Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock

More from WH:
The 76 Best Things for Your Body
Look Slimmer in an Instant
The Scary Rise in Adult Eating Disorders


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