That's right — eating chocolate could help you lose weight. It's not a magic bullet (sorry!), but there are few ways that a little chocolate may encourage your weight-loss goals.
"Adding chocolate [to your diet] can make lifestyle changes feel more realistic, fun and doable long term," says DJ Blatner, RDN and author of The Superfood Swap.
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Indeed, chocolate may boost your mood, per a March 2018 study in Planta Medica. Researchers think the benefit comes from the good-for-you polyphenols in the sweet stuff.
"When you are in a better mood, you are likely to do more loving, healthy acts of self-care like exercise and making nourishing meals," Blatner says.
What's more, chocolate might help lower stress, says an October 2014 study in the International Journal of Health Sciences. When students ate dark or milk chocolate daily for two weeks (compared to white chocolate), their perceived stress improved — particularly in people assigned female at birth.
When you're stressed, your levels of cortisol (the "stress hormone") are higher and, over time, that can lead to weight gain.
"Plus, less stress means less stress-eating," adds Blatner.
That said, not all chocolate-eating is helpful if you're trying to lose weight.
Here are four mistakes you might be making when it comes to chocolate and losing weight.
Mistake 1: Taking an 'All or Nothing' Approach
For some people, complete abstinence is the way to go. But for others — and there's science to support this — an all-or-nothing approach could backfire.
"What I see most in my practice is that when people want to lose weight, often it is the strict rules — cutting out food groups, removing all of the foods they love — that set them up to fail," Blatner says.
Instead, a little indulgence here and there could help you avoid a binge. That's because depriving yourself can spark cravings, according to a June 2020 review in Current Nutrition Reports, and that could eventually lead to eating more of the exact food or foods you're trying to avoid.
In the review, researchers found that across multiple studies, when people cut out food groups (carbs, chocolate, salty foods), they then craved that exact food group after a few days or a week. (In the long-term, however — think: three months to two years — studies suggest the cravings eventually go away.)
Mistake 2: Limiting Your Chocolate Treat to After Dinner Only
This might sound slightly unconventional, but hear us out.
Dieters with obesity were assigned to follow one of two diets: a low-carb breakfast or a high-protein, high-carb breakfast that included a dessert. After four months, both groups successfully lost weight — around 30 pounds, according to the March 2012 study in Steroids.
Then, during the following four months — the "weight maintenance" phase — the low-carb breakfast eaters re-gained some of the weight they lost while the dieters who ate dessert with breakfast lost, on average, an additional 15 pounds.
This is just one study, so we can't say after breakfast is the "right" time for chocolate, but we can say it's worth thinking outside the box (of chocolates...sorry, we had to!).
Plus, there's good evidence that eating a bigger breakfast and smaller dinner can help with weight loss.
Mistake 3: Baking With Chocolate
This is where the delivery vehicle — and the other passengers alongside chocolate (oh hey, sugar and butter) — is more important than the chocolate.
Yes, we've established that indulging in moderation fits into a weight-loss diet. But if chocolate is what you desire, just go with a piece of dark chocolate. That's because baked items like cakes, cookies and pies are one of the biggest sources of added sugars in the American diet, according to the American Heart Association. And too much added sugar in your diet can cause weight gain and up your risk of obesity, per the AHA.
Mistake 4: Choosing Milk Chocolate Over Dark Chocolate
"Dark chocolate usually has less sugar and more beneficial flavonoids than its milk chocolate cousin," says Blatner.
Flavonoids are anti-inflammatory antioxidants that might help with stress. And less sugar is better for weight loss, as we noted above.
Dark chocolate may also help you feel satisfied with less.
"Researchers from the University of Copenhagen found dark chocolate to be more filling than milk chocolate," says Blatner. The study was quite small, but when participants ended a 12-hour fast with dark chocolate versus milk chocolate, they went on to eat less pizza two and a half hours later.
How to Eat Chocolate for Weight Loss
If you want to keep chocolate in your life while following a weight-loss diet, aim to eat no more than about 1 ounce a day of dark chocolate, and find ways to savor that ounce, advises Blatner. Here are a few of her mindful eating ideas:
- Eat your dark chocolate from a cute little plate and eat it while seated to make it more mindful than just eating it while watching TV or standing in the kitchen.
- Sip a cup of mint tea with your dark chocolate to make it feel more special, like an evening ritual.
- Bulk up your dark chocolate treat with some fresh berries on the side. Dark chocolate plus berries is the perfect pairing.
- Don't get bored, make bark. Melt the dark chocolate, pour it on parchment, sprinkle add-ons like cayenne, unsweetened coconut flakes or puffed brown rice cereal, freeze it and enjoy. (I call this making your own mini DIY candy bar!)
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- Obesity: "Hair cortisol and adiposity in a population‐based sample of 2,527 men and women aged 54 to 87 years"
- Int J Health Sci: "Effects of chocolate intake on Perceived Stress; a Controlled Clinical Study"
- Current Nutrition Reports: "The Psychology of Food Cravings: the Role of Food Deprivation"
- AHA: "How Too Much Added Sugar Affects Your Health Infographic"
- ScienceDaily: "Dark Chocolate Is More Filling Than Milk Chocolate And Lessens Cravings"
- Steroids: "Meal timing and composition influence ghrelin levels, appetite scores and weight loss maintenance in overweight and obese adults"