The Value of Chocolate {+ a Valentine Ritual}

Inspired by Judy Chicago, I’ve created a virtual dinner party: One category of my blog will be dedicated to honouring women who I want to be a part of my soul community. Each woman at my virtual table has a lesson to teach, even if it’s simply to inspire us with her ability to hold greater aspirations for ourselves than we’d ever thought possible. Each one will be a manifestation of the Goddess, a Wise Woman, a pilgrim on the road of the Sacred Feminine. I want to share the wisdom of these women as part of my community of support.

chocolate ritualI have yet to meet a woman who doesn’t like, crave, need and/or have a daily dose of chocolate. It seems to have become a part of the shared female-experience, along with cramps and birth stories.

Our love of this dark delicacy has sparked any number of studies and investigations into its benefits: the antioxidant load, the blood pressure- and cortisol-lowering properties, the magnesium.

Fortunately, the availability of good chocolate has started to shift along with the interest. Like all of us, my early experience of chocolate was limited to the candy – lots of sugar, milk-infused – brought to us by Hershey and Cadbury and Nestlé. As an adult I graduated to Godiva, then truffles, then gourmet combinations with salty or tangy or pungent flavours.

But there’s so much more to chocolate than meets the eye:

  • Were Theobroma cacao grown and harvested as it was meant to be, it would be worth more than gold.
  • The Aztecs used it as currency.
  • The word theobroma means “food of the gods”.

Yet, like so many things in our lives, we’ve taken the unique qualities of a commodity and industrialized them to a point where they become commonplace. Think salt or sugar. Think a fresh tomato in the middle of winter, or the rows of candy bars in every grocery and convenience store in the world.

In these quantities (and lower quality), chocolate isn’t good for us.

But what IS chocolate? Why are we so fascinated by it?

Is there a way that we can honour the value of chocolate and enjoy it in a way that’s more nourishing?

To answer these questions, I brought in chocolate aficionada, Sue Ann Gleason. What fun it was to chat with her about chocolate for an hour! Yes, it ended up being quite a long conversation, but like a good piece of chocolate, perhaps it’s best savoured in small bites.

To quote Sue Ann from her website, Chocolate for Breakfast, my intention with this post is to take us one more step towards “enjoying the sensuous, sumptuous, voluptuous nature of the food we eat”.

Listen to our conversation to find out

  • The health benefits of chocolate: we riff about the good, the potential for bad and the difference between a treat and a treatment;
  • Why you might want to eat chocolate for breakfast;
  • How chocolate is like a good bottle of wine;
  • And, as part of spiritual self-care: How to create a chocolate ritual as a means of treating yourself exquisitely.

Sue Ann shares details on how to choose good chocolate – the most important step of all! – as well as many online resources for purchasing the best kinds.

want a version you can download to enjoy on your commute in the morning? Grab it here.

Though I only had commercial chocolate during the recording, I just bought some Marou from Vietnam. I’ll be tasting it on Friday with my girlfriends, along with other types I found while out exploring bean to bar chocolate in Montreal.

I found them at

La tablette de Miss Choco
Les chocolats de Chloé

Now it’s your turn to get in on the conversation:

What is it about chocolate that appeals to you? We’d also love to hear what you learned when you take the time to honour this “food of the gods” and taste it with the ceremony and reverence it deserves. When you share in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

Sue Ann GleasonTo learn more about Sue Ann, you can connect with her in a few different places. (Delicious freebies await you!)
Chocolate Lovers’ Guide: www.chocolateforbreakfast.com <http://www.chocolateforbreakfast.com>  <http://www.chocolateforbreakfast.com>
No Longer Asleep at the Meal ebook: http://consciousbitesnutrition.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chocolateforbreakfast

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Why We Love Comfort Food + 3 Steps to Cut the Cravings

Mac & cheese
Rice pudding
Cream of chicken soup
Cookies
Asian noodles

What is it about certain foods that calm you under stress? That call your name when you’re feeling down? That make you feel better like nothing else can?

Is it possible to feel better without them?

For me, it’s always something creamy – pudding, ice cream, fettuccine alfredo. You might prefer chips & onion dip, or go for a bagel with melted cheese.

Looked at rationally, through my “professional” lens, most people I ask come up with some form of starchy carb, often accompanied by dairy. Inevitably, it’s something from the naughty list.

In times of strife, we don’t tend to crave the healthy choices. Nope. We want the sweet, fatty, starchy, salty, oily stuff that we so piously avoid on the good days.

“Bad” as they are, those choices make nutritional sense.

When you’re in stress mode, the hormonal cascade acts to draw more glucose into your blood. It’s the fuel necessary for you to flee from or fight with the tiger at hand. The liver will access that energy by tapping your small storage reserves, then by converting fat & protein to make more.

This is great if you’re dealing with a short-term situation (or going for a fat-burning power walk). Your body will rebalance in the hours following the episode.

But when the stress continues all day – when the tigers keep showing up in the form of traffic jams, computer glitches, unruly kids, etc. – the recovery doesn’t happen. Your body continues to use and need glucose to drive you through the ongoing crises, shunting this key nutrient away from your brain & nervous system. Read: your ability to think straight and stay emotionally calm goes out the window.

Step in the cravings:

The (starchy, refined) carbs are the quickest route to more glucose.

You want dairy because it’s full of the calcium to nourish & calm your nerves. Plus, when it’s main protein (casein) is broken down, it creates opiate-like compounds that keep you happy & ease your pain, just like endorphins during exercise. (There’s a reason your grandmother gave you warm milk before bed.) Cheese, with its relatively high protein content, is the biggest source of these casomorphins – a fact which makes cheese highly addictive.

Salt, sugar and fat stimulate the brain to release dopamine and other pleasure chemicals in the brain, making you feel better.

Unfortunately, sweet & salty also stimulate the adrenal glands, keeping them pumping out the stress hormones, which can set up a vicious cycle. Coffee, and anything you’ve got an underlying allergy to, also perpetuate the drama in the same way.

Beyond the nutrient factors, and possibly more influential in your choices, you quite likely have an emotional association to the comfort food of choice.

My mother’s a big one for offering snack to a child who’s out of sorts. (This is something I notice more from how she treats her grandchildren than from any conscious recollection from my own childhood.) She’s working from the innocent premise that the moodiness stems from low blood sugar. But even in the face of a child who’s hurt or needing emotional solace she’s not equipped to offer, out come the cookies.

It’s a case of the spoonful of sugar replacing the necessary medicine.

A client once told me how she can easily eat a large bag of chips in lieu of supper when she’s upset. I delved deeper into her story: it turns out that the only time she got anything resembling positive attention from a violent, alcoholic father, it was when he was on an upswing, and he’d bring home chips to have a party. There would be a brief window of laughter and hugs. For her, chips = love.

That’s powerful stuff.

I could ask you similar questions about your own cravings. Maybe not such an extreme case, but I’ve no doubt that you have an emotional connection, a fond memory of a loved one or a special time in your life, linked to what you want in times of strife.

Which becomes the key to moving past the craving for that food.

Before I go there, let me step back into the nutrition piece.

Reason #742 of why it’s important to be well nourished on a regular basis: Eating a solid breakfast and well-balanced meals throughout the day lays the foundation on which you build your health.

When you’re well fed – when your reserves are stocked up – you’re prepared to deal with a crisis if and when it comes up. And this can be anything: a car accident, a sick child or parent, a break-up, losing your job, getting a new job, a move, a death,…

In the midst of the turmoil, if you fall off the good eating wagon, for various understandable reasons, it won’t harm your in the long run, and you’ll recover more quickly.

You can nourish yourself in a similar way on an emotional level. Doing the inner work beforehand prepares you for the acute times as they happen…and they will happen.

It’s a 3-Step Process:

1. Get relaxed and tap into the person or memory that’s connected with the food.

What did/does this person mean to you?

What was she/he providing along with the food?

Hot buttered toast brings me back to my grandparents’ kitchen with the smell of fresh-baked bread coming out of the oven. This was a place where I felt appreciated and understood.

Or, What did the food convey that they could not?

Again, my mother’s cookies and ice cream replace the warm hug and words of encouragement a child needs after a disappointment or a fall.

2. Think of the last time you craved that food.

What was happening? How were you feeling?

What did you need, deep down?

How are those needs met by the feelings you associate with the comfort food?

Rather than pop some bread into the toaster, I might ask myself in what way do I need to be appreciated or understood in this current situation. Do I need loving arms and encouragement rather than a cookie.

3. Fill the void by fulfilling the underlying need.

Get help if you need it.

Talk to a friend.

Call the person in question, even if just to connect.

Who else do you know who can provide what’s missing?

How can YOU be the one to give you what you need?

That said, sometimes, a cookie’s just a cookie, and it’s ok to simply want it.

What do you crave when you’re upset? What do you think it’s doing for you emotionally? When you share in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

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image by aschaeffer via freeimages.com

Make Every Meal a Sensual Experience

Eating lunch at Whole Foods the other day, a group of university girls sat at the next table playing cards. One of them pulled out a chocolate bar and proceeded to facetiously read the instructions on “How to Enjoy” said chocolate. It started with yogic breaths, then engaged all 5 senses in order to get a full experience out of one square of chocolate.

They giggled, and some of them shyly tried to follow the steps. I stopped and sat back from my own meal.

There I was, scarfing down my quinoa and broccoli salad, thinking about the airport shuttle I needed to catch in half an hour. I noticed that I wasn’t even using the one sense I’d expect to when eating.

I love food and I love eating. I love eating good food. My favourites usually involve a full sensual experience:

The crisp, tart, juicy bite of a freshly picked apple in the orchard, bees buzzing, sun filtering through the branches.

The way a dollop of beet-chile sorbet ironically heats up a bowl of avocado & cucumber gazpacho with both colour and spice.

The aromatic marriage in any stew or curry that elevates the whole to be sublimely greater than the sum of its parts.

If you’re anything like me, you expect a lot from your food:

    • Make you happy
    • Make you thinner
    • Keep you full for hours or at least keep your cravings at bay
    • Help you celebrate your wins
    • Comfort you when you lose
    • Give you more energy
    • Reduce your inflammation
  • Heal your pain

Before you can expect food to do anything for you, you need to open yourself to your food and to the experience of eating.

Fully.

With all 5 senses.

With your entire Being.

Without the joy, the pleasure, the love, then everything we put into our mouths becomes nothing more than a parcel of nutrients and calories. Another thing to count. Another item to add to the overflowing To Do list.

Reduced this way, good food and nourishing yourself becomes a burden.

Maybe it’s not such a far-fetched idea after all, to need directions on how to eat a chocolate bar. Perhaps we would do well to have such instructions on all our food labels. A reminder to slow down and enjoy the food, not just consume it.

Rather than daily values and percentages on product labels, I love that Health Canada, in renewing its principles for the new food guide in 2018, has proposed that you: 

    • take a moment to breathe as you sit down;
    • appreciate the time and effort it took to grow the food you see, prepare the meal in front of you;
    • take the time to smell and savour your food;
    • admire the colours and composition – my son’s into Master Chef and other cooking shows, so he’s all about the plating;
    • hear the crunch, feel the creaminess;
    • open yourself to the possibilities of what each mouthful has to offer you, for your health, for your pleasure; what sweetness does this meal evoke in your life?
  • tune in to what your body needs, and recognise when you have received it.

(Can’t wait for these to show up on labels!)

I propose that by paying attention to your deep wants and your true needs, your body will guide you to the right balance every time.

When was the last time you enjoyed a meal with your whole being? I’d love to hear all about it. When you share in the comments, you open the possibility for others.

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