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.