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Why These Brits Are Giving Up Chocolate

Abstaining from it is much harder than foregoing caffeine, liquor or sex

By Diana Reese

I think I’d rather pour ice-cold water on my head than say goodbye to chocolate for an entire month. I’m not alone. A new survey out of Britain reveals that one of four say it’s tougher to go without chocolate than liquor, caffeine or sex.

And yet 15,000 Brits intend to make just that sacrifice as part of a British Heart Foundation (BHF) fundraising challenge dubbed “DECHOX™” (detox plus chocolate).

Participants agree to give up chocolate candy bars, cakes, cookies, ice cream and “even the chocolate sprinkles on your cappuccino,” the website states, for the month of March.

They couldn’t have chosen February? It’s three days shorter.

(MORE: How I Finally Gave Up Junk Food)

Abstainers may choose to pay a fine for sneaking a treat or donate what they normally spend on chocolate, and sponsors make donations for those who sign on. More than 100,000 pounds (or $155,000) has been pledged, says Leah Mates, fundraising projects manager for the BHF. The money will be used for preventive care and for research in cardiovascular disease, the single biggest killer in Great Britain.

“The campaign is meant to be fun for participants,” Mates told me in an email.

Fun? Really? I doubt that videos of people pining for chocolate will go viral on social media (as the wildly successful ALS ice bucket challenge videos did).

What would be fun to see: The many secretive habits of chocoholics revealed in the BHF-sponsored survey.

Secret Confessions of Chocoholics

The survey questioned 3,000 adults about their chocolate habits, turning up surprising results. Who knew British chocolate fans were so secretive? And selfish?

A sampler:

  • Nearly half of the Brits surveyed admitted to lying about their chocolate consumption habits to their spouses
  • Forty-three percent said they’ve hidden chocolate wrappers so no one knows just how much they’ve eaten
  • Many keep a secret stash as well — in desk drawers at work, bedside tables and in the glove compartment of the car
  • They also confess to hiding while they eat their chocolate

Around a third of those surveyed said they sneak chocolate on the way home from work, while 13 percent eat it behind the fridge door, 12 percent in bed under the covers (seems a mite messy to me) and 13 percent wait for their partner to leave the room.

And then there’s the stat about chocolate being harder to give up than booze, caffeine and sex.

Why Chocolate?

So why did the BHA focus its attention on chocolate, lately in vogue for its healthful properties?

(MORE: 11 Ways to Increase Your Energy)

“It’s a vice that most people have that will be a challenge, but not impossible, for them to give up for one month,” Mates said. “And it also needed to be something that people would be happy to sponsor their friends and family to do, in order to raise as much money as possible to fight coronary heart disease.”


Giving up chocolate — even fat and sugar-filled chocolate bars — for just a month won’t drastically improve anyone’s heart health, Mates admits, but it might “help kick-start healthier eating habits.”

Those who need assistance getting through March can find “the survival kit” on the DECHOX™ website and commiserate with others on Twitter with #DECHOX or on the Facebook page. I had to ask a British friend about the survival kit suggestion of substituting boiled eggs and “soldiers,” though, for a chocolate snack. Soldiers, she explains, are strips of toast that are dipped into the soft boiled egg.

Yummy. Just the thing to quench that craving for some rich, creamy chocolate.

The Dark Side of Chocolate

Researchers have found that nutrients known as flavanols in chocolate may improve blood flow, lower blood pressure and decrease the likelihood of blood clots. But how you take in the chocolate to get health benefits is the tricky part.

To get 200 milligrams of beneficial flavanols, it takes two tablespoons of non-alkalized (non-Dutch) cocoa powder or around two ounces of a dark chocolate bar containing at least 70 percent cocoa solids, says Kelly Pritchett, national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

“Clearly you get more bang for your buck with the cocoa powder, because two tablespoons contain 25 calories,” she says. “The downside to eating the dark chocolate bar…close to 300 calories.”

All the fat and sugar that it takes to make chocolate taste so delicious detracts from its status as health food. There’s more than six teaspoons of sugar in a 45-gram chocolate bar — which is less than two ounces.

(MORE: 6 Hidden Sugar Mines in Your Diet)

The average British chocolate lover confessed to consuming three such bars a week. Give those up for a year and you’re looking at an 11-pound weight loss from not eating 39,000 calories.

That’s if you want to extend your month-long DECHOX™ to a year.

I just hope the American Heart Association doesn’t get any ideas from its British counterpart.

Diana Reese is a journalist in Overland Park, Kansas who blogged regularly for the Washington Post's She the People. Follow her on Twitter @Diana Reese. Read More
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