Most people have done a bit of comfort eating from time to time: candies and chocolates are usually the favorites. That’s not a coincidence. Not only do they taste good, but chocolate also contains chemicals that may improve mood, and sugar can have an indirect impact on the uptake of specific amino acids into the brain, where they go on to form the chemical neurotransmitters involved in inter-cellular communication and learning.
On the more serious side, some types of mood disorders, particularly seasonal affective disorder, premenstrual syndrome and the so-called “atypical depression” are often associated with quite sever cravings for chocolate.
So I was very interested to see a paper from colleagues in Australia in this month’s issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry.
Gordon Parker and Joanna Crawford examined links between chocolate craving in people who are depressed and both personality style and atypical depressive symptoms, with a web-based questionnaire completed by nearly 3000 individuals reporting clinical depression.
People accessing a mood disorder consumer information website (https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au) were invited to participate in an online survey of lifetime treatments for a depressive episode, together with some interesting evaluation tools.
Half of the respondents said that they craved chocolate, and the number was slightly higher in women. They said that they felt that chocolate helped with depression, anxiety and irritability. The ones who said that chocolate helped were more likely to score higher on a “neuroticism” scale, particularly irritability and rejection sensitivity.
Five years ago the same team found that atypical depression was associated with a personality that was especially sensitive to rejection, and also tended to be linked with several symptoms - including food cravings – that tie in with behaviors aimed to try and make us feel better and to maintain internal balance.
The results suggest that people with certain personality styles derive personal benefit from comfort eating. Some research has linked carbohydrate craving to the opioid system in the brain, and it is possible that munching on chocolate may be an example of genuine self-medication. People eat to chocolate to calm down their ability to feel emotional distress.
The trouble is, of course, that although chocolate is yummy and may even be therapeutic, too much can be a bad thing. Weight problems are common in people with chronic depression, especially the “atypical” type.
“Chocolate causes certain endocrine glands to secrete hormones that affect your feelings and behavior by making you happy. Therefore, it counteracts depression, in turn reducing the stress of depression. Your stress-free life helps you maintain a youthful disposition, both physically and mentally. So, eat lots of chocolate!”
--Elaine Sherman (American Culinary Expert, Teacher and Writer, 1938-2001)
"Look, there’s no metaphysics on earth like chocolates.”
--Fernando Pessoa (Portuguese Poet, 1888-1935)