A new independent survey has revealed that 44 percent of Australian women eat chocolate as a way of making themselves happier when they feel down or depressed.
The study, which was conducted on behalf of Jenny Craig, shows that chocolate and biscuits are the most popular snacks among Australian women, with 49 percent munching on biscuits throughout the day, 39 percent choosing potato chips and 33 percent opting for lollies.
The Weekly's diet and fitness guru, Karen Inge says there is "anecdotal evidence which shows that women with low self-esteem are prone to eating more biscuits and women who are premenstrual or have a disappointing love life crave chocolate because it contains high levels of magnesium".
"Women eat chocolate when they are depressed or stressed", she continues, which could well explain why one-third of women in Australia also name chocolate as their biggest weakness.
Chocolate has been linked to serotonin levels in the brain for some time, and these chemicals are believed to play an important role in regulating emotions such as anger, aggression, sexuality, appetite and mood. In fact, a study reported by the BBC indicated that melting chocolate in one's mouth produced an increase in brain activity and heart rate that was more intense than the rate associated with passionate kissing, and also lasted four times as long after the activity had ended.
Inge points out, however, that "it's important to work out whether our cravings for salty, oily, or sweet junk food are physical or in the mind. You may physically be craving junk food because you are low in blood sugar or you may be feeling stressed, anxious, lonely or frustrated."
"Moderation is key. Avoiding stress-based eating is learning to distinguish emotions from hunger. Be mindful of what you are feeling, and what situations make you crave unhealthy foods," Inge says.
With obesity rates reaching record highs in Australia, our attitudes and relationships to food cravings — particularly foods high in saturated fats — require addressing now. Inge believes people must be taught to change the unhealthy relationship they have with food to one of balance and positive behaviour. "It's about helping people understand what they eat, why they eat and how to eat better to be healthier," she says.