“Topping off breakfast with a piece of chocolate cake may help dieters lose more weight…. In a study with nearly 200 obese, non-diabetic adults… participants who added dessert to their breakfasts – such as cookies, cake or chocolate – lost an average of 40 pounds more than a group that avoided such foods” (according to researchers from Tel Aviv U., source: APA Monitor, April 2012, Vol 43 (4)).

What do you think is going on here?

Here’s a related post of mine from a couple of years ago:

The Chocolate Question: Indulge on Quality, Not Quantity

(From Somov, “Un-edited Q & A Series”)



My name is K. C. and I am a journalism student. I am currently writing a piece on holiday chocolate purchases, and have discovered that, despite tight budgets from the economy, chocolate sales have increased this year. I’m wondering if this is due to chocolate’s reputation as a stress reducer. I am looking for a psychological perspective on this situation. Could you please tell me if you feel chocolate is a natural stress reducer, if it is generally used to combat stress or negative feelings, and what the scientific reason for this is?

Thank you,



Hi K.:

Is chocolate a stress reducer? There are two ways to answer this: physiologically and psychologically. While there certainly has been research of late into possible psychoactive properties of chocolate, I am not up to date on the findings of that kind of research. So, I am not sure if chocolate works to relieve stress on a physiological level. From a psychological perspective, however, I see a clear stress-reduction pathway through conditioning and expectations.

Whenever we pair up a given stimulus (chocolate, in this case) with a given response (self-care through an episode of emotional eating), we are establishing a potentially reinforceable association and an expectation (that chocolate or some other treat will lead to stress reduction by way of self-care) in the future.

The end result is a potential conditioned stress reduction effect of chocolate or any other treat. That’s how emotional eating works. We, in essence, begin to equate eating something pleasant and palatable to self-care: eating becomes coping. Armed with this habit or ritual, we begin to benefit from the conditioned relaxation effects of these rituals. A mere decision to have something pleasant to eat (not out of hunger but as a way of sensorically taking care of yourself – call it the “massage of the mouth,” if you wish) might trigger a conditioned relaxation response.

As you are aware, chocolate has become a kind of canonical indulgence food – either due to its intrinsic properties and/or skillful marketing. The result is that when we buy high-end chocolate we intuitively expect a kind of foodgasm, a gustatory highlight, a pleasure… and this expectation in and of itself is the beginning of stress reduction and relaxation. It’s no different than knowing that you have a weekend coming up and although any given Friday might be just as tense of a work day as Thursday, the mere promise of pending relief (weekend) begins to make a difference.

Tip: buy the most expensive chocolate. Why? The fancier the presentation, the higher the expectation; the higher the expectation, the more likely you are to be mindful when you eat it (b/c you’d want to get your money’s worth); the more mindful you are when you eat chocolate, the more likely you are to slow down and get into the moment of the pleasure, i.e. the more likely it is that you will have a great “eating moment.” So, when you indulge, indulge on quality, not quantity.

Chocolate cake photo available from Shutterstock.