The junkies speak bluntly of irresistible cravings. They need a fix, sometimes once a day, sometimes more. The substance gives them a high like no other. There is no shame. They indulge in full view of co-workers, friends and family.
In a nation that seems to have a 12-step program for everything from too much shopping to too much sex, it would seem welcome news that a patch worn on the wrist might cure what may be one of the most widespread addictions in the country.
But the news from Britain that an entrepreneur has developed a technique to keep people from craving chocolate is being greeted with dramatic indifference.
And perhaps a second Milky Way for lunch.
Chocoholics, it appears, don’t want to be cured.
In Chicago - a city that is home to Tootsie Roll Industries, the Brach Candy Co. plant and a chocolate factory (Blommer’s) that blankets the Loop with its smell almost daily - many residents express positive disdain for the whole notion of being cured of their chocolate addiction.
“It’s nuts. Forget it,” said Tina Agno, of the patch. She was carrying a bag of gold chocolate coins from FAO Schweetz in Water Tower Place. “I have to have the real thing.”
“I love all types of chocolate. I’m a chocoholic,” added Agno, 22, a nursing student. “It’s not good for me, but I eat it anyway.”
The patch in question, which awaits a pharmaceutical sponsor, can be worn on the hand, wrist or the chest. By giving off the aroma of almond mixed with vanilla, the patch reportedly decreases the desire for chocolate.
British researcher Liz Paul based her invention on what she calls the “Christmas Dinner Syndrome.” The cook who has labored in the kitchen all day loses his appetite by dinnertime because his olfactory senses are saturated.
“Ninety-five percent of our taste comes from smell,” claims a statement released from L.P. Slimline Ltd., which manufactures the square-blue patch. “The aroma of the patch will help diminish, and in many cases eliminate, cravings for sweet foods, particularly chocolate.”
Whether the patch works is debatable, but even if it does, Ann Byers prefers her chocolate addiction to a life without.
“I wouldn’t use it. There’s nothing like good chocolate,” said Byers, whose shopping bag was littered with Godiva chocolates. “When you get that low in the afternoon, there’s nothing like a piece of chocolate to bring you back up.”
Sylvia Marshall, 60, agrees.
“You have to live life, and I am not going to stop eating chocolate,” said Marshall, as she stopped at a Fannie May counter for her weekly chocolate fix. “Only if the doctor says I have to stop, that’s the only way I will stop eating chocolate.”
Most doctors would not suggest consuming huge amounts of chocolate, but many say a chocolate bar now and then would fall behind a slice of cheesecake or a slice of rib roast in the health risks category.
Admittedly, chocolate contains a few ingredients doctors warn us to avoid: saturated fat and caffeine. A typical milk chocolate bar contains 8 grams of saturated fat - about the same as a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder - and about 11 milligrams of caffeine - far less than a cup of coffee, which has between 60 to 180 milligrams.
But Dr. Leah Pendarvis, a clinical psychologist at the University of Chicago, said moderation is the key.
“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with eating chocolate,” Pendarvis said. “The secret is good portion control. A few bags of M&M’s a week are OK. A few 3-pound bags a week are not.”
No one knows for sure why we crave chocolate, but conventional wisdom holds that the sugar in chocolate helps the brain release an amino acid that has a calming effect.
One recent study suggests that eating chocolate produces opiates, a druglike chemical that causes pleasure sensations.
“It’s a form of addiction,” says University of Michigan Professor Adam Drewnowski, who has conducted numerous studies on chocolate and binging. “You really can be a chocoholic. It’s much like a drug addiction -although obviously not as dramatic. Your body craves and needs the chocolate.”
But Pendarvis has another theory:
“Chocolate is associated with a lot of positive experiences for people, such as romance and courtship. It’s part of our holidays. It’s a universal gift. People love the feeling that goes with it.”
Developers claim the Diet Scent patch works because it overloads the nose with an aroma similar to chocolate. If you smell chocolate all day, you won’t want to eat it, the theory goes. Some doctors and researchers are skeptical.
“If it were true that the more you smell the less you eat, then you wouldn’t find any bakers or chefs who are obese,” said Charles Wysocki, a researcher at Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, a not-for-profit company that studies taste and smell.
“And we all know darn well that there are many chefs and bakers out there who are overweight.”
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