Thursday, April 14, 2011

A month without chocolate

It doesn’t really have a thing to do with Lent, although the timing is such that several people have suggested there’s a connection. My reasons for giving up chocolate in all forms for 30 days starting on March 17 were numerous, but Catholic tradition was decidedly not among them.

Regardless of the motivations, once I made the decision, I was curious to see just how difficult it would be to honor this pact with myself.

Now I’m 27 days in, and the answer is that it hasn’t been all that difficult at all, and the rewards have been significant. I didn’t give up sweets altogether, just chocolate itself, but I do typically indulge in a lot of treats and confections, and chocolate is almost always an ingredient, so doing this has cut down significantly on my dessert intake. Still, this really wasn’t about weight loss or nutrition; it was more just about shaking up the status quo. I felt like I was turning to chocolate every time I needed a gastronomic reward; this was a chance to give up some not-so-great habits (such as the bag of M&M’s every time I drive home from the supermarket) and challenge myself to do things differently.

Since giving up chocolate nearly four weeks ago, I’ve eaten a lot of vanilla crème wafers and a lot of marshmallows. Giving up sugar itself would be a lot harder for me; I don’t care that much about the chocolate itself as long as I can have a cookie or dish of ice cream now and then, and avoiding the chocolate varieties compelled me to be more experimental. The first time my family went out for ice cream during the chocolate fast, I had peppermint stick; the second time I had buttercrunch. One day at home I ate frozen shredded coconut to satisfy a craving for sweets; another time I melted white chocolate chips and stirred in broken pretzels to make a sweet-and-salty bark. (Semantics aside, white chocolate is not technically chocolate, I decided at the outset. Any confectioner would support this distinction, I believe.)

What I miss is homemade chocolate chip cookies, both in batter and baked form. My family misses these as well, as we generally have a steady supply of homemade cookies in the house, so yesterday afternoon I made oatmeal cookies, minus the chocolate chips. Like me, Rick and the kids feel less tempted by sweets when chocolate isn’t an option, so we’ve all been eating a little bit more sensibly during the chocolate fast.

It’s over in three days, but I’m not anticipating any great breaking-of-the-fast. My mother was in Europe last month and brought me back a box of chocolates which I’m looking forward to trying, and I do look forward to the wider selection of ice cream options that eating chocolate affords me. In general, though, the chocolate fast has been valuable simply as a way of shaking things up and making me more deliberate in my food choices. It wasn’t for Lent; it really wasn’t religious at all. It was just an easy, tangible avenue to a temporary change in behavior. Even if I can’t articulate a significant number of benefits that resulted, I’m glad I tried it.

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