Chocolate v Willpower: why disruption is better than diet

I recently had the opportunity to speak at the TEDx event held here in Bristol.

It wasn’t at the recorded TEDx show itself – although it was amazing to be in the audience for a number of really amazing talks. This time, I was running a short session in the brilliant Wellbeing Area which was where everyone headed during the break times. The theme for the TEDx event was Disruption and so us healthy types in the wellbeing area were tasked with talking about disrupting wellbeing.

My talk wasn’t recorded (thank goodness!) but I thought you might be interested in what I said that day. So here is (more or less) the kind of thing that I talked out.

Willpower v chocolate: why disruption is better than diet.

The weight loss industry would have you believe that happiness lies in following their 12 step program of points and sins, and health coaches would have you believe that the secret to success is creating new habits, putting your willpower to good use to avoid ‘bad foods’.

I, on the other hand, as a nutritionist who is the opposite of a food dictator, believe that the secret to happiness, wellbeing, fitness, success, joy is indeed found in your hands.

But rather than being a fight between willpower and real life, or goals and life long habits, the secret to happiness, wellbeing, fitness, success and joy comes wrapped in some beautiful paper, possibly lined with foil.

And it comes in the form of chocolate.

Say what?

When we use will power to avoid ‘bad’ foods, or when we pay someone else to tell us what to eat or borrow an eating plan from someone who eats a certain kind of diet, we know that it never lasts. The minute we are no longer ‘being good’, or counting points, or focusing on a specific goal, the minute life gets in the way (as it inevitably does) – everything goes out the window and we end up back at square one. Or, sometimes, even worse, we end up farther back than when we started.

It happens because you are fighting nature. When you give things up, reduce, or avoid calories, when you try to eat better you are fighting your natural human self. You are fighting our natural desire to be warm, cuddly, lazy and to do the easy option. Not because we are lazy. But because we have to conserve energy, save our resources. It’s in our nature. It’s not just human nature. It’s in all of nature and fighting nature is hard. Just ask gardeners who like perfect lawns.

So let’s take a step back from the willpower and the ‘do this, don’t do that’ mentality for a moment. And let’s think about this sensibly.

Our bodies need, and use, on a daily basis, a huge number of nutrients: vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, water – all put to good use to keep us going and to a myriad of processes to mend and detoxify on a daily basis. Every day. Hour by hour. Moment by moment. Non stop.

And there is one magical nutrient which is involved in a huge number of processes. From being a factor in 300 enzyme reactions which create energy, make fats and proteins and manufacture neurotransmitters for mood, from helping your muscles relax after contracting, and being part of your digestion and being key for PMS, migraines, insulin resistance, insomnia and your mental health.

That magical mystical nutrient is magnesium.

Magnesium is a super food – or rather a super nutrient because it isn’t actually a food itself.

And in theory, magnesium is super easy to come by and super easy to absorb – which isn’t surprising for something which is so vital in so many ways eh?

You can find magnesium in anything which is green and leafy, such as spinach, kale, cabbage, fresh herbs. It’s also found in nuts and seeds – almonds are especially high in magnesium. And if you need a boost, you can always take an Epsom salts bath to get some in a lovely way. I mean, who wouldn’t want to bathe their way to health and happiness?

But, nowadays, somehow, many people are low in magnesium. Far too many people.
Stress means you use it up a lot. Booze reduces your levels. And our farming methods mean that many foods which should be high in magnesium are actually quite low.

And being low in magnesium leaves you tired, but unable to relax. It leaves you feeling stressed and anxious. And it leaves you hungry and in a bad mood. It leaves you craving quick energy and foods which will make you feel good, fast.

As a nutritionist, I should just tell you to go and eat those healthy foods which are high in magnesium, and to avoid alcohol and reduce stress. That would be the standard thing to do. And it wouldn’t be poor advice. It’s great advice.

But hard to fit into life when you are already busy, stressed and tired.

We need to find a way to disrupt that magnesium deficiency.

There is actually one easy, simple and fun way to boost your magnesium levels. It’s a tad cheeky. It’s simple. And we already try to do this to a certain extent, only we go about it the wrong way.

The best food source of magnesium around is:

Chocolate.

Yup. Chocolate.

Chocolate is the magic, missing superfood that we’ve been searching for.

Now the point where we get it wrong with chocolate is that we end up eating chocolate which doesn’t actually contain magnesium. We end up eating the cheap stuff. The chocolate hanging off a Christmas tree. The stuff we find at the bottom of our Christmas stockings, or the stuff found wrapped in purple near the till at the petrol station. That stuff? Not really a good source of magnesium.

To get magnesium from chocolate, you need the good stuff. The posh stuff. Made with actual cocoa rather than chocolate flavouring. The kind of chocolate you have to pay good money for. (because cheap chocolate is rarely actual chocolate).

If you can eat that stuff, the real chocolate, you’ll be giving yourself a really cheeky magnesium boost without having to ‘try’ to eat less, or ‘trying’ to be good. You’ll just be good, by eating the good stuff.

Those magnesium cravings (which is, after all, exactly what a craving for chocolate is) will be gone because you actually ate a food containing magnesium.

You won’t need to think about will power again when you give yourself a good amount of magnesium – and it really doesn’t matter whether that magnesium comes from green leafy veg, or good quality chocolate.

You’ll have enough energy to go for a run. You’ll be in a great mood, so you won’t need to comfort eat again. You’ll be able to drop off to sleep easily, meaning you won’t want, or need, three coffees in the morning to wake up. All the things that you need will power for, will automatically be solved. Boom.

Now I’m not saying chocolate is the answer to everything.

When I work with my clients, we don’t just talk about chocolate and leave it at that (although that would be cool!).

There is, obviously a lot more when it comes to diet, health and happiness. But blooming heck, we do like to load it all with guilt, confusion and hard work.

So, when it comes to willpower or chocolate, I find that disrupting your magnesium cravings is definitely the way forward.

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