Cravings for chocolate increased by dieting

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Those planning to break New Year's dieting resolutions with a feast of chocolate on Valentine's Day, should think again, according to researchers at the University of Hertfordshire.

New research led by Professor Ben Fletcher and Dr Karen Pine at the University's School of Psychology, has revealed that dieting leads women into a vicious cycle of negative emotions which in turn provokes cravings for the very foods they are trying to avoid, chocolate being one of the most powerful.

"An ideal target food for such research is chocolate, since it is often the subject of a love-hate relationship," said Dr Pine. "While it is loved for its pleasurable taste, scent and texture, it is often disliked by some for its perceived high calorific and sugar content and, as a result, some people make a conscious effort to restrict their consumption of it."

The paper entitled "How visual images of chocolate affect the craving and guilt of female dieters" will be published in the Elsevier journal, Appetite in March.

The paper describes how the researchers showed 85 women a series of enticing media images, either of chocolate or of non-food products. Two thirds of the sample were dieting or had dieted in the past; 15% had been on seven or more diets.

The researchers then asked participants to complete an Attitude to Chocolate Questionnaire, the results of which revealed that dieters had greater feelings of guilt about chocolate than non-dieters. This supports the idea that dieters experience more guilt than non-dieters which in turn, leads to more cravings.

"In this study, we assessed cravings and guilt and found that it was the combined scores that differed between the dieters and non-dieters in the two conditions, suggesting that negative effect and craving are closely linked," said Professor Ben Fletcher.

"Dieting, then, appears to make a difference to how people perceive food, in this particular instance, chocolate. Instead of helping people to eat more healthily and to cut down on products which are bad for their health, the negative effect induced by dieting appears to have the opposite effect in that it can increase the desire for the actual foods they are trying to avoid."

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