I recently posted a photo on Instagram of some high protein chocolate I’d been sent.
Shock horror, it wasn’t long before an evangelical nutritionist, who didn’t appear to know the first thing about what I do, began berating me for promoting such an ‘unhealthy’ food group to my followers…
Just because it’s high protein doesn’t mean it’s healthy!
You’re not a dietician, you shouldn’t be telling people it’s ok to eat chocolate!
Etc etc, blah blah blah.
Now, first things first, let’s clear up some of this kid’s claims. Yes, just because something is high protein, or low fat, or gluten free, it does NOT mean it’s healthy, obviously. If I buy a meat feast pizza and sprinkle whey protein powder all over it, is it healthy? No. Cheers mate, we all get it.
Second, am I dietician? No. I am a Gym Instructor (L2) and a Personal Trainer (L3) and I have qualifications in nutrition. This means I AM qualified to tell people what they should and shouldn’t eat, but with restrictions. So for example, I would get in trouble if I wrote a diabetic or a celiac a diet plan.
Next; I am of the staunch opinion that there is no such thing as an ‘unhealthy’ food group. Health encompasses both physical and mental well being, so while eating salmon, broccoli, nuts and oats is going to give you a healthy bod, after a few months you’re probably going to feel a bit miserable. Is it unhealthy to eat chocolate? No. It’s unhealthy to gorge on any sugary foods, fatty foods, AND EVEN healthy foods. Yes, if you eat nothing but brown rice and bananas for every meal, you will gain weight and become malnourished. My point? ANYTHING can be considered healthy, so long as it’s in moderation.
Understand that I now know a hell of a lot, but even I am still learning. So you can imagine my joy when a girl named Danny commented under my photo “I ate a small amount of chocolate all the way through all my preps.”
I asked her to write something for us, and that she did…
Hi my name is Danny and I’m a chocoholic. Oh and a bodybuilder…
Now, before all of you die hard ‘bro food’ and ‘clean eating’ advocates choke on your chicken and broccoli let me put this into context; like many of you out there reading this, I love chocolate. I love chocolate so much it is actually my job and my passion. I write this piece sat at my desk, a green tea in one hand and a bar of 100% chocolate in the other (because balance, right?). I am sat in one of my stores, one of my stores that is filled to the brim with luxury chocolate. By day, I am the Retail Director for Artisan du Chocolat, but by early morning (5.30am most days) and late at night, I am a bodybuilder.
I have consumed chocolate all the way through my bodybuilding and fitness journey. In fact, I began my fitness journey at around the same time as I began in my role at Artisan.
No food is ‘bad food’. And, from a slightly biased opinion maybe, chocolate is far from bad. Chocolate in its purest form is actually something that could be considered a ‘Superfood’. Cocoa is a known source of flavonoids, a very powerful antioxidant that is in fact ten times stronger than vitamin c. It contains four times as many antioxidants than your cup of tea. Good quality chocolate will contain cocoa butter from the cocoa itself and not vegetable fats; cocoa butter’s triglyceride structure is composed of oleic acid, which is low in cholesterol and is thought to have the same properties as olive oil when it comes to protecting the heart. Good chocolate is also packed with iron, magnesium and calcium. And, most interestingly in some recent studies involving cyclists, those that consumed a chocolate based drink pre workout performed better in endurance training and had less fatigue than those who had consumed a traditional sports drink. Aside from that, let’s not forget that chocolate tastes amazing!
Now, I am in no way suggesting you ditch all the good, high nutrient foods in favour of completely stuffing your face with chocolate. I certainly wouldn’t suggest you consume your bodyweight in sugary, highly processed cocoa products. What I am saying is that a little bit of something really good is not a bad thing and can in fact be a very good thing. For two consecutive years I trained for, and competed in bikini fitness bodybuilding. This type of training and competing requires a hugely restrictive diet and serious amounts of self control. There is no room for error when you need to get seriously lean. Meals were strict: lean meat, usually chicken breast, lean mince, or white fish; fats were low; carbohydrates were sweet potato or white rice, and the green stuff was mainly broccoli, asparagus and spinach. There was no dairy, no sugar and certainly no alcohol. You live and breathe this diet and this world for weeks on end, sometimes up to 16-20 weeks. It is monotonous and it is tough. However, I still made room for a square or two of chocolate every single day and was still a seriously lean bean when I stepped on stage. What this little bit a day did for me was stop me from having all out ‘cheats’ and completely fall ‘off plan’ so to speak.
I haven’t competed this year but I still train just as hard, if not harder. I lift heavy, I do very minimal cardio if any at all, and I weight train 6 days a week, sometimes twice per day. I am very comfortable UK size 8, and I maintain a happy and healthy weight of 7kg more than my depleted stage weight. And, I eat chocolate every single day.
When something is forbidden, it becomes more desirable. If you get told you cannot have something, whether or not you even wanted it before, you automatically begin to crave it. It becomes all consuming (literally, with you doing the consuming), it is the only thing you can think about. I guarantee if I told you that you could never have a doughnut again from tomorrow, you would go out and eat as many doughnuts as possible, but I bet you wouldn’t have wanted one before I said that. When the forbidden item eventually becomes available you gorge and binge and eat so much for fear it may be taken away again. When you can have a little bit every single day you no longer have that desire. If I have a little bit of chocolate a day, I have no urge to eat a mountain of it and to be quite frank I don’t crave it, it just slots nicely into my day with my cuppa, just the same way as my other five solid meals a day do.
The benefits of cocoa and of chocolate do have a place in day to day life and day to day food consumption. The food itself, as long as it is good quality chocolate has many benefits on your health as I have already listed. Aside from the antioxidants and mineral values it also contains a chemical known as PEA. This PEA, or phenylethylamine is released in the body when people fall in love. It is one of the chemicals that will make you feel happy. And a little bit of ‘happy’ certainly never hurt anyone. A lot of comfort eating tendencies come from feelings of sadness and consolation for not being happy. So if that can be counteracted or prevented by eating a little of something that will chemically but naturally make you happy, and in turn stop you from over-eating, then surely that can never be a bad thing.
Like most things in life, if something makes you happy you should be able to enjoy it free from criticism and free from guilt, and in my humble opinion chocolate is something we should never feel guilty about.