Love Chocolate, Love Self

I have spent much of my life dealing with the topic of healthy relationships, not only interpersonally, but also with food and with myself. I grew up being self-conscious of my body image and had issues with weight since I was a child. (It never helps to be brutally teased as a young’un and certainly we live in a society that pushes an unobtainable image for girls and women to try to emulate.) Just recently, I finished a (rather intense) master’s program in holistic health and am going through a (rather intense) divorce. It’s amazing that emotional stress eating is still a part of my life after all these years, but I’m here to say that it is. The difference is that now I have many healing tools to work with and a much better relationship with myself, so I bounce back more quickly.

I am a survivor of childhood abuse and have used food for comfort in the past, as well as to numb emotions. It has taken years to even be able to comfortably write these words. I wear my battle wounds and scars openly now, including my most recent emotional stress eating. In order to transform guilt and shame, light has to be given to what is in the shadows.

It’s my belief that in order to have a healthy relationship with anything or anyone, including food, we have to be very honest, open, aware and present with what is real and alive in ourselves. For many people, it’s not until we see a photograph or video of ourselves that we might realize, “OMG! I’ve put on weight!” Or maybe your pants feel tight or you see a number on the scale you don’t like to see. Others might have a health scare or condition arise, which becomes their call to do something better for themselves. Still others might be blessed with becoming a parent and realize that it’s time to model good behavior for these young ones. Whatever it is that may open your eyes, take it as a blessing that your eyes have been opened at all for you to make positive dietary and lifestyle changes to get back on track.

Here’s a note about scales for anyone who has an unhealthy relationship with them. I am speaking from experience here. For years, I would avoid scales because it seemed as though this small, inanimate object had the power to dictate my happiness and self-worth. I might feel great but as soon as I would get on the scale, if I saw a number I didn’t like, I would feel like the biggest loser on the planet. It has taken years, honestly, to be able to get on a scale and use what I see as information only. There are still days when I get on the scale and the old power it had comes back to try and devalue me, but now I know how to better handle my old thought patterns and I push them aside. That’s the best I can do. I’m human, just like everyone else.

I am in the process of trying to simplify my life; I’m clearing out rooms, drawers, closets, spaces; I am replacing broken furniture. I am renovating a barn into a workspace, organizing house and life. I’m doing periodic juice fasts, getting massages when I can, clearing out energy by doing a whole lot of sweating, crying, laughing, singing, dancing, visiting energy workers, etc.

I tell myself to be extremely gentle in this process and because I’m trying to be gentle, I am eating chocolate as if it was not going to be sold or made ever again! I am completely addicted to chocolate. It’s minimally processed and very dark chocolate that I eat. I take my chocolate in all forms: powdered, sugared, nibs, whole, bitter. I will drink it, I will eat it, and I’ve joked about snorting it if I needed to.

There are many reasons why I am eating this chocolate. It’s a treat. It is something sweet when I am feeling sad. It is something bitter when I am feeling bitter. It is something so delicious when I feel good. It gets mixed with herbs and roses and is medicine for me. It blisses me out during a very stressful time. I love the taste of it. I have sometimes permitted myself to eat it all throughout the day. I wake up to drink it and eat it. I think about when I will eat it again and go out to buy my favorite kinds.

Chocolate comes from cacao plants. Cacao, which can be found in healthy food stores, is the actual word for cocoa. Cacao pods grow on cacao trees. Inside the pod is a creamy kind of fruit, as well as the seeds, also called cacao beans. Chocolate as we know it comes from those beans. The beans get pressed; the oil that separates is the cacao butter (cocoa butter), while the fiber left over is cacao powder (cocoa powder). Typically cacao powders are minimally processed, not treated with alkali or chemicals, can be offered as organically grown fair trade products, and are loaded with antioxidants. Whole beans can be purchased or they can be chopped up in small pieces called cacao nibs.

Chocolate is made by mixing powder, butter and sweetener; the higher quality your ingredients, the healthier your chocolate will be. Here’s an easy chocolate truffle recipe. Add in your favorite herbs if desired to give a medicinal lift.

Chocolate Love Truffles
½ cup cold-pressed coconut oil
½ cup coconut butter or ¼ cup cacao butter
¼ cup cacao powder
¼ cup maple syrup (always start with less)

optional herb suggestions
cardamom, lavender, rose petal, hawthorn berry, tulsi (Holy Basil)

In a small double boiler, heat coconut oil and butter until softened; remove from heat. Add in cacao powder and quickly whisk until there are no lumps. Add maple syrup, herbs if desired, and stir or whisk to mix thoroughly. Taste to see how sweet this is; always best to begin with less sweetener. If you use cacao butter the batter will harden quickly so you have to move fast. Here are your options:

1. Put this mixture in the fridge for 5-10 minutes to stiffen up so you can hand roll them into balls. Roll the balls in cacao nibs, chopped walnuts or almonds, coconut flakes, cacao powder, bee pollen, sesame seeds or some combination of these ingredients.

2. Pour into small silicone ice cube trays to make your own little chocolate bites. Sprinkle a few nibs or other treats into the bottom of the ice cube trays and then pour the hot chocolate on top. Let them sit for 10-20 minutes to firm up. After you pop them out of the tray, you will have chocolate bites already garnished on top.

If you’re adding herbs, one-half to one teaspoon of either powder or tinctures will work, although the medicinal qualities may be more potent in tincture form. Tinctures come as alcohol-based extracts, which could impart a slightly cordial taste to the chocolate, or as elixirs, also called glycerites, which are made with vegetable glycerin and have a sweeter taste.

As for herb choices, I love to include rose petal because who doesn’t love roses? Rose elevates mood and helps with depression; likewise, hawthorne berry uplifts the heart center. Tulsi supports the immune system and helps with adapting to change and stress in one’s life. Lavender is a calming herb and cardamom is said to be an aphrodisiac of sorts. Really, I just love the aromatic quality of cardamom, so why not add it to my chocolate!

Don’t have time or ingredients to make chocolate? Blend any of these herbs and steep in hot water to make a pleasant tasting comfort tea that can be as soothing to frazzled minds and overexerted bodies as in chocolate form. As with any herb that you are interested in using, read and learn all you can about it to see if it will work well with your body.

As I continued my love affair with chocolate, I knew I was eating a lot but didn’t quite care — it wasn’t high on my list to care about it other than to love it and eat it as often as I could. I exercise daily and I generally feel great in my body. One day I started to notice that those looser pants started to feel a bit snug. I stood on my scale and discovered I had put on weight. Of course I did! I actually didn’t need the scale to know this, but I needed to know how much I put on so that I could get back on track.

As of this writing, I’ve gone through the full stages of grief over this weight gain: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. In the past, I would have been depressed for weeks or months before doing something positive about it. This time I looked at the scale and said, “Okay. There’s my baseline, my starting point.” I could beat myself up and say, “Look how you failed. You are starting over again. How could you do this to yourself?”

But that internal bully is little good to me. I know the truth. If I am truly going to be loving, kind, gentle or compassionate with anyone, I’ve got to start with me. I do it with my thoughts, beliefs, and I do it while I’m eating. I still eat chocolate but I am super mindful now of how much I eat as I eat it. I savor small bites. I don’t eat it daily. If there are times when I eat more than I should, I still love myself and I enjoy it as I eat it.

I look to find other ways that I can soothe my emotions or treat myself to something special that isn’t food-based. I look at all the other ways that I am holding onto this weight and look to releasing heavy thoughts, old habits, stuck feelings. I am also doing strength training to move my body in new ways and help to reduce pain and inflammation from injuries I’ve had. All of this is helping me to deepen the relationship I have with myself and the relationship I have with food.

Look to the more subtle cues from your body to see how beautiful you are and how wise your body is. Let your body be your guide, tuning into its vast wisdom, and the wider world around you will be appreciative for the loving, real, present and truthful person receiving all that attention.

Linda Mahns Wooliever, MA, is a healthy food chef and educator, offering classes and consultations, and teaching people how to live their best, most juicy life through delicious nutrition. You can find many herbs, cacao ingredients and the best nut milk bags on the planet at www.vt-fiddle.com or call (802) 223-2111. Email Linda your food questions at linda@vt-fiddle.com.