A recent BBC news article suggests that:
Chocolate lovers ‘are more depressive’, say experts. People who regularly eat chocolate are more depressive, experts have found. Research in Archives of Internal Medicine shows those who eat at least a bar every week are more glum than those who only eat chocolate now and again*.
According to ayurveda, chocolate is mildly nutritive, stimulant, calmative and aphrodisiac. Unfortunately, it is normally combined with such excessive amounts of sugar that all nutritive qualities are lost.
The cocoa bean is very bitter and has many medical properties that are lost in the manufacturing of chocolate candy. Pure cocoa, or chocolate is considered to be rajasic. This means that it stimulates the mind causing increased mental activity. If too much cocoa is taken, or too often, this can contribute to a chronically agitated mind.
Ayurveda explains that excessive use of stimulants leads to a depressed state. The old adage ‘what goes up must come down’ applies here. The depressed state is called tamas, which also means inertia.
The danger with modern life, and stimulants, is that we get into a vicious circle of stimulation – depression – stimulation – depression and so on. It wouldn’t be so bad if this was just a see-saw, but unfortunately, it’s more a downward spiral. The end result is conditions like burn-out, chronic fatigue and depression.
For example, not getting enough sleep will lead to overtiredness (depression). In order to compensate, we use a stimulant, like coffee, chocolate, coca cola, etc, which gives us a short lived boost. We do this on a daily basis until, one day, we get ill. In our youth, this will just be a temporary blip, like feeling a bit flat for a few days. Our immunity will drop with the depression and we might get a nasty cold, or some other infection. If we continue to live in this way, for years on end, it will eventually become part of our programming, a habit fixed in stone.
The habit is hard to break, and leads you deeper and deeper towards a state of chronic depression. This is the risk of stimulants, all stimulants, not just chocolate, but all modern forms of sensory stimulation including music, video, TV, computers, constant mobile phone communication etc.
The news article asks whether the chocolate use is a symptom or a cause of depression. Ayurveda would say both, but that the problem is not chocolate, it is in a lack of understanding of self. People are no longer in the habit of learning about themselves, their bodies. I’m not talking about academic learning, or keeping up with health news (which is mainly adding to confusion rather than giving any useful guidelines), I’m talking about learning to listen to your own body, learning how to fine tune your lifestyle habits based on the immediate feedback that your organism provides you. It’s free, it’s simple, and requires very little training.
Ayurveda has taught me this. In the past, it was too easy to let things go by unnoticed, niggles, minor troubles. With ayurveda (knowing about my doshas, and how to monitor them on a daily basis) I am more in tune with my body and its needs.
I might feel like eating some chocolate, so I do. If that feeling comes up more than once in a while, I’ll ask myself – why might I be craving chocolate? Upon looking at the situation, I realise that I’m feeling a bit depressed, a bit flat. Perhaps the weather is getting me down. At this point I can make a choice about whether to use more chocolate, a quick fix, or whether I can do something else to lift my spirits, like put some positive music and dance about for half an hour.
The main thing to know about stimulants, including candy and the like, is that it produces a false ‘high’. Well, it’s not really false, it’s just that, rather than leaving you feeling energised and healthier (as you would get form, say, doing some dancing or breathing exercises), it leaves you feeling deflated, tired, depressed.
Most people turn to stimulants to provide a quick boost to their energy. This is fine for occasional use, like keeping awake for an exceptionally long car journey. But for day to day living, if you are using stimulants (coffee, tea, chocolate etc) as a crutch, you will soon start to pay the price.
The low energy, chronic fatigue dilemma that so many people face is due to a number of factors coming together:
- A mentally over-active, over-stimulated, sleep-deprived lifestyle. This quickly leads to sporadic moments of mental and physical fatigue. The quick fix is coffee or sugar.
- A diet that low in unprocessed whole-foods, and high in processed junk foods. This results in metabolic imbalances and an accumulation of toxins. One consequence is that we have low or erratic energy.
- A lifestyle that does not encourage adequate exercise, or deep breathing. Our entire system stagnates leading to lowered energy distribution.
Ayurveda looks at energy in three ways:
- How it is absorbed
- How it is distributed
- How it is spent
For example, Ayurveda explains that energy is absorbed through the skin, the lungs (respiratory system) and the colon. So keeping these systems healthy is part of the equation for maintaining balanced energy levels.
Ayurveda’s vision of optimising energy, and maintaining healthy and happiness revolves around daily routines (Dinacharya) that include:
- Self-hygiene, such as scrapping your tongue, oiling the skin and using oil nasal drops (called nasya).
- Adequate physical exercise, adapted to your body type.
- A whole-foods diet, adapted to your body type, as well as climatic, seasonal and other lifestyle factors.
- Yoga type practices including breathing techniques, postures, relaxation and meditation.
- Adequate sleep.
When these basic supports are in place, we are much less likely to suffer from low energy, stimulant miss-use, and ultimately, things like depression.
So enjoy your chocolate! Get a good quality make, and eat a small piece daily, or binge one in a while. But if you become a one bar a day chocaholic, it’s a sign that something’s out of balance, so go check it out.
I have noticed that when my clients start eating more whole grains and vegetables, along with mild spices like cumin, fennel, turmeric and coriander, they automatically crave less stimulants and sweets, experience less indigestion, improved elimination etc.
Well, I suppose that in return for reading this rant, I should offer some kind of practical advice, so here goes. Anyone can take the following spice mix with meals and begin to experience a range of metabolic / energetic benefits that I couldn’t list on both of my lanky arms.
Generic spice mix to help balance digestion, improve assimilation, increase energy, reduce chocolate cravings, and much, much more:
Mix the following spices into a small jar that you keep handy:
15 teaspoons of turmeric powder
5 teaspoons of cumin powder
5 teaspoons of fennel powder
5 teaspoons of coriander powder
1 teaspoon of nutmeg powder
At meal times (twice daily) mix ¼ – ½ level teaspoon of this mixture into small glass with a little warm water and swig it down, powder and all, just before you eat. If you prefer, you can mix it into the food you are eating – but it is slightly less effective.