I Gave Up Chocolate for a Month and Here's What Happened

When I first started out committing myself to this challenge, I honestly wasn’t sure that I could do it. I have given up various things in the past, for health reasons, religious reasons, or just for the challenge of it. In my everyday life I watch what I eat and try to maintain a balanced diet. While I've stayed away from sweets, cookies, candy, or other sweets, giving up chocolate was far different.

I found that you don’t realize how many things have chocolate in them until you can’t have it anymore. For instance, it’s clear that chocolate cake and ice cream are off the table, but the list quickly expands to include anything drizzled in chocolate, or with cocoa in it including fruits, granola bars, muffins, scones, breads, brownies, pancakes, certain drinks, candies…the list seemed to go on and on. In short, I quickly found it to be much more restrictive than I had initially anticipated but I was interested to see how it would be giving up something I enjoyed so much and if I would see any benefits in doing so.  

 

 Week 1

Something I didn’t think would happen: that every meal would end up being a struggle. With its buffet style, unlimited access food system, college had trained me to think that there are no restrictions, and that having a dessert was just another part of the meal and nothing special. Grabbing a quick cookie or scoop of ice cream had become so routine that it was hard to have to constantly remind myself that anything with chocolate was off the table—which ended up feeling like everything. Again, you don't realize how much chocolate is contained in things until you give it up.  Even though I gave up one thing, this one thing made it feel like I was restricted from everything sweet.

Eating in college is a very social activity. More often than not, my decision to grab a meal or a bite of ice cream depends on if a friend is doing it too. Yes I know this isn’t healthy, as it often leads to overindulgence of unhealthy food, but it happens without your awareness. When all of your friends are eating in front of you, it takes concentration to make your own decisions about what to eat and not eat—and in my case not to have chocolate by accident.

During this week I was surprised that I didn't eat chocolate even by accident. Grabbing a quick dessert after meals had become so routine that I had to consciously remind myself that I could not have any of the sweets I was used to having. It was tough.  Sadly, it made me realize how much I depended on sugar and chocolate in my diet. It was something that needed to change and would be harder than I thought.  

 

Week 2

Although sweets make up a fraction of what I eat in a day, it felt like I was cutting out much more of my diet by not having chocolate. This may seem like an over dramatization, but because 90% of the desserts in the dining hall contain chocolate —and I often grabbed a treat after each meal— it felt like I was giving up sweets completely.

It's when you can’t have something that you want it the most, and so feeling like there was no sweets that I could have, when a dessert became available that I could have, I went overboard. It ended up being a very bad reaction to my chocolate detox.   

I realized that I had become so reliant on sugar that instead of cutting it out, I just tried to replace it with other sweets whenever I could.  Instead of feeling better, I felt worse, mentally and physically. Not only was I letting myself down by not being healthy, but I ate more than what I would have in the first place—which completely undermined my goal. .

 

Week 3

Feeling guilty from last week, I decided to get back on track and stop going crazy having all of the other sweets that didn't contain chocolate. There was no point to this challenge if I was just going to replace chocolate with its equivalents. So this week, I decided to quit cold turkey and tried giving up all desserts.

By not having any desserts I became less dependent on having sugar in general and didn't feel like I needed it after ever meal. By mid-week, this challenge didn't seem so intimidating anymore. I wasn’t having to tell myself that I couldn’t have chocolate, I just accepted the fact that it wasn't a necessary part of my diet. That made walking right by the dessert area (almost) as easy as cake. When you accept something and stop trying to fight it, it stops being a big deal and gets much easier. When it stopped becoming a challenge and became a part of my lifestyle, that's when I made progress. By not having sugar at all and not making a big deal out of not having chocolate, I was less tempted to have any kind of sweet. 

Week 4

By this time I was used to not having chocolate, and if someone offered it to me, it was more of a natural reaction to say no than even consider saying yes. I didn’t crave it, and even when there were other available sweets that I could have, I found that I didn’t even really want them. People would still apologize for eating chocolate in front of me, but it was no big deal anymore. My body didn’t crave it the same way it used to. Just as I had developed the habit of eating sugar, I got into the habit of not eating sugar—and after a month I was perfectly ok with that (if not a little proud, too). After a time of not having it I found that I didn’t need it which was a pretty freeing feeling. 

I felt better mentally that I was eating healthier, and when you feel great mentally, you tend to feel better physically too. When the final week was coming to an end I was actually quite reluctant that I had only decided to do this challenge for one month and not two. 

 

After the fact

I actually kept on my no-chocolate diet for over another week before I caved and had my first bite of chocolate. And you know what? That first bite was anti-climactic. After making it that long without chocolate, I knew I didn’t need it, so even though eating it was enjoyable—how could it not be, it’s chocolate—eating more than just a little piece felt unnecessary.

Most importantly, this challenge gave me the confidence and knowledge that I could train myself to give up things that I thought I was reliant on. I know that saying I was that reliant on chocolate is a little bit of a stretch, but hey, at least it’s a start to challenging myself further in the future.

 

5 Tips for How to Make Giving Up Something Easier

1. Make clear guidelines. Unfortunately, nine times out of ten, just saying you’re going to eat healthy isn’t going to actually make you eat healthier in the long run. What is “eating healthy” anyway? Vague goals give vague results. To stick to guidelines, you need to have them in the first place. This way, you can see when you’re making progress and when you’re getting off-track.   

2. Have someone do it with you. Misery likes company, and even though giving up something shouldn’t be miserable, it often isn’t easy or fun. A friend can help motivate you and keep you on track and call you out if you start to lose focus. Studies show that telling someone you love about your goal, increases your likelihood of achieving, so don't keep it to yourself.

3. Do It for a compelling reason. When times get tough, it’s easy to want to cave and come up with a million reasons why you don't really have to achieve your goal. If you came up with the goal in the first place, that means that it does mean something to you, and if that isn't enough, then frame it in a way that makes it for a "better" or more motivating reason. To make habits out of something requires diligence day in and day out. If you do it for a reason that matters to you, then you'll be more likely to power through. 

4. Have a time limit. It's easy to be overwhelmed and fall into the trap of saying "this is impossible I can't do it".  Instead of trying to change your lifestyle permanently, break it down into smaller time periods whether that be weeks, months, or days. By breaking it down into more manageable segments, it doesn't seem as overwhelming and you'll be more likely to see your goal through.  This will give you benchmarks to work towards that you can look forward to (and maybe even reward yourself for).

5. Make it reasonable, but still a challenge. You know yourself better than anyone, and you know there are some goals that, even though they would be ideal, would be near impossible to achieve. It can be discouraging when you don’t achieve a goal, and even make you less likely to pursue another one in the future. You won’t stick to a goal long term if you know you can’t do it, so make it something you know that you can achieve. It should still be a challenge, otherwise you would already be doing it, but it should be something you know you can still achieve.  After you achieve the smaller things, you can work up to bigger challenges.