By Natalie Matthews
When Dr. Will Clower tells me I can lose weight on a veritable IV drip of chocolate-eating it six times a day-I look at him like he's Cady Heron shilling Kalteen bars. And when I buy a bar of the chocolate I need for this experiment,
I'm convinced. It's thick, but it's the size of my TV remote and 700 calories. I can see the punchline already: "I tried a chocolate diet and gained 2.4 pounds, because obviously."
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Except I didn't.
Instead, I adopted this asinine-sounding program, and I lost weight, snacked less, ate healthier, and slept better. I know I sound like the smug, sing-song-y women in those Yoplait ads-Is that the key lime pie diet?!-but, well, yeah. It worked. Here's how it went down.
I sit down with Dr. Will Clower, whose new book, Eat Chocolate, Lose Weight, set off this harebrained scheme. ECLW is almost 300 pages, but the kicker is this: You can eat whatever you want during meals, but you forego other snacks and sweets in favor of starting and ending each meal with a small piece of very dark chocolate. Every meal-yes, including breakfast-needs a "starter" and an "ender" of dark chocolate, specifically the high cocoa content kind (70% cocoa or above).
According to Dr. Clower, the cocoa speeds up your basal metabolic rate while triggering satisfaction signals in your brain, so you want to eat less during your meals (hence, the starter) and snack less between them (hence, the ender). Also helpful: High cocoa content chocolate has much less sugar than its lower cocoa counterparts, so while you feel like you're eating something sweet constantly, your blood sugar doesn't spike.
Once I've digested the plan, the Doc recommends Green & Black's dark chocolate as the "least bitter-tasting" variety, and I'm on my way. That night I go to Whole Foods and buy four bars of high cocoa chocolate-three Green & Black's and one Mast Brothers-because ooo red and blue nautical stripes! The latter sets me back $10 vs. $3.50 for Green & Black's, as if God's punishing me for my yuppie-ness.
First thing in the morning, I weigh myself and float off the scale on the narcissistic hummingbird wings of a person on a niche diet. I've never gone on a juice cleanse before, and I'm so psyched to be all "Everyone pay attention to me!! I'm eating weirdly and I want you to ask me questions about it."
I'm diligent about eating my nibble of chocolate before and after each meal. Dr. Clower says each piece should be the size of the top half of my thumb, which works because I never don't have hands. Off the bat, I realize this experiment has great timing: Constantly carrying chocolate in your purse is probably a lot more doable in January than July, because weather.
Oddly, even though I can barely remember to take my birth control each day, the biggest adjustment isn't remembering to eat the chocolate (SIX times a day) it's limiting it to a thumb-sized nibble. Some of my co-workers think the 86% dark chocolate bars littering my desk taste too intense ("coffee-flavored bark," one says) or like a packaged letdown (see: every gluten-free baked good ever). But you know what? I like the stuff. I worry I may actually gain weight on this diet.
I get it now. I thought this diet would be easy/ineffective because I'd freewheel through it, neither counting calories nor curbing portions, but actually, committing to all these "starters" and "enders" kicks me off autopilot, making me aware of all the junk I normally eat without thinking. Today I picked a hummus pack instead salt & vinegar chips in the cafeteria line, and I think it was the starters' and the enders' fault.
I'm freaked out. Because the only sweet things I'm eating are these chocolate bars, I think my taste for sugar is morphing. I ate a plain Greek yogurt this morning and thought it tasted like Pinkberry. Dr. Clower said this would happen, but I didn't really believe him. Dafuq?
Here is when I hate the chocolate diet: breakfast. Today I wake up at 5:28AM and zombie clomp into a 6AM exercise class (casual brag?), shooting a stink eye at the instructor and her "What's a matter guys, coffee not kicked in yet?" stock joke. On these mornings, waking up and eating a square of dark chocolate before my granola bar just feels like, seriously? But I do it anyway. At the very least, it makes me drink more water before class.
Today my deskmate gets up and returns 15 minutes later with a Ryan Gosling cupcake, proving Heaven is somewhere within walking distance of our office building. It's 4PM-the hour when hunger goggles can turn vending machine Fig Newtons into Nutella crepes-and yet I don't even go halfsies on the cupcake per her offer. Not only because in icing his visage skews more Nicholas Cage than The Notebook (right?), but because I am, actually, good. I feel like I'm eating sweets ALL THE TIME, while in reality, I'm consuming way less calories and sugar than what's in Ryan Gosling's cupcake chin.
One downside of the chocolate routine: Like me, it's awkward in public. When I go a to 35th birthday party and sit down at a table of strangers, I realize I really should have my "starter." So I claw into my coat, wrestle a block free from the wrapper and sneak it into my mouth like I'm popping a Xanax. Unnecessarily dramatic, maybe, but at this point I'm feeling the fatigue about being the girl with the weird diet hang-up. Back home, though, I sleep better than my boyfriend who ate his slice of chocolate cake (and mine), and realize the whole not-gorging-yourself-on-restaurant-desserts thing has some nice sleep-related benefits.
I weigh myself at the same time I weighed myself to start this scheme, and I've lost 1.8 pounds. Maybe it's water weight. Maybe it's not. Whatever. Actually, I don't really care about the weight- I was more curious what else would happen with my love of snacking and sugar. And that stuff? That stuff I liked. For someone with such a sharp, outsize sweet tooth (maybe all my teeth are sweet teeth?) the constant chocolate's turned me off to my regular sweets. If only everything in life worked this way.