Eat Chocolate, Lose Weight
Courtesy of Rodale Books

How would you sum up your food and diet philosophy?

Eat food. Become a sensual, conscious eater. In the process, you will get the very best nutrition, allow your liver to detox your body naturally, and regulate how much you consume by simply listening to your internal cues.

I use chocolate as a metaphor for reconsidering the entire way you've been coached to think about food and eating. For any given dinner, for example, decide what you'd like to eat, then take the time to prepare it, making sure it's whole-foods-based and satisfying. Then sit down and enjoy it. If you start treating each meal this way, I guarantee you won't overeat, and you'll start to choose the healthiest meals for you intuitively.

How is your plan different than other mainstream diets?

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I don't believe in counting calories or imposing a bunch of rules on anyone. Instead, I help dieters change their cravings by by coaching them to see how most cravings are habitual, not physical. By tasting a variety of foods, you start to see how the healthier versions often really do taste better. It applies to fighting a sweet tooth, confronting the clean-your-plate problem, practicing portion control, or regulating hunger between meals. You learn how to lead a healthy life and take that with you after you finish the book.

There are two parts to the book: addressing the benefits of chocolate, and chocolate as a representation of the problems with the standard American diet. What makes chocolate a health food or superfood, and how can it help control appetite?

The most recent research reveals chocolate to be an absolutely amazing health food across many disciplines. That comes from cocoa itself. It boosts heart health by raising good cholesterol, lowering bad cholesterol, and preventing inflammation in the arteries. It also increases metabolic rate and energy and protects skin from UV damage. Cocoa is as good for the mind as it is for the body—consistent consumption can reduce anxiety and improve mood.

How much chocolate can we eat if we're looking to either lose or maintain our current weights? And what kind of chocolate should we choose?

Those people who lose weight eating chocolate are those who eat it the most consistently. The higher the cocoa content, the more you can eat. If your chocolate is 70-percent cocoa, you can eat one ounce daily; if it's 50 percent cocoa, you should limit it to 1/4-ounce each day. Always opt for solid dark chocolate. The only exception to this rule is when the things added to the chocolate are real foods, like hazelnuts, cherries, orange rind, etc.

What can chocolate teach us about the way we eat and the way we should eat?

People scratch their heads at how the Mediterranean people can eat full-fat dairy, not to mention chocolate and wine, every day and still be thin and healthy. It's because they don't over-consume. Wine is not good for you, but it's also not bad for you, until you drink so much of it that you make it one or the other.

When you love something, you don't seek to over-consume it — you savor it. Chocolate is the perfect example of that. If you adore chocolate, you choose high-quality kinds over the schlocky, waxy, sugary stuff. You take small, slow bites in order to taste it more. The result is consuming less, which comes back to my overriding philosophy. Love, it turns out, is the answer. I don't care what relationship you're in — with food, a spouse, a hobby, a job — when you make it not about love, but trying to impose control over something, the relationship becomes disordered.

You say, "Eat small, be small. Eat big, be big." Is it all about portion control, really?

There are two things: quantity and quality. If you eat the best food in the world, but eat buckets of it, you'll be unhealthy. Conversely, if you eat fake food, even in limited amounts, it will still be bad for you. So we need both. It's about eating small, but I also also believe that if it isn't real food, you shouldn't eat it.

It's what you call the "clean-your-plate complex," which you suggest fighting by letting chocolate sit on your plate. For someone who has a fraught relationship with food, however, this could feel almost wrong. What would you say to that person?

If someone is concerned, they can adjust. If leaving chocolate for five minutes seems scary, make it sit there for, honestly, 30 seconds. Then put it away. Break the reflex, and know that with every successful time that you remove the chocolate, you are eroding your automatic reaction.

How do you respond to critics who suggest that titling the book Eat Chocolate, Lose Weight is a gimmick?

Honestly, I'm used to it. If this work is called a gimmick, it's because we are working from different paradigms. I am working to give individuals the ability to own their own health, and condition their internal cravings and relationship with food. This will empower them to live a healthy life on their own, without me.

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