The link may run in the opposite direction, however. Like alcohol, chocolate may make depressed people feel better in the short term, but eating it regularly may have a negative effect on health and mood in the long run, the researchers say — especially if the chocolate is in products such as candy bars that are filled with saturated fat and other unhealthy ingredients. Indeed, as Khiry suggests, overindulging in chocolate when you’re down can sometimes leave you feeling even worse.
“There is some relation between chocolate and depression,” says Scott Bea, a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic, in Ohio. “Chocolate could be a fix for depression or it could work the other way, meaning that people who overly use chocolate could be prone to depression.”
Susan Albers, a psychologist and colleague of Bea’s at the Cleveland Clinic, says that chocolate raises levels of the brain chemical serotonin — as do some antidepressants — and also boosts blood-sugar levels, which can make you feel more energetic.
“Emotional chocolate eaters may be looking for an immediate change that exercise or antidepressants can bring,” she says. But, she adds, a chocolate rush is often followed by a crash, and “The crash will make the depression worse.”
Albers teaches chocoholics to stop and smell the chocolate — literally.
“When we eat chocolate, we tend to think about the next piece before we finish the one we are eating,” says Albers, the author of 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food. “I teach people to slow down the process by opening up the chocolate slowly, listening to it crinkle, and slowing down the whole process so they actually taste it and realize that a small amount can make them feel a lot better.”
Khiry uses a similar strategy. To keep herself from eating too much chocolate, she sometimes tries to suck on each piece so it lasts longer.
The study had some important limitations, as the researchers note. It was not initially designed to investigate chocolate and mood, and the data was taken from a larger study on the effects of cholesterol-lowering statins. Furthermore, the study didn’t distinguish between different types of chocolate (such as dark and milk chocolate, which contain different amounts of cocoa).
And because the study simply took a snapshot of the participants at one moment in time, the results don’t show how chocolate consumption and mood may change or interact over time.
Still, Bea says, the findings could serve as a red flag for people who may be drowning their sorrows in Hershey’s.
“If you’re depressed and eating lots of chocolate, look for more direct solutions such as psychotherapy and/or antidepressants,” he says. “If you crave chocolate a lot, examine your mood state and deduce if depression is a factor in your life.”