A fascinating mix of emotions emerges after polishing off a whole block of chocolate - there's certainly bliss, but also something that reeks suspiciously of guilt, not to mention the possibility of slight nausea, and a twinge of shame and regret. No matter how great chocolate feels, we all know that too much of a good thing is bound to wreck the waistline.
But it turns out if you only have a lapse in chocolate intake judgement once in a while, you may just get away with it. According to obesity researcher Amanda Salis from the University of Sydney in Australia, eating chocolate every day might be worse for weight gain than eating a whole block in one sitting.
How is this possible? It's thanks to a mechanism called adaptive thermogenesis, which speeds up our metabolism when we ingest a bunch of calories at once. "The larger that increase in kilojoules, the more your body will rev up metabolism," Salis explains to Kimberly Gillan at ninemsn. "If you have them all in one go you're more likely to induce that response to protect you from weight gain than if you have a small amount every day."
Now, this absolutely does not mean you will absorb fewer calories from the chocolate if you eat it all at once. As nutrition expert Tim Crowe from Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia told ScienceAlert, you still absorb the calories you eat - whether you binge or not.
"You can't eat yourself thin," says Crowe. "Unless you've got malabsorption problems, the thing with humans is that we generally do a pretty good job of absorbing most of the nutrients we eat. With a large amount of food, your metabolism does increase to a higher level; but you're still eating a lot of food to begin with."
So adaptive thermogenesis is no silver bullet against weight gain - it only protects you against the occasional face-stuffing. But it does mean that sometimes a giant dose of chocolate is permissible, even according to nutritionists. "If you hardly ever do it and you feel like indulging yourself on a chocolate or ice cream very, very occasionally, it's not going to do you any harm," says Crowe. "In the longer term that doesn't make any difference."
But our relationship with food can be so complex and varied, no one size fits all when it comes to portion control and dealing with cravings. For some people, eating small, frequent meals is the way to go, explains Crowe, but not so for others. "Research shows that for some people, eating a large amount of food at once does help control their appetite, they actually do better with having just one or two big meals per day, and that controls their metabolism and their weight."
According to Amanda Salis, the best way to deal with irresistible cravings is to find a portion that helps satisfy the urge, without spiralling into an uncontrollable binge that's likely to lead to shame and guilt. "It's important, from a psychological point of view that you feel like you have had a good feed," she says. That way you can avoid the dreaded binge in the first place.
So even though adaptive thermogenesis may protect you from the occasional binge of chocolate or any other comforting, delicious, indulgent treat, too much of a good thing will still wreck your waistline if you don't know how to control yourself. And never forget that even chocolate can kill you: