Written By: Dr. Sara Solomon

Photo By: Eva Simon

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, it has left me pondering what’s the big deal about Valentine’s Day and chocolate candy? According to The Nielsen Company, consumers are expected to purchase more than 345 million dollars in chocolate candy during Valentine’s week! I will be honest. I was originally going to write an article about healthy Valentine’s Day meals & desserts. But then I started thinking, why do we associate chocolate and food with love?

Food is not love! Yet it has become a tool we use to express love. From an early age, we learn to associate food with love and nurturing. As adults, we continue searching for love and acceptance through the same means…food. This explains why so many of us are guilty of confusing our hunger for food with a hunger for emotional fulfillment. Since we are often unaware of the connection with food and feelings, we often eat unconsciously. Perhaps you are single, lonely or bored during Valentine’s Day and will use food inappropriately to fill an emotional hunger? Food should not be used to feed your soul. Food is merely fuel and should be used to feed the body.

If you must indulge your sweet tooth this Valentine’s Day, then dark chocolate covered strawberriesare your healthiest option. Dark chocolate and strawberries both contain antioxidants, which improve immune function and lower the risk for infection and cancer. Dark chocolate’s heart-healthy benefits stem from its rich flavonol content. Flavonoids reduce blood pressure by increasing the production of nitric oxide, a substance that causes blood vessels to widen and relax.1 But why dark chocolate and not milk or white chocolate you ask? Dark chocolate is less refined, allowing a higher flavonol content.2 Be sure to purchase dark chocolate that has at least 70% cocoa solids.1

The benefits of eating dark chocolate are small when compared to the sugar and fat content in this high calorie treat. Remember that portion control is important. Just because something is healthy does not mean you can eat more of it and magically not pack on the pounds. The serving recommendation is 1 ounce of dark chocolate 2-3 times a week.2 Do not consume dark chocolate with milk because the health benefits of dark chocolate are negated when consumed with milk.2

Another option, which is great for children, is using heart-shaped cookie cutters to cut fruit into heart shapes. You can also cut whole-grain pancakes after they are cooked with a heart-shaped cookie cutter and serve it with a pink protein shake made with vanilla whey protein powder and strawberries and raspberries.

I have presented to you some healthier low-calorie food options. But keep in mind that eating low-calorie healthy foods to fill an emotional hunger is still using food inappropriately. Reflect for a few minutes before eating to generate awareness about your eating patterns. Are you eating because a holiday dictates you should? Are you eating to stifle your emotions with food? Or are you eating because you are fuelling your body? Remember that fulfillment in life comes from accepting and loving ourselves and others, not from a box of chocolates on Valentine’s Day.

My eating habits were instilled in me as a child: My family has a very unhealthy relationship with food, consuming excessive portions of unhealthy foods everyday out of pleasure, boredom, instant gratification and celebration. I confess that the hardest relationship in my life is the one I have with the most intimate part of everyday of my life– my food! I made the decision to take control and change this relationship by “breaking up” with unhealthy food and emotional eating. I achieved this by throwing away all unhealthy food in my house and by keeping a food diary. I downloaded a free application called “lose it” onto my iPhone that allows me to track my daily food intake. Before I make the decision to eat something, I always enter the item into my food diary before I actually eat it. This gives me a moment to reflect and prevents impulsive emotional eating. I have to ask myself the following: “Is this food intended to fuel my body, or am I eating it for the wrong reasons? What is this instant gratification going to cost me in the long run? Is eating this food going to cause me more pleasure or more pain?” I make an effort to focus on how being healthy and fit makes me feel. When I shift my thoughts to long-term gratification, it makes is easier for me to make more intelligent short-term choices. This is how I find the inner motivation not to eat the “treat”.

It is still okay to treat ourselves once in the blue moon, but in moderation. This year, let’s make an effort not to make Valentine’s Day all about the treats. You can enjoy the holiday with your loved one by focusing on sweet activities you can do together. If you really want to celebrate your love on Valentine’s Day, consider a bouquet of calorie-free flowers, go to the movies, start working out together and make a vow to eat and prepare the same healthy meals together. Remember the true reason for the celebration…love…and it has nothing to do with food.

References:
1. http://www.ctv.ca/CTVN ews/CanadaAM/20070704/dark_chocolate_070704/
2. http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/health/fitness/2011/02/dark_chocolate_its_sweet_for_y.html

ABOUT THE WRITER: Dr. Sara Solomon received her BSc in Physical Therapy and her DMD from McGill University in 2001 and 2005 respectively. She is a general dentist in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Sara is also a WBFF PRO Fitness Model, a writer, a cover girl, a certified personal trainer, a SPINNING® instructor, a physiotherapist, a certified jump rope specialist with the Jump Rope Institute, a university and continuing education lecturer and a photographer. To learn more about Sara, please visit her website at www.drsarasolomon.com.