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Johannes Bohannon and a team of German researchers claimed to have completed a study which suggested that people on a low-carb diet lost weight at least 10 percent quicker if they included a chocolate bar in their daily regimen. Headlines across many media platforms read, “Slim by Chocolate” in response to the deliberate and well thought out hoax.
The story went viral, making news in a half a dozen languages and more than 20 countries. The hoax, disguised as news, was discussed in magazines, on television and other media outlets. The elaborate study stated:
Not only does chocolate accelerate weight loss, it leads to healthier cholesterol levels and overall increased well-being.
Bohannon, who goes by John, is a Ph.D. and journalist. His degree, however is not in humans, but in the molecular biology of bacteria. The hoax, as Bohannon explains, was carried out to expose how easily bad nutrition science gets distributed in the mainstream media. He added:
The people who cover this beat have treated it like gossip, echoing whatever they find in press releases.
The media went crazy when the “learned” eating chocolate daily could help people lose weight. In the famous words of Judge Judy, “If it sounds too good to be true, that is because it is.” Now the people behind the bogus story have come forth to explain how gullible the media is when it comes hype-driven stories. The hoax, needless to say, fooled many sweet tooth cravings.
The well-crafted study chose the perfect subject matter – chocolate. According to Dr. Amy J. Stavnezer, professor of psychology and neuroscience, many crave chocolate simply because it taste and smells so good. She said eating chocolate is an experience which results in feel good neurotransmitters, primarily dopamine, being released in particular brains regions.
Originally, according to Stavnezer, it was believed that chocolate contained compounds that could directly activate the dopamine system, just as cocaine and cigarettes. Chocolate does contain caffeine which can make people feel awake, increase their ability to focus and work, as well as theobromine which has the ability to increase the heart rate and bring about feelings of arousal; but the theory as a whole is not entirely true.
Though many studies have been completed, what actually makes chocolate so enticing to people is still not clear. Cacao, the base ingredient in a chocolate bar, has many different compounds and chemicals that infuse with loveliness of texture, flavor and aroma. In 2006, when speaking of chocolate, a group of Australian authors said:
It is the perfect orosensory experience to seduce the palate.
Chocolate is so popular that festivals are held around the world for chocoholics. Kennett Chocolate Lovers Festival is an annual event which includes hundreds of chocolate treats. The family fun festival offers the sampling of many chocolate delights such as candies, cupcakes, cookies, brownies and cakes.
Understanding what chocolate does to the senses makes it easier to see why the hoax was so widely accepted. It gave people a reason to digest the sweetness while removing the guilt many feel as they succumb to the cravings they have for it. Chocolate feels good as it melts on the tongue, but those feelings quickly dissolve as the waistline increases.
When Bohannon and Dr. Gunter Frank, a general practitioner in Germany, concocted the plan for the hoax Frank decided dark chocolate would be the perfect subject matter. He called it a favorite for “whole food” fanatics; comparing it to a religion, which believes since bitter chocolate tastes bad, it must be good for people.
The journalist believes reporting on healthy living is important because obesity matters and too many people are suffering and dying as a result of it. Bohannon also warns against stories that promise quick fixes to the obesity problem. Being healthy takes work, but the results are so rewarding that the work often pales in comparison.
The chocolate diet hoax fooled many chocoholics, but was crafted with good intentions. Bohannon and his team wanted to combat the media frenzy of unchecked, junk science when it comes diet and nutrition. The hoax was not created to embarrass individual reporters, rather to shock journalists into doing a better job of reporting dietary science.
by Cherese Jackson (Virginia)
io9: I Fooled Millions Into Thinking Chocolate Helps Weight Loss. Here’s How.
Psychology Today: Why Do We Crave Chocolate So Much?
KPCC: Why a journalist scammed the media into spreading bad chocolate science
Kennett Chocolate: Kennett Chocolate Lovers Festival
Top Image Courtesy of Tim Sackton – Flickr License
Inside Image Courtesy of Sharyn Marrow – Flickr License
Inside Image Courtesy of Lee McCoy – Flickr License
Featured Image Courtesy of Gregory Bodnar – Flickr License