As a Registered Dietitian I’m required to get over 75 units of continued education every 5 years.

Like most professions, this usually means dragging my makeup and semi casual, business attire to some fabulous city I’ll never see as I’m cooped up in a too cold, forever beige walled hotel business room attempting to drink hot tea from a carafe that’s luke warm at best and tasting like coffee.

However, 2009 was different. This was the year my dietitian best friend and dancing partner in crime, who happened to live in the Marina District in SF Bay, hopped in her convertible mini cooper and we hit the road for the Harvard School of Public Health, Healthy Kitchen, Healthy Lives Conference being held at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone located in the rolling hills of St. Helena in Napa Valley.

This is the mecca of all conferences. It didn’t matter that it was 4 full, intense days of curriculum that left no time for wine hopping afterward. The classrooms weren’t beige. Seventy five percent of our learning happened in front of the cooking stage or literally in the stainless steel lined kitchens chopping next to the other medical professionals, mostly doctors and well studied chefs. The other 25% of classroom time was in a rustic, grand space that you’d day dream about having a fairy tale wedding in. And most of all, NONE of the speakers were boring. No need to use the restroom one more time, no checking into work, no need to stretch your legs. These speakers were motivating and inspiring. It was probably the first time that I actually believed in my own profession that food could really change lives. In a “good witch” or “bad witch” way.

This is also when my love of chocolate went sour. And it was done during one session that was devoted to Mindful Eating.

Back in 2009, this was a topic just being tossed about but yet to become main stream. During this session the speaker passed around chocolates “hugged” in foil or a red box of raisins. We were to choose which one we would get to know intimately. For what felt like the next 15 minutes, but probably less than five we spent time using all our senses inspecting, processing, courting our treat. Of course, I had picked the chocolate. And initially I thought this was a silly exercise. After all, I knew what these little silver gems tasted like. I’m certain in my lifetime I had already consumed my weight in them. Plus it was near the infamous 3pm snack time anyway.

I was salivating and cursing this women to just get on with her experiment so I could just EAT THE CHOCOLATE!! But in the process of really inspecting the look of the chocolate, I noticed how dull it looked and that the color didn’t quite compare to the tiny morsels of heaven we were given during a legit on campus wine tasting the night before. With eyes closed, we were instructed to put it into our mouths but not chew. The longer I held this old confidant in my mouth, the more I wanted to spit it out. But the horror continued. We still had to chew, swallow and keep our eyes closed taking in the lingering feelings, taste and smells in our mouths. I realized at that instance that for years I had been eating disgusting chocolate without even knowing it! It was one of the most mind and taste altering experiences I’ve ever done and I can count on one hand in the past 7 years how many times I’ve consumed that brand of chocolate.

I now have a bit of a more refined chocolate palette. My office cupboard has a stash of Dove Dark individually wrapped chocolate, which passed my Mindfulness Eating experiment. And what I love about Dove Dark is that the serving size is 5 pieces. At best I will eat 2 per 8 hour shift. That’s 84 calories and 10g of carbs for TWO! If I kept it to just one, at only 5 grams of carbs, dare I say it would be considered FREE?!?!?!

I encourage you all that still have a pantry (or closet) full of cheap drugstore valentine candy hidden for PMS emergencies to take 5 minutes before the next chocolate crisis hits to really get to know your chocolate. Smell it, look at the color, feel the texture all before you take one bite. Then roll it around in your mouth, take some deep breaths through your nose then savor the first bite. Do your teeth melt into a soft shell or is there resistance? Does it make your tongue happy or remind you of cheap, warm beer in college?

This is also a great experiment if you have that guilty pleasure you are trying to break that comes in a sealed package that can be taken up to space or survive a nuclear attack. I’ve even done this with fast food too. Try it! You’ll hate me for it!!

In the meantime, in the comments section you have to let me know: Has Mindful Eating ruined a once coveted favorite treat for you? And if so which treat? Also, what is your favorite brand of chocolate? I’m always on the lookout.

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