Posted: February 17, 2014By: Briony Cooke

For many of us January is a grim month of reflection rather than hope, and we resolve to give up those things we enjoy but do us no good. My resolution is always to give up chocolate, and every year I fail. I could write at length about all its virtues: its exquisite taste, smooth texture, those melting moments, and the need to have another piece; one is never enough. Will power is not my strong point, and the life-time of a bar of chocolate in my care is very short. I am not proud of my chocolate addiction, and need to get this under control if only to spare my waistline and my teeth.

Outside the home temptation abounds, and my favourite brands are all too readily available in this village – it’s no trouble at all slipping a small bar into my bag (remembering to pay for it first). The station platform is also a favourite venue for chocolate consumption. To wait for the train in front of a chocolate vending machine without succumbing would be impossible. I can justify a quick snack any time:  I need to keep up my blood sugar for the forthcoming journey and never mind the extra calories because I will burn them on two escalators and two sets of stairs on the journey. Calories out to balance calories in, I think to myself as I put my one pound into the machine and grovel in the bottom to retrieve my favourite bar.

I am not one to lie back on a comfy armchair guzzling chocolate while watching TV; I prefer to eat chocolate on the go. That’s not to say I would never indulge while on the sofa, but at the same time I might stroke the cat or do the crossword which also uses calories in thought processes, I reason to myself. On the whole I prefer my own company when eating chocolate because I feel guilty and greedy, and of course I might have to share!

Although this behaviour is selfish, shameful and immature, I can find some justification for it. I have read that, people with Parkinson’s (PwPs) tend to eat more chocolate than the population as a whole because many claim that it improves their walking and makes them feel good. I could argue that having an incurable chronic disease gives me the licence to over-indulge in one of life’s pleasures as a form of compensation. This is a pretty good excuse, but it still doesn’t solve the problem of the expanding waistline.

Just as I was turning over these questions in my mind recently, I discovered some exciting new research that identifies several good reasons for eating chocolate: it improves blood flow to the brain and therefore thinking skills; it is good for the heart; and controls blood sugar levels. For PwPs there are some specific benefits: it improves mobility and enhances the mood. So eating chocolate is good for you – but in moderation, and that is the hard bit. For me it’s all or nothing; I could cope better with cutting out chocolate entirely rather than cutting down because the latter does nothing to cure the addiction and even just an occasional mouthful would revive the craving

My resolve was knocked completely by the results of a routine medical last month which revealed that my weight (Body Mass Index) was within the normal range, my cholesterol was low and my blood pressure that of a 20-year-old. I was described as very fit and low risk. But of course I need to keep it this way, and as my Parkinson’s advances along with my age, I shall slow down and burn up fewer calories as my weight and stiffness increase.

I am on a treacherous chocolate-covered slippery slope with this dilemma. On the one hand chocolate makes me feel good, on the other it makes me fat. I’ll have another piece while I try to resolve this!

Briony Cooke

Briony Cooke

I experienced the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (PD) during my 40s and was diagnosed in 2000 at the age of 47. At the time I worked as a lecturer in a further education college where I was in charge of geography and environmental sciences, and was Senior Tutor to 250 students. I also held the post of Deputy Chief Examiner in geography for the International Baccalaureate and ran training courses for teachers in Africa, the Middle East and Europe. I worked with PD for 6 years and finally retired in 2006. Since retiring, I have setup a support group for those with young onset Parkinson’s in the Reading area. I write in my spare time and have published three geography textbooks.

I have three grown-up children who have all left home and I live with my husband, two fat cats and five tortoises. My hobbies are photography, gardening and breeding tortoises and my philosophy is: “there’s no time like the present”.

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