Chocoholics Unanimous say: stick your patches!

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The Independent Online
Britain's love-affair with chocolate (we spent pounds 4bn on it last year) may well have hit a sticky patch. Quite literally. A new stick-on cure, "impregnated with the aroma of a tropical orchid", is designed to banish cravings for chocolate and sweet foods. It will also banish a few pounds to boot (pounds 29.95, actually).

As one of the nation's greatest chocolate lovers (I founded Chocoholics Unanimous in 1990 to help fellow chocophiles celebrate, not give up) I was intrigued by the idea of these Diet Scent "aromacology" patches. How could the smell of an orchid put me off chocolate?

"It's not just orchid," said a spokesman for Diet Scent's creator, LP Slimline of Ilkley, Yorkshire. "It's supposed to be a chocolatey smell too. We call it the Christmas dinner syndrome. Slave over a hot stove on Christmas Day and you won't want to eat the food." When you consider that 95 per cent of what we taste comes from our sense of smell, I had to admit that the concept sounded feasible.

Not that I want or need to give the ambrosial stuff up. Chocolate alone does not make you fat (I am five foot eight and eight stone four, despite a daily dose for 20 years) and it certainly does not make you miserable, as the patch's promotional blurb implies. A bar a day keeps unhappiness and neuroses at bay. And I don't believe that you can be addicted to chocolate, either. But despite my pro-chocolate stance, I was curious to know whether sniffing these tiny turquoise squares really could rid me of my passion. And, more important, would they cure me of my most inveterate vice: sugar in my tea?

The 28-day supply came complete with a report from Reading University's Scientific Services. Their two-week trial concluded that "significant weight loss was achieved by the 25 women wearing Diet Scent Patches, but no weight loss was recorded for 24 placebo wearers."

Why no male testers? Is it because they don't feel guilty about eating chocolate? Is it because they're not prepared to part with pounds 29.95? Or simply because they don't wish to go round for two weeks smelling like a tropical orchid?

Gerald Emmanuel, lifelong chocolate lover, and my husband, an "infected chocoholic" ( by me), were both prepared to take the risk. At six foot three and 15 stone, Gerald has already managed to kick his daily Mars Bar and KitKat habit through willpower alone. But, like me, he is finding it impossible to give up sugar in his tea. My husband, a crisp addict as well as a chocolate-eater, simply wants to lose his spare tyre. We all pledged to take the plaster test for two weeks.

On applying the patch, my olfactory senses went into overdrive. Forget tropical orchids, here we had Plasticine, vanilla and white whippy ice- cream rolled into one. Every time I fancied a cuppa I took a big sniff, but regrettably I still needed the sugar. By the end of Day One I had consumed four cups, a Cadbury's Dairy Milk and some chocolate Hobnobs.

Then, on Day Two, my trial came to an abrupt halt. Re-reading the Diet Scent booklet whilst breastfeeding my 11-month-old daughter, I spotted the warning on the back cover: "Diet Scent should not be used by pregnant or breast-feeding women." A sleepless night ensued, during which I harboured wild thoughts about having poisoned my baby, but a call to the press officer the next day allayed my fears: "The patches are perfectly safe. They're not transdermal - they don't enter the bloodstream."

Meanwhile, how was Gerald getting on?

"The smell is very pleasant - if not a tad embarrassing. People thought I was wearing perfume. It's a bit like someone trying to give up smoking keeping an unlit cigarette in their mouth."

Did they work? "After 12 days I'm still taking sugar in my tea. But I'm still off the chocolate. Willpower is the answer, I'm afraid. Or maybe I'm just very resistant to smells."

Has Gerald lost weight since giving up the choc? "Not one ounce."

Q.E.D. Chocolate alone does not make fat. My husband stayed off chocolate for four days while wearing the patches, but increased his crisps consumption and gained two pounds.

What I needed was an objective scientific opinion. Enter George Dodd, director of the Aroma Foundation. Did he think the patches could work?

"Yes. The idea of using smell therapy to control appetite is scientifically approved. But simply smelling an attractive aroma reminiscent of your favourite nibble will not work. Attractive smells alone won't satiate the taste buds - it will, in some cases, activate them."

But having visited all the major chocolate factories in Britain, I can vouch for the fact that the constant sweet aroma does eventually put you off eating the stuff.

So there you have it. Hang on to your pounds 29.95. And every time you feel the urge - be it a Twix-fix, biscuit binge or simply a nice, sweet cuppa - clutch your tempting goodies and take a trip to the rubbish dump.

Caroline Sarrl

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