Double, Double, Toil and . . . Halloween Candy
Updated: Oct 28, 2021
It’s that time of year again. Leaves falling, weather turning crisp, holidays just around the corner. Ahhh . . . so lovely! It’s also the time when the festive food season starts ramping up. For lots of us, the thought of holiday eating, beginning with all that leftover Halloween candy, can be a source of major food distress.
But before we jump in, here’s my standard disclaimer: This post is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for individualized medical on mental health care. It does not constitute a patient-provider relationship.
When it comes to Halloween candy, most of us will fall into one of two categories:
The first group will completely avoid Halloween candy. They don’t buy it, or they buy the bare minimum. They allow their kids a few pieces for a few days and throw the rest away. This group probably won’t read this post. After all, they’ve got Halloween candy all figured out: restrict, restrict, restrict. The thing is restriction is never the foundation for a healthy relationship with food. Those influencers and celebrity wellness “experts” recommending you straight up avoid Halloween candy? Yeah, that’s not healthy, and it doesn’t work for most people.
The second group, the group most people find themselves in, might describe themselves as having a problem with Halloween candy. I suspect you, friend, might fall into this group. Maybe you bought your first bag of candy back in mid-October, weeks before trick or treating. Annnd you ate the first bag. So now you’ve re-stocked, promising yourself you absolutely won’t open this newest bag until the 31st. Maybe you stick to that, maybe not. But either way Halloween is right around the corner and that means more candy for sure.
If you think you have a problem with Halloween candy,
if you find yourself eating it mindlessly or frantically,
if you tell yourself over and over again that you’ll stop but can’t,
if you feel guilt or anxiety or shame about your eating,
if you’re eating to the point where you feel physically sick –
I want you to know that you don’t have a problem with Halloween candy. You have a problem with restriction. (I know you don’t think you’re restricting – more on that in a sec.) When you implement an intuitive eating approach, you fully allow all foods in all quantities. Over time those foods become less desirable. Yeah, I know it’s hard to believe, but there is a world where you eat one or two pieces from your kid’s stash, feel satisfied, and move on.
I swear I’m not restricting though!!!
Ok, but you are.
Restriction comes in two forms: physical and emotional. Candy is available year-round but I suspect the only time you keep it in your house is at Halloween. This is a physical restriction. When you perceive something as limited in supply, scarcity thinking is activated. Your brain tells you, “Oh my gosh we haven’t had candy in months! This candy is sooooo special and sooooo desirable. We better eat as much as we can before it’s gone again!” So you eat some candy. And then the emotional restriction kicks in. You feel guilty for eating the candy. You tell yourself you should stop eating, this is too much candy. You promise yourself you won’t eat anymore after tonight. Ok, hi. Promising yourself you won’t eat something is definitely restriction!
Intuitive eating is the antidote to the binge/restrict cycle but it’s not a quick fix. It’s not a linear path with set rules like with dieting. So, I am absolutely not promising that you can solve your Halloween candy “problem” with a blog post. Even so, I hope you’ll consider some of the following points:
Am I eating enough during the day?
So many of us have stressed, hectic schedules that keep us running all freaking day. Maybe you skip breakfast. Or lunch. Or you choose meals that are insufficient to meet your needs. - a 400 calorie salad isn’t lunch. So you get to the end of the day, you’re finally able to relax, and then BAM, all that hunger you’ve been ignoring all day suddenly hits you. Maybe you’ve learned to manage your evening snacking with low calorie options or foods that feel safe/healthy/allowed. But now that you have all this candy is the house you find yourself reaching for a Snickers instead of your usual yogurt with berries.
If this sounds like you, my first recommendation has nothing to do with candy and everything to do with nourishing yourself adequately. Eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day! When you notice you’re hungry, don’t ignore that, have a snack. Eat enough so that you feel satisfied at each meal. Are you still gonna want candy at the end of the night? Probably. But you won’t be using candy to fill a massive caloric debt which means your candy-eating will hopefully feel a little less frantic.
Wait, do I even like Halloween candy? Is there something else I’m craving?
Ok so I know this might seem like a ridiculous question. I mean, who doesn’t like candy? And obviously you like it or you wouldn’t be here reading this blog. But the question is, do you really like it? Would you buy a candy bar in the grocery check out line? If no, why not? Do you crave candy in general? Like, are you ever like, “Ooh I could really go for a Reese’s right now!”?
I want to be clear that you can still totally eat candy even if it’s not your very favorite thing. But the point here is to evaluate if you’re trying to fill some other food void with the temporarily allowed and available Halloween candy. Maybe you really would prefer some ice cream or a nice bakery cookie. Eat that then! If you’re eating candy when you really want something else, you’ll never feel fully satisfied. Set the candy aside and go get yourself some Ben & Jerry’s.
What if I let myself have candy all the time, year-round?
Food habituation is a critical step in intuitive eating. This means allowing yourself to eat a particular food as much and as often as you like. Over time, the food loses its intense desirability and becomes just another food – still enjoyable, but without the same urgency. How would it feel to tell yourself candy is always allowed? How would it feel to plan to have some candy every night? How would it feel to tell yourself, “I can always have more of this later”?
Habituation is a straightforward process for some, but it can be fraught for others. I typically recommend my clients practice habituating to one food at a time - so that might mean choosing one brand of candy to start. And if you have a history of binge eating, foods that have triggered binges in the past may feel really scary. So maybe you choose chips or cereal to start and work your way up to candy. But wherever you start, the goal is that by the time Halloween rolls around again, candy won’t be such a big deal.
Ok, so you've done a little reflection. How do you feel? If you’re totally panicking about the idea of fully allowing candy, that’s totally ok! And. Maybe you could benefit from more support. There are tons of intuitive eating resources out there. Keep learning. Keep challenging your diet thoughts. Because, friend, you deserve to enjoy candy without a side of guilt.
To learn more about intuitive eating and apply for individual nutrition counseling click here.