With Halloween just around the corner, the grocery store shelves are stocked full of candy. While most nutrition headlines will tell you how to resist all of the candy, the science of eating behaviors shows the more you try to avoid a food, the more likely you are to obsess and overeat it. So, if you’re already blaming your lack of willpower for eating a secret stash of candy or are planning to ration your little ones’ bag of loot after trick or treating, these tips explain how your anti-candy approach may be backfiring.
Buy the Halloween candy you want and give yourself permission to enjoy it
Yep, you read that right. There is nothing wrong with Halloween candy. There’s a phenomenon called food habituation which shows the more you are exposed to a food, the less your brain cares about it. If you try to always keep candy out of the house, it makes candy more exciting and desirable when it is around. People who have avoided candy all year round likely find it harder to stop after just one Halloween candy. This is considered rebound eating. If you fear having candy in the house around Halloween, consider having it around more often and allow yourself to enjoy it. You may be thinking, “if I allow myself the candy I want, I’ll eat it nonstop.” But if you start to shift your mindset from "this food is off limits” to "this food is something I can have when I want it,” the physical and mental permission to eat the candy on a regular basis actually decreases the desire for it over time. The process of food habituation does not happen overnight, but with enough practice, you’ll be able to keep candy in the house all year round without binging on it.
Notice the language you use to describe Halloween candy
“Junk,” “bad,” and “unhealthy” are all common words used to describe candy. When foods are labeled this way, it attaches a negative connotation implying it’s morally wrong to consume these foods. This often leads to feeling guilt and shame after eating them; two emotions that should not coincide with eating. In reality, candy can fit into an overall healthful, nutrient dense eating pattern. Instead, consider using more neutral descriptors to describe Halloween candy such as “sweet,” “sour,” “yummy,” or “satisfying.” Similarly, if you find yourself wanting to dump the candy and start fresh once Halloween is over, consider reframing this to “I’m learning to listen to and trust my body. I’m allowed to have this candy any time of year.”
Avoid skipping meals or “saving up”
Are you saving calories throughout the day to feel better about eating candy later? Chances are this strategy will backfire, and you will find yourself overindulging. If you aren’t eating consistently throughout the day – your biological hunger is building and it’s no wonder you end up diving into a bag of candy at the end of the day. The best way to enjoy some Halloween candy without overdoing it, is to eat as you normally would throughout the day, ideally with 3 balanced meals and 1-3 snacks. Add in the Halloween candy if and when you want it, but there’s no benefit in feeling like you need to compensate for it.
No need to ration out your kids candy
While your kids (or you) may be most excited about the candy, Halloween is a great opportunity to teach them there are no “good” or “bad” foods, so candy doesn’t need to be made into a big deal. Your job as their parent is to decide when, where, and what to feed your kids, and it’s your kids' job to decide how much and whether they eat at all. Hiding or rationing their candy can make it seem as though candy is a “bad” food or “off-limits.” If you find yourself scolding your kids for eating too much candy, they're likely going to continue to do so, often in secret to avoid being scolded or out of fear it will be taken away. Unfortunately, eating in secret can manifest as binge eating disorder later in life. Instead of rationing or limiting your kids to a certain number of candy pieces per day, allow them to pace themselves and decide when enough is enough. While it may seem like the limit doesn’t exist for kids and candy, giving kids this autonomy helps them learn to self-regulate. What we know from habituation is that if kids overdo the candy one day without being scolded, they likely have learned the uncomfortable lesson and won’t repeat the behavior the following days.
Mindful eating exercise for Halloween candy
Try this mindful eating exercise with yourself and your kids to thoroughly enjoy your favorite piece of Halloween candy.
- Notice how hungry or full you feel physically – does your tummy feel empty or full?
- Notice your emotions before biting into the candy – are you excited, sad, or relaxed?
- Notice the shape, texture, smell, color and feeling of the candy in your hand
- Take 1 bite and chew slowly, noticing how it feels in your mouth
- Focus on the taste and texture of each bite – is it sticky? Sour? Chewy? Melty?
- Check in with your body and see how you feel physically and emotionally after eating the piee of candy
- When you’re finished with the piece, ask yourself “am I satisfied?” “Was that as delicious as I anticipated?” And “what would it feel like to have more?”