Halloween can be a scary holiday for all of us, not just little kids. I’m not talking about haunted houses or creepy costumes. Sure, those can be frightening, but I’m talking about all the candy. For those of us working hard to shed a few pounds, avoid sugar, or eat healthily, Halloween is a day that scares and challenges even the bravest and strongest—and healthiest— among us.
There’s a trifecta of sugar, fat, and salt loaded into each bite-sized piece of candy. It activates pathways in our brain associated with pleasure and reward, kicking off processes that disregard normal hunger and satiety. Then bundle the nostalgia and positive memories of Trick or Treating as a kid, and it’s no wonder Halloween is a scary time and potential disaster for any diet or healthy eating plan.
With Halloween quickly approaching, what is your strategy for handling the temptation of the Snickers, Twix, M&Ms, Starbursts, and Skittles?
You can try the “white-knuckle, teeth-clenching, raw willpower” approach to avoid all the candy. Will it work? Has it worked in the past? Maybe, but why risk it? Knowing that sheer willpower alone will likely not be enough when there is a big bowl of candy in arms reach, it is important to do some planning and take a few steps to set yourself up for success.
A key piece of resisting temptation is creating an environment that makes it easier for you to avoid the temptation that’s hard to resist. Most of us do this by not keeping candy, cookies, chips, and ice cream in our homes when we're trying not to eat them. We can successfully avoid a Snickers bar or a bag of Skittles at the grocery store by not going down the candy aisle, but then Halloween happens and it’s hard to resist the buckets of snack-size candy all around us.
Here are some tricks and tips to survive Halloween with your healthy eating plan intact.
Wait until the last minute to buy candy.
If it’s not in your house, you aren’t going to eat it. Then, once it’s in your house, put it in a hard-to-reach place. The harder it is to grab, the less likely you are to do it. I’m talking about at the far back of a closet in a part of your home you never walk by that requires a step stool to reach!
Buy your least favorite candy.
If you know you can’t resist a Twix, but licorice doesn't appeal to you, buy a bag of licorice.
Enjoy a satisfying lunch and dinner on Halloween to avoid being hungry when it’s time to put the candy out.
Yes, these individually wrapped pieces of sugar, fat, and salt ignore feelings of hunger, but it will be easier to resist the temptation if you are not hungry and have enjoyed a delicious meal of healthy food.
Ask yourself: Do I actually want this?
If the answer is 100% yes, then go ahead and enjoy a piece with intention and mindfulness. If you tell yourself that you can’t have the candy you will crave it and want it more. Feeling deprived doesn’t work. So, if you want to treat yourself to one or two bite-sized pieces, go ahead.
I have great childhood memories of eating frozen Charleston Chews. It takes longer to eat frozen candy than room temperature candy. Put your piece in the freezer and savor the treat for longer. You'll be slightly less likely to want five or six when you've slowly consumed one of your frozen favorites.
Indulge in a healthy treat instead.
If you are craving chocolate, allow yourself a piece of a high-quality dark chocolate bar (at least 70% cacao). This contains a lot less sugar and fat, and dark chocolate is actually a healthy option when eaten in moderation.
Throw it away after Halloween is over!
When you close the door and turn off the lights on the 31st, carry whatever candy is left straight out to the garbage can... the outside one, not the one in your kitchen. All the way out. And please, don’t bring it to your office. No one there wants it either. I know most of us were raised not to throw away food, but I’m telling you – it’s okay to throw away candy.
Don’t eat your kids’ candy.
If you have kids, there is plenty of advice on how to parent around candy given by psychologists, pediatricians, and dentists. But where I will comment is that if you think of what they bring home as their candy, not yours, you will be less tempted to eat it. If you want a Snickers or a Kit-Kat or some Starburst, go to the grocery store and buy it. Don't take it from your kids.
Couldn’t resist? Forgive yourself.
If, despite your best efforts, you still overindulge, don’t beat yourself up over it. Acknowledge it, think about if there is anything you can learn from it, and forget it. In the morning, have a nutritious breakfast and get in a good walk or workout. Remember, sticking to good habits is not an all-or-nothing game, and a few pieces of candy on Halloween do not matter in the long run. What’s important is that you get back to your healthy eating habits the next day.