Ten Tips for a Healthier Halloween… For You

Just one. Okay, maybe another. Mmmm just one more. I really shouldn’t have bought these. I cannot resist them. Oh well, whatever. Halloween is just once a year, right? IMG_2522

Ugh, I should not have eaten so much candy…

Does this sound familiar?

Our Facebook and Twitter feeds are full of helpful articles about managing children’s Halloween candy, but I’ve yet to see something for the adults whose healthy eating habits are derailed by the annual fall candy binge. It’s fine to have a treat or two, but if you overdo it every year, and by November 3 feel awful about yourself, consider these ten tips for resisting the siren song of the Halloween stash. 

  1. Understand what a reasonable amount looks like. Canada’s Heart and Stroke Foundation suggests that your total intake of “free” sugars, which is what you’ll find in Halloween candy, not exceed 10% of your calories, and ideally less than 5%. If you eat 2000 calories a day, that translates into 25-50g of sugar or less.
    Halloween-sized Twizzlers
    Halloween-sized Twizzlers

    This Halloween-sized Twizzlers package, for example, contains 5g of sugar (equivalent to just over a teaspoon of table sugar, which would be 4g). Unless you’re guzzling Pepsi or Double-Doubles, you probably have room for that. (If you’re not sure how much sugar you’re eating, jot down your food and drinks for a day and tally up the free sugar by reading the labels. Count fruit juice, but not fresh/frozen fruit or milk.)

  2. Read the labels and make a plan. Do you want to aim for the ideal — 5% or about 25g — on Halloween, or do you want to give yourself a little leeway, maybe up to 10% (50g), or even more? Maybe you want to enjoy to your heart’s content. What’s the plan for the days leading up to and after? This all depends on your health goals and your preferences (do you even like Halloween candy?), but be realistic. It’s okay to indulge a little, and saying you won’t have any candy is a recipe for a major sugar craving. Whatever you end up eating, make it intentional.
  3. Consider handing out non-candy treats. The neighbourhood kids won’t have a shortage of candy, and might well enjoy a few swim passes, stickers, or play-dough in their mountain of candy. If you don’t have it in the house, it’s tougher to overindulge.
  4. If you do buy candy, wait until Halloween, or perhaps the day before. The stores don’t run out. If it’s not in the house, you’re much less likely to reach for it when you are tired, stressed out, or hungry.
  5. Hide your candy. Before and after Halloween, don’t let the sight of candy trigger you to eat something you weren’t otherwise hungry for. Researcher Brian Wansink did a series of fascinating eating behaviour experiments. (If you haven’t read his fun and practical book Mindless Eating, I highly recommend it.) Among the small changes he showed reduce our intake, no willpower needed: Moving it farther away (subjects ate about half as many Hershey’s Kisses placed six feet away vs. those within arm’s reach) and moving it out of sight (people ate about half as many Kisses from an opaque bowl with a lid vs. a clear bowl).
  6. Just buy one kind of candy. Researchers have also showed that having a variety of foods to choose from increases consumption. Subjects in another of Brian Wansink’s experiments ate 43% more M&M’s when given a bowl filled with 300 candies in ten different colours, vs. a similar bowl with only seven different colours. Why do you think they sell those Halloween combo boxes?

    Get outside. Breathe. Enjoy.
    Get outside. Breathe. Enjoy.
  7. Make time for exercise on Halloween. The point is not to burn extra calories to make up for those little goodies, although that doesn’t hurt. The goal is to boost your mood and reinforce your healthy self-image. Both of these things can help make you stronger in the face of temptation.
  8. Fuel up. This is not the day to skip breakfast or skimp on lunch. Have at least three protein and fibre-rich balanced meals before the doorbell starts ringing, so you can at least eliminate physical hunger as a driver of cravings.

    Black-bean quinoa salad: Protein, fibre.
  9. Practice stress management and nurture yourself with non-food rewards. Sweet foods trigger chemical messengers in your brain that provide feelings of pleasure and well-being. No wonder they can be so hard to resist! The good news is that other highly pleasurable activities act in the same way, weakening food cravings: In addition to physical activity, can you take time for a hobby you enjoy or a positive social interaction? Can you enjoy the evening with a friend or go to bed early with your sweetie? Getting enough sleep can help too. 😉
  10. When you have Halloween candy or other treats, choose something you love, and savour each bite. “Eat what you love, and love what you eat, as the excellent book by Dr. Michelle May advises. Amen to that. For another great read on mindful eating, check out dietitian Casey Berglund’s Globe and Mail article, Nine ways to be more mindful of how you eat.

Bonus tip: When Halloween is over, get the candy out of your house if you think resisting it will be a struggle. Some dentists collect it, or you can donate it to the food bank. Or better yet, leave your leftovers in a bowl on the front step when you turn in for the night. Chances are they’ll be gone in the morning.

Epilogue: So what if you end up overdoing it? Should you (a) Hit the gym for 2 hours of redemption, (b) have a few more with a promise to get back on track tomorrow, or (c) consider it an opportunity to learn what doesn’t work for you, and use that to make your plan for the real holiday temptations to come. I vote for (c). Move on with your regular healthy habits, and no guilt! Truly, overdoing it once isn’t the end of the world. It’s what you eat on the other 364 days of the year that really matters. 

Happy Halloween!

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