As Halloween approaches, are you asking yourself if it’s OK to eat Halloween candy? Or are you already shutting the thought down, assuring yourself that you won’t eat a single bite?
Candy is everywhere. Every store, every desk, every place we go seems to be offering up tiny bites of forbidden sweetness. If you’re like most people, you studiously forbid yourself from succumbing to the temptation of candy … most of the time. But there are probably days when you just can’t resist, and then you binge, feel horribly guilty, and pretty sick.
You say things like:
“I love candy so much, but I mustn’t eat it! I’ll ruin my diet!”
“I love chocolate, but once I start, I just can’t stop.”
“I ate an entire bag of candy yesterday – I don’t know what’s wrong with me!”
You think it’s you
Maybe you think you’re alone in this. You think that you have some fatal flaw that forces you to consume massive amounts of candy. You probably think your kids have this flaw, too. You’ve seen them inhale an entire bowl of M&Ms in one sitting. It’s disgusting! It’s not right! It will make them fat! Sugar is evil! You have to stop them!
Sugar is the nutritional bad guy right now. Many people say that sugar is addictive. If you consume popular media, then you probably believe that sugar is terrible and that you and your kids are addicted. And there’s only one place for people who give into their sugar cravings, and it’s a shame-filled room where you stand up and introduce yourself as someone who is “An Addict.”
Here’s the truth
You’re not alone in this. Your kids aren’t, either. But there’s a crazy secret that you don’t know yet. You are giving the candy way too much power over your life. Maybe you think that you have to avoid candy because once you start eating it, you can’t stop. You think that it’s impossible for anyone to have self-control around candy. You have been told that eating candy will instantly add inches to your waist and can even give you diabetes. And you believe you have to control your kids’ candy consumption for the same reason.
But it’s not true!
Many of us who have or had eating disorders live in fear of candy or other foods that we consider “off limits.” We can develop symptoms of anxiety just being in the presence of foods that we have decided are scary. Fear of food is a symptom of disordered eating. If you or your child is afraid to eat candy, or if you are afraid that your child eats too much candy, then it is time to get some help and put candy in its place.
Life may be scary on many levels, but none of us need to live in fear of a food item.
Here’s the secret
Your body only wants a whole bag of candy right now because you’ve been giving candy power by denying your body for so long. Your body hates being restricted, so it acts out, like a stubborn teenager. It sulks and complains, and then, when you aren’t watching, it sneaks out of the house and does things to get back at you for trying to control it.
When you restrict the candy, you turn yourself into a dictator over your body, and your body will rebel. You will consider yourself “good” and “perfect” until one day something snaps, and you end up with candy wrappers everywhere and a very bad stomachache. You think this is further proof that you should never, ever eat candy. But that’s not true. The problem is that you restricted candy in the first place.
It’s OK to eat Halloween candy!
Eat the candy, but enjoy the candy openly and honestly. Give yourself permission to eat candy whenever you want candy. Give up the diet mentality that you must control all foods, and trust that your body doesn’t actually want to live on candy alone. It’s true. It really doesn’t.
You are not unique. It has been consistently shown that, given unlimited food choices, most people will naturally even out their intake to provide a healthy balance for their individual body. Researchers who study Intuitive Eating don’t get as many book deals as the people who tell us to be afraid of food. But we have known for decades that the more you restrict “forbidden” foods, the greater the likelihood that you are also binging on those foods.
Try this instead
Instead of trying to resist candy, slow down and pay attention to your cravings and the candy. Bring candy out of the closet. Bring mindfulness to your food, and you will find your relationship with it transformed. Instead of the comments above, try the following:
“Do I want the candy?”
“How does this candy taste?”
“Would I prefer a different candy to this one?”
“Do I want to eat more candy right now?”
When we approach candy (and all food) with curiosity instead of judgment, the candy becomes “just food,” instead of the forbidden fruit. Now we can figure out if we even actually like candy. When we take this approach, it’s definitely OK to eat Halloween candy. If we like it, then we should sit down and enjoy it, just like we would an apple or a kale salad. We shouldn’t eat it in secret or with any sense of shame. When we stop feeling shame about our food, it loses power over us.
The same goes for our kids. If we have restricted them, then they are likely gorging on candy when given the opportunity. When we give them food freedom while asking curious questions and expecting all food to be eaten peacefully and without hiding, our kids will stop sneaking forbidden candy, and will naturally find a candy intake that makes sense for their individual bodies.
Trust your body
When we treat our bodies with respect and trust, most of our bodies honestly don’t want to eat a whole bag of candy. It’s OK to eat as much Halloween candy as feels good for your body. And you may be surprised that, once you remove the restrictions on candy, you can actually pay attention to how it feels in your body. The fewer limits you put on the candy, the less power it has over you.
And then you start to notice that you have preferences about the type of candy, and when you actually want it, and how you want to eat it. Over time, candy gets a normal place in your life. You realize that it’s OK to eat candy, not just at Halloween, but anytime!
It doesn’t matter how much candy you eat, as long as it’s your body that’s making the decision, and not your diet-ridden, shame-filled brain. The key is to listen to your body’s feedback rather than trying to circumvent its intelligence and tell it what to do.
Trust your kids’ bodies
Most importantly, trust your kids’ bodies. You don’t have to control their candy intake. Their bodies will do it for them. Honestly. Speak with anyone who has read and implemented books from Ellyn Satter and you will hear surprise and awe about their experience with trusting their toddlers’ bodies to self-regulate.
“We were constantly fighting over candy and I was driving myself crazy, forcing veggies on my 3-year-old,” said one parent. “A year later, after I started following Ellyn Satter’s advice, my kid was still eating candy, but then she would go to the fridge and get herself some carrots and hummus. She was actually balancing her diet without any input (or nagging!) from me! I was amazed and humbled.”
Diet culture is dead wrong
It’s not easy in our society, because we are all taught the diet culture from birth, which is that if we don’t control what we eat, we will get fat and lazy. And guess who is there to save us from ourselves? The diet industry! All the diet books assure us that if we restrict certain food groups, certain nutrients, certain fats, and overall calorie intake, we will maintain a slim body and, most importantly, be worthy of admiration.
We are told that we can’t follow our body’s cravings, because then we will all turn into couch potatoes who provide zero value to society.
It’s a big, fat lie. The documented truth is that 95% of people who lose weight because of food restriction (diets) regain all the weight they lost plus more within one to five years, and the vast majority have regained it within two years (UCLA). The multi-billion dollar diet industry is an industry that preys on our insecurities. It lies to us.
Enjoy the candy
Don’t restrict and boss around your body anymore. Let it be. Eat candy at Halloween or anytime. When you trust it, your body will become a healthy ally, and you will be significantly happier and healthier than someone who chronically restricts their food intake.
Let your kids enjoy candy
Even if you can’t do it for yourself, please don’t restrict your kids. Consult a non-diet nutritionist who is familiar with Intuitive Eating. Or read Ellyn Satter, Linda Bacon, and other authors who boldly go where no diet industry person will go: into the land of body trust and human value beyond body size.
Our kids’ bodies are precious. They deserve to grow up being trusted and believed in. We need to normalize all foods (including candy!) and all body sizes, and we need to let go of fear-based food restrictions, which are so very harmful and can directly lead to disordered eating behavior and full-blown eating disorders.
Ginny Jones is the editor of More-Love.org. She writes about parenting, body image, disordered eating, and eating disorders. Ginny is also a Parent Coach who helps parents handle their kids’ food and body issues.