Last week I got an email from a fitness organization that I follow titled “5 tips for surviving the terror of Halloween candy”.

Really now? The TERROR of Halloween candy?

Running from a masked guy with a chainsaw is terrifying. Clowns alone in the park carrying black balloons? Creepy AF. Being possessed by a demonic spirit? THAT is the devil. Sugar is not. Unless it’s coming from a stranger in a rusty van. And when it comes to fear mongering around candy, I really wish it would stop. Because it’s has the potential to cause more psychological damage (to ourselves AND to our loved ones) than we realize. In fact, it took me decades to realize that this was happening to me. If you want to cut the the chase, feel free to scroll down a few paragraphs (past the pile of candy corn) for some actionable steps. Otherwise, I’ll tell you a little story about how a young girl who was terrified of getting fat grew up and conquered her fear of keeping Halloween candy in the house.

My story:

I can remember the first time my parents ever caught me trying to make myself throw up. Yup. It was Halloween night, and I was in middle school. I had eaten a TON of Halloween candy that night and somehow I knew that was really, really bad. I knew how to read nutrition labels, thought I can’t remember if I learned this in health class at school or from Teen magazine. Even though there was no Google or Instagram, I somehow also knew how many calories I “should” be eating per day, and that the candy I had consumed pushed me way over the “limit”. Plus the types of candies I chose weren’t the low fat ones like Twizzlers and Skittles. But the “fattening” ones like Kit Kats and those little Hershey’s Cookies & Cream bars. 13 year old me was sure she had to do some damage control in this moment. And 33 year old me is sure that I am not the first or last person to attempt to negate her Halloween candy.

THIS IS NOT OK.

Funny thing is, I didn’t grow up in a super crunchy health-nut household, but we definitely didn’t have a large selection of junk food in our pantry either. Dessert was allowed, (in fact my mom was and still is a fantastic baker) but the amount was always sort of moderated for me. I don’t remember anyone ever directly fat-shaming me, but I had friends whose moms were on their case about food all the time, so it was on my radar. My dance teacher never made comments about my weight, but I overheard her talking about other students when she thought I wasn’t listening. I knew that I never wanted that to be me. I was also well aware that skinny girls were the ones who got the things that I wanted–like popularity, friends, and the attention of boys. Besides, I had big plans to grow up and marry Leonardo DiCaprio (he was dating Giselle Bundchen at the time) so I clearly had some work to do.

So what ever happened to me after I got busted for bulimia on Halloween night? I swore I’d never do it again. Because I was average sized, managed to function well in school and dance, and didn’t have rotting teeth, nobody ever thought there was anything wrong, not even me. Sometimes I went for months, or even years without another episode. But eating disorders are sneaky, shapeshifting creatures. It always seemed to come back for me in one way or another. Restrictive eating, calorie counting, an extreme fear of “getting fat”, compulsive exercise, and obsession with “clean eating” ruled my life for all of my teens and 20’s. Often, I was even praised for my discipline.

Isn’t that what we’re all supposed to do? Eat “clean”, work out, and say no to Snickers because OMG high fructose corn syrup!? 

Except we can’t always say no. Because will-power is a limited resource. Diet culture tells us that sugar is as addictive as crack, and we need to eliminate it altogether if we want to be morally upstanding citizens. Well I tried that for almost 30 years and it didn’t play out so well for me. I wasn’t actually healthy. If I was thinner, I for sure wasn’t happier. I finally realized that something needed to change, and so began my ongoing journey of unraveling decades of the diet culture messages and mentality that ruled my life for so long.

In order to find freedom from my own inner demons, I had to face my fear and just eat the damn candy.

This Halloween you are going to be getting lots of messages about the terror of candy–some obvious, and some a little more subtle. Well intentioned people (like the personal trainer who wrote that other article) are going to try to tell you that candy is something to be feared. A few years ago, I could have easily written an article like that too. Unfortunately, for many of us, those messages can often cause more harm than good. I know this now, and want you to know it too. You don’t have to be afraid of Halloween candy. It’s ok to want it, have it, and move on with your life after you do. You don’t have to spin yourself down a spiral of shame paved with Sweet Tarts this year.

When diet culture tries to police your candy intake, try one of these suggestions instead:

Diet culture says:

Don’t purchase your Halloween Candy til the last minute, in order to reduce temptation. 

TRY THIS INSTEAD: 

Give yourself unconditional permission to eat candy at any time of the year if you want it. Think about it, any time you’ve ever binged on a food, you probably told yourself you’d never eat it again. That your “diet starts tomorrow”. But if you know you can eat fun-sized Milky Ways again tomorrow, you might not feel the need to polish off the whole bag tonight.

Diet culture says:

Pick a candy you don’t like to give out to trick or treaters, so you don’t want to eat it. 

TRY THIS INSTEAD: 

If you are craving candy, have some of your favorite kind, and really savor it. When you take the time to really enjoy it, you might even discover that the sweet stuff you once put on a pedestal isn’t actually so tasty after all. For example, I used to go crazy on candy corn. Now that I’m allowed to eat my favorite chocolate whenever I want it, I’ve realized that I actually don’t really like candy corn very much after all.

Diet culture says:

Find a healthy substitute. Eat a piece of fruit or re-create your own sweet-treat from natural ingredients. 

TRY THIS INSTEAD: 

 Just eat the thing you really want in the moment. Otherwise you might find that you’ve plowed your way through a pound of medjool dates stuffed with organic coconut butter and you’re still not satisfied.  (Not that I’ve ever done that or anything) 😉 I love apples, but they are not the same kind of delicious as chocolate. We don’t have to pretend they are.

Diet culture says:

Hide the candy from yourself or do something active to distract yourself from the temptation. 

TRY THIS INSTEAD: 

Remind yourself that you are a smart person, and that you only have a limited amount of will-power. You might be able to white knuckle your way through temptation for a little while. But you’ll remember that the candy is in the trunk of you car. Eventually even a little rain is not going to stop you from falling face first into a pumpkin shaped bucket of M&M’s. A cup of herbal tea and a brisk walk around the block is not going to give you what you are craving unless that’s actually what you really want.  Just eat the candy and move on.

Diet culture says:

Get the candy out of the house. There are plenty of other people who would appreciate the donation of candy. Give it away before it finds its way to your hips. 

TRY THIS INSTEAD: 

Stop fooling yourself with “the nice girl diet”. (I can say this because I coined the name of this diet circa 2006). If you want to donate to charity, that’s awesome. But this little bit of candy karma will come right back around to bite you. When we were kids, we all had that friend whose Halloween candy lasted until Easter. She was the same friend whose house we went to when we wanted to pig out on junk food. To her it was no big deal–because candy was just candy. Eat the candy.

Diet culture says:

Figure out how much exercise it would take to burn off the candy and then decide if it’s worth it.

Try THIS INSTEAD: 

If you care enough to calculate the answer to this equation you are probably already getting enough movement into your day. If you’re considering doing math or burpees to “earn” the candy, you probably want it really bad. Just eat the candy.

CANDY IS JUST CANDY.

It’s not the devil. You won’t earn an actual halo for eating some reduced calorie, high protein ice cream instead. There are lots of messages out there telling you that this is the case, but you don’t have to buy into it. I used to be the biggest believer/spreader of these sorts of messages AND the biggest self-proclaimed “sugar addict”/abstainer. If I can overcome the “terror” of Twix, anyone can. I never thought I’d be the type of person who had could have candy last in my house for more than a few days, but here I am. The proud owner of a 6 month old bag of stale forgotten Sour Patch Kids and melted Reese’s. The moral of the story: Eat some candy this Halloween if you want to. Move on with your life. Give others in your life permission to do the same, unconditionally.

Side note: Still don’t believe that this could ever be true for you, but kind of curious?

Check out the books Intuitive Eating and Health At Every Size and read them all the way through! A lot of people knock these concepts based on what they assume them to be. Read the books and then decide what’s right for you. They were big game changers for me.  Also, remember that unlearning years of diet culture messages takes time and patience. It won’t happen overnight, but it’s certainly a journey worth starting. 🙂