bowl with yummy colorful gummies on table

Losing Control around Halloween Candy

There is currently a video going around on social media showing a woman creating a cute Halloween candy display in a large glass bowl. But that’s not the part that has been raising eyebrows. At the end of the video, she nonchalantly sprays hair spray all over the candy and the caption reads “so you don’t eat all the candy.”

Responses have been mixed, with some commenting that it’s funny or even a good idea. Others have been commenting that there is something wrong if you are spraying toxic inedible chemicals on food to avoid eating it. Here is my take.

When I first saw this video, it immediately harkened back to a practice that some individuals with eating disorders resort to: they in some way “ruin” their food so they can’t continue to eat it. Indeed, when I was in the peak of my disordered eating habits in college, I would routinely dump a shaker of pepper onto what was left on my dinner plate so I wouldn’t eat it while waiting for my friends to finish up. This is a very problematic and disordered practice and the woman in this video is promoting it like it’s the next greatest idea. So that is issue #1.

This video also prompts the question: why are you feeling that out of control around Halloween candy? As an anti-diet nutrition coach, I can answer this one. Deprivation and restriction are the top causes of binging and overeating. In other words, the foods that you feel the least in control around are the foods you allow yourself to consume the least. You may also have thoughts about those foods along the lines of: “I can’t trust myself around that food,” “it’s my weakness,” “it’s my guilty pleasure,” or “I’m being bad when I eat that.” And if you believe these things, of course you’re going to avoid certain foods!

The urge to binge or overeat when we are around foods we seldom allow ourselves to consume is a normal human response to deprivation. It’s not always conscious, but it is both a mental and physical response. When we do engage in these behaviors, it’s referred to as “last supper eating” because we tend to consume a food as though it’s the last time we will have it. And, indeed, it can feel that way because we truly don’t know when we will allow ourselves to have it again.

So what is the antidote for this?

In order to break this cycle of restriction and overeating, we must put those “trigger foods” on the same level as every other food we eat. Take the novelty out of them. Take the guilt and shame out of them. We do this by giving ourselves unconditional permission to eat them.

This unconditional permission does a few things:

  1. It removes the novelty from them and with that novelty goes the allure.
  2. It provides the reassurance to us that we can have those foods whenever we want, so we don’t need to overindulge as though we won’t have them again.
  3. Even if you at first overindulge in these foods once you give yourself permission to eat them, it will eventually level out and they will just become “normal” foods once that initial excitement wears off.

So, if you thought spraying hair spray onto your Halloween candy to prevent yourself from eating it was an appealing strategy, it’s probably because you rarely allow yourself candy or sweets to begin with. You may want to consider making candy a more run-of-the-mill presence in your life and see how that changes your relationship with it. And, from a nutritional perspective, this coach can assure you that having some candy from time to time or even a small piece of candy every day is perfectly fine. There is room in every healthy diet for some fun foods. And, having those fun foods regularly, makes your healthy eating habits more sustainable in the long-term.