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4 Tips for Handling Halloween if You Stress Out Over Treats

Candy can be powerful, and so can your self-compassion.

Key points

  • Treat yourself with the same kindness you’d give your friend.
  • Using your senses can help bring you into the Halloween moment.
  • A food’s power frequently comes from the permissions, rules, and meanings we attach to it.
Alli Spotts-De Lazzer
Source: Alli Spotts-De Lazzer

For people who try to limit their candy intake all year round, “dieters,” and those who struggle with body image, Halloween can be a scary time. (And not because of the costumes or haunted houses!) Yes, for many, the abundance of “treats” can feel unnerving for various reasons.

As an eating and body image specialist, I notice that a lot of people plan how they'll control their intake.

  • “I’m only going to have one.”
  • “I’ll allow myself two ‘bite-size’ bars only.”
  • “I’ll have my partner hide the rest.”
  • "I'll toss anything leftover into the garbage."

I believe part of why the “treats” can feel so personally threatening is because they're perceived as usually off-limits. In our society, we tend to put a lot of attention on something that’s intrinsically a powerless object: food.

I invite you to do an experiment: Don’t think about a pink elephant.

Did you think of one?

Right. A food’s power frequently comes from the permissions, rules, and meanings we attach to it. Humans often want what we can’t have.

If you celebrate Halloween, let’s focus on how to get through the holiday in a way that can uplift your self-image and mental health.

Tips

Here are four tips to help you cope and have a mentally healthy — or healthier — Halloween.

1. Decide to enjoy the holiday.

First, if your planning, pep talks, and portion control concerning the food has given you your desired results and allowed joy without tormented obsession, then fantastic! Do what already works for you.

For most of us, though, the stress-outs and promises we make to ourselves can result in eating in secret or feeling out of control while shoving sweets into the mouth. Then, the tidal wave of guilt washes over us.

How about this instead? Give yourself permission to enjoy as others do. Don’t know how? Maybe try to pace yourself with how others enjoy Halloween — those who don’t diet or have body concerns.

If you can’t try that, it’s OK. There are no wrong ways to do this. If you notice you're binge eating the "treats," try slowing down and savoring tastes. And that leads us to the next point.

2. Do not “last hurrah” it.

Here’s what I mean: “I’m going to be good tomorrow, so screw it.” Cut to gobbling quickly without tasting what’s in your mouth.

I assure you: The stores are not going to stop carrying whatever was in the trick-or-treat pumpkins. Halloween is not your only chance to eat trick-or-treat items. Remind yourself that the only person setting the “no” rule is you. The stores will have supplies if you change your “no” to a “go."

There's likely no actual need to feel like you'll never have these food items again. So there's no actual need to "last hurrah" it.

3. Try to be in the moment.

It can feel challenging to be in the festivities when your brain wants you in the food. Thoughts may seem to chatter, distracting you from, for example, trick-or-treating, a horror movie, or a party. Try using one of your senses to get you in the moment. Consider the traditional categories: sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste.

If you choose sight, look around and actively observe your surroundings. Mentally note every detail you can in whatever you are viewing, such as the movie scene, the costume, and the kids’ glee. What are the colors, patterns, and energies?

Maybe you find sounds easier to focus on. Identify as many distinct sounds as you can in your immediate surroundings. Even if you listen for a few seconds, it can help to ground you.

For smell, that’s pretty self-explanatory. Warning: Depending on your setting (e.g., party atmosphere with alcohol and food smells, trick-or-treating outdoors), smell may be hit-or-miss for helpfulness. Choose wisely.

Touch can be incredibly self-soothing, but touching your surroundings could be (or could seem) inappropriate on this holiday. Yet maybe you’re wearing a piece of jewelry you connect with, or there are some textures on your costume?

I’d suggest avoiding taste for now because taste can be activating instead of calming.

4. Don’t be mean (to yourself).

And finally, if you feel awful during (or after) Halloween, there’s hope. Maybe you eat in secret, you take food from your kids’ candy-loot, you feel overly full and nauseous, and the list might continue. If any of those things happen, please treat yourself as you would your best friend. If your bestie was in the same position, would you be cruel or call your friend names? Probably not.

Here’s an exercise: Imagine what you'd say to your friend specifically. (If you need to say it to yourself right now, do it!)

In Conclusion

I hope that something on this list can help you get through this year’s Halloween in an empowering way. It’s a holiday for fun and pretend houses of horror, not food fears or candy haunting you. No matter how it goes for you with the tricks and treats, you deserve the kindness you’d give someone else you genuinely like.

This blog is for informational purposes only and does not provide therapy.

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