Here’s why you can’t stop eating leftover Halloween candy
For many, Halloween is a wonderful time of year – an excuse to watch a scary movie, dress up, decorate and celebrate.
For many waistlines, however, it can be the beginning of the descent into holiday weight gain even in the days and weeks past the actual holiday.
So what causes the Halloween candy binge? And why can’t you stop picking your way through the pile of trick-or-treating leftovers – or the pile of treats you bought on Nov. 1?
First, sugar actually activates many of the same reward centers of the brain as alcohol and drugs including cocaine. Studies have supported the theory that, in some circumstances, access to sugar can lead to behavior and neurochemical changes that resemble the effects of substance abuse.
To make it harder, many candies feature fat and salt, which can activate pathways in your brain associated with pleasure and reward, often compounded by nostalgic feelings for Halloweens (and candies) past.
Elizabeth Zawila, a nutritionist at the Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital Health and Wellness Center in Downers Grove, Ill., advises limiting the amount of access you have to candy in your home or office to make it easier to avoid the temptation and to be a mindful eater.
“If you start eating because you are hungry, there is a natural cue to stop once you are no longer hungry,” she says. “On the other hand, if you start eating for pleasure alone, there is no natural cue to stop. Eating these indulgent types of food remains pleasurable, usually until we are uncomfortably full and have totally missed the mark as far as when we should have quit indulging.”
When consuming pieces of Halloween candy – or French fries or ice cream – ask yourself if you really want or need more before you keep eating.
Zawila also advises that a healthy diet the rest of the year can help curb your sweet tooth before it devolves to a full-on binge.
“We tend to really like and crave the foods we eat most often,” she says. “If we are in the habit of preparing and eating healthy, whole foods, that is what we will ultimately want to eat most of the time, even if we deviate from time to time and indulge in sweets. In fact, indulging occasionally can help people overall stay on track with healthy eating.”
If you fall off the wagon, or are trampled by the proverbial wagon, it’s never too late to make good decisions about your health, Zawila says.
“Because we are only human, there will likely be times when we over-indulge in these pleasurable foods,” she says. “The key is to not wallow in guilty feelings about it and get right back on track with healthy eating.”
About the Author
Nathan Lurz, health enews contributor, is a public affairs coordinator at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital. He has nearly a decade of professional news experience as a reporter and editor, and a lifetime of experience as an enthusiastic learner. On the side, he enjoys writing even more, tabletop games, reading, running and explaining that his dog is actually the cutest dog, not yours, sorry.