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Halloween Candy—An Annual Treat? You’re only tricking yourself.

Posted Oct 29 2010 7:48am

Eat the candy. Break the rules!

Halloween candy doesn’t have to be scary. That is, if candy and sweets aren’t viewed as evil. We never called it junk food in my house. Junk food, by definition is high in calories and low in nutritional value. And while there may be little nutritional merit to candy, anyone who has ever eaten a fine piece of chocolate knows better than to call it junk. There is value in the form of pleasure that we get when we eat foods that taste good, and take the time to truly enjoy the experience. And in the scheme of things, it is better to allow ourselves to include these satisfying sweets—not just on Halloween, for one night, but throughout the year.

Halloween in our home

From their earliest years, after trick or treating, I had my kids place their candy in plastic bags, each marked with their names. We then placed their stash in a kitchen drawer, easily accessible to them. Candy was to be eaten in the kitchen—not with the TV, not in the bedroom—and they could opt to take a piece or two to have with their lunches at school as well. When they were hungry for a snack, they could opt for a Snickers, Kit Kat or whatever delighted them, perhaps with a glass of milk, eaten mindfully at the table.
It may be hard to believe, but their Halloween reserve lasted well into the next year, with the least desirable candies remaining until the following October. Unlike the approach taken by many, I did not restrict their access to candy, warn them that at the end of the week the rest would be thrown out, or send them (the candies, not the kids) to my husband’s office. As a result, I believe they trusted that the candy was going to be there. It was not “now or never” eating chocolate. And they were not told to finish their vegetables in order to earn their candy. And they never binged on candy, or anything else, for that matter.

When my kids were little, we never bribed them with candy, not even to potty train, as many parents do. Ok, that’s a lie. There was one time my husband and I decided to bribe our sons, then 5 and 7, to motivate them. It was their first really hard hike in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, a trail up to almost 5,300 foot elevation, an almost 9 mile hike round trip. Seemed necessary at the time to hand out the Skittles one by one as they progressed along their challenging climb. While it’s definitely not my style to use food rewards, I must admit it worked. To this day, my boys have a love of hiking to great heights (although I’d caution that it wasn’t solely the result of the Skittles!)

This may seem like a crazy approach, legalizing junk food, but it works. It’s valuable for you, and if you have them, for your kids. And it’s not too late to change the system, to let go of the rules. As for weight management, where does that fit in with my freedom to eat candy? Perfectly! Restricting access to desirable and enjoyable foods hardly solves or improves our relationship with food. It increases demand, and makes us feel deprived. And even if you see some short term “success”, I caution you to look at the big picture. What was your experience around chocolate weeks later? How did you handle social eating situations when you finally had exposure and access to those beloved sweets? And did restricting these items, the junk food, solve your eating problems?

I return to that definition of insanity, referenced in a previous post. It makes no sense to maintain the same thinking and approach to eating hoping that this time it might work. Perhaps it’s time to sit down with a good piece of chocolate, add a glass of milk or chai tea, and truly enjoy it!

Happy Halloween!

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