Happy Halloween: Eat Your Damn Candy

Halloween.  A day formerly of spiritual significance, now filled with costumes, candy, and good natured mischief.  Let’s discuss.

Many of those that I grew up with who participate in the Halloween festivities include candy consumption and costumes in their annual routine.  We went trick-or-treating as kids, and loved every second of it.  Our parents helped us sort through candy when we got home so that we didn’t eat ourselves sick.

Every year, millions of kids learn the perverse pleasure of overindulging to nausea.  That behavior travels with them through adulthood.

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As our culture becomes more cognizant of the connection between habit and health, there’s increasing backlash about eating candy.  You don’t need to see more infographics on national obesity rate, physical inactivity, and lifestyle related disease states.  What you need to do is open your mind.

The following letter made some headlines in the last week, as it seeks to chastise the parents of “moderately obese” children while preventing the child from participating in the trick or treating activity.

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While this person is surely worse than the person who gave out those little boxes of raisins, we don’t need to burn their house down.  They do make a valid point. binge eating candy isn’t a healthy eating habit.  Other than that though, the writer is an asshole.

My first qualm is with the statement, “Your child is, in my opinion, moderately obese…”  At least they note that it’s their opinion.  In order for that to not be an opinion, they’d need a scale and a measuring stick to calculate the BMI of those trick-or-treaters, which may make this less offensive.  At least until you remember that BMI isn’t all that important.

What is important is the impact that this can have on the future behaviors of the recipient, behaviors and feelings that you likely already see in those around you and maybe yourself.

While the asshole author writes that parents should ration candy, they’re not rationing; they’re selectively withholding.  Sure this limits the stash of the potentially “moderately obese” child, and I’m sure is well-intended, but fails to take into account any comprehension of educational psychology.  Intuition fail.

It was predicted that Americans will spend $2.4 billion on candy this Halloween, and there’s sweet irony that All Hallows Eve is the eve of National Diabetes Month.  Someone at the ADA did that on purpose.  Despite all of the emphasis on education, we’re missing the boat, sort of.

Public Health initiatives are working.  We know that the rise in obesity rate has slowed, and in some places stopped.  Hearing about the risk of metabolic syndrome everywhere we turn scares some, but vilifying sugar and overall food choices isn’t the most encouraging to long-term health enhancing behaviors.

Feeling guilt or shame for eating something “bad”, be it a single 3 Musketeers Bar or an entire bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, only succeeds to reinforce a poor relationship with food and the associate emotional roller coaster.

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Candy consumption and diabetes education typically focuses on the insulin rollercoaster, and metabolic derangement, but let’s be honest:

Who the hell cares about metabolic derangement?

You don’t eat a single piece of candy for your health.  You don’t binge eat a bucket of candy for your health.  You eat that sugary shit because you want to feel good, and candy makes you feel good!*

Rather than feel guilt or shame for any association with candy, let’s focus on a more balanced approach.  We’re bombarded by messages to eliminate, reduce, limit, control how we eat foods with low nutritional value, and these gain far more attraction than the messages to eat more fruits, vegetables, and protein sources.

Education isn’t as much of an issue as emotion is.  That’s what we need to focus on.

An edible rainbow of nummy fruits and vegetables

There is a world in which we can live that allows us to enjoy our sweets and treats without a cascade of negative, self-depreciating emotions.  You are not a bad person if you eat candy.  Continual, copious consumption may have undesirable health outcomes, but you shan’t be assigned a scarlet letter for eating a piece of candy.

Managing expectations is a key part of finding success for long-term health outcomes, and finding balance is integral to finding happiness.

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My favorite Halloween candy is Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.  If I were to go trick-or-treating, they wouldn’t even have a chance of making it into my bag; I’d eat them immediately.  Halloween is one night of the year, and I don’t think it would kill me.

When fortunate to have education and experience, we mustn’t forget that we are still human.  We are rational and irrational at the same time.  A Healthful lifestyle is about finding this balance, physically, emotionally, and socially. Creating self-depreciating commentary for having the occasional sweet may drive you crazy, and finding balance is key. Enjoy whole, health-enhancing foods without feeling deprived, and indulge your sweet tooth without feeling like a glutton.  If you have leftover Halloween candy, eat your damn candy.  It doesn’t make you a bad person.

*Inb4 sugar addiction: The plausibility of sugar addiction and its role in obesity and eating disorders.  TL;DR:  “There is no support from the human literature for the hypothesis that sucrose [sugar] may be physically addictive…”

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