Halloween is such a fun holiday, and it's totally healthy to enjoy some treats. Even so, overeating can make you feel crummy, so you may want to avoid that scenario. Plus, eating too much sugar--even just on Halloween--can cause a short-term spike in your blood sugar levels, which could be dangerous if you have diabetes. And eating too much sugar can also promote sleep and mood problems, low energy, inflammation, and cravings. So read on to learn how to make Halloween a little healthier this year and what to do if you’ve eaten too much sugar.
How to prevent a sugar binge
There are some ways to approach Halloween to help you avoid eating too much sugar. Here are some ideas to help you manage your sugar intake.
Don’t buy candy too early on. Some people have no problem with bags and bags of candy in the house, but if you have trouble ignoring those fun-size treats, don’t buy them in advance. Instead, buy your Halloween candy the day before Halloween or even on Halloween itself.
Remember that Halloween candy isn’t a limited edition. The truth of the matter is that while Halloween candy seems like a limited edition, the very same treats are available year-round, albeit in regular (not spooky) shapes. So when you think of it this way, you can be more selective and deliberate about what you decide to eat. After all, you can still get candy corns tomorrow and the next day! So, you can eat what you want, when you want. There’s no time limit. (If you’re looking for healthier sweets, here are some of my favorite lower-sugar sweet snacks.)
Assess your added sugar intake. Here’s what happens when you eat too much sugar: It trains your brain to want more. You get used to a certain sweetness threshold, so you’ll keep craving sweet foods. And your reward pathways will light up every time you eat sugar, and ultimately, it’ll take more sugar to get the same feelings. The bottom line: It’ll be hard to avoid eating too much sugar unless you’re staying in the healthy added sugar zones. That means eating a maximum of 6 teaspoons per day for women and 9 teaspoons per day for men. About 75 percent of packaged foods contain added sugars, so compare labels to find foods with lower amounts. (Here’s more on this topic, as well as other ways to reduce sugar cravings.)
Shop for non-food treats instead. All holidays are about more than food. So, if you’re worried about eating too much sugar, put the emphasis on fun treats instead. Buy an assortment of spooky-themed items, like pencils and erasers, note pads, stickers, and bubbles.
Eat balanced meals. Let me know if this sounds familiar: You’re hungry and the first thing that comes to mind is something sweet. The reality is that it’s hard to avoid eating too much sugar when you’re ravenous. So, get in the habit of eating meals at regular times throughout the day. And aim for the ideal balance of half a plate of veggies or fruit (or a mix of the two), a satisfying portion of protein, and an optional starchy side (ideally a whole grain or starchy veggie). (Get some easy balanced meal ideas along with some insanely easy 2-ingredient veggie side dishes.)
Avoid restricting foods that are less healthy. One way to avoid eating too much sugar is to resist the urge to restrict treats. This makes them more rewarding and enticing, so when you do encounter a bag of M&Ms or another treat you’ve been avoiding, it’s harder to stay in control of the amount you eat. If something in the Halloween bag catches your eye, it’s okay to eat it in a mindful way.
Stay present when eating. This takes practice, but the first step is to pause and have a conversation in your head. Some questions you could ask yourself are: How hungry am I? Which treat would I enjoy? How much would I find enjoyable? The next step is to serve yourself that amount on a plate or napkin and then sit down and eat. Then, while you’re eating, ask yourself what flavors and textures you’re enjoying. This practice helps you get more satisfaction from meals and snacks and reduces the likelihood of impulsive eating.
Be kind to yourself. So, let’s say that you ate too much sugar. Even if you ate more than you planned, it’s okay. Rather than getting judgemental with yourself, use gentle language that helps you take back control. For instance, say, ‘I’m a little too full. I’ve had enough.’ If eating too much sugar prompts you to start being overly critical of yourself, remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can. Then, think about other healthy behaviors you participated in that week or day. Did you take a walk? Have you been going to bed at regular times to support a good night’s sleep? Have you been reading food labels? Are you drinking water throughout the day? Here’s your reminder that your health never comes down to one meal or day of eating, or even one habit. It’s the behaviors you practice regularly that have the most significant impact. If you need more help, read my post about what to do after a cheat day.