5 Steps to a Binge-Free Halloween
It’s Halloween, you’re scared you’re going to binge on some candy, and you want to know what to do.
Today I’m going to give you 5 actionable steps so you have a strategy for tonight, without any restriction or weird “diet tricks.” Sound good?
This won’t be a list of one-off, brainless, cookie-cutter tips like “drink more water” or “eat more fiber.” In fact, I’m not all too convinced those are great tips to begin with.
“5 Step” lists and similar resources not cutting it for you? Feel like you need some serious accountability and a customized plan to recover from your binge-eating?
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This will be a bit different than anything else you find, and #5 in particular might strike you as a bit odd. But there’s a method to my madness!
Before diving into this, if your initial thoughts are that you’ll need to somehow avoid candy and sugary treats, because you’re “addicted to sugar,” make sure to read my comprehensive piece on the validity of the “sugar addiction” model:
READ: Is Sugar Addiction Real?
Okay, enough prefacing, let’s get to the 5 steps.
Don’t make the goal to “NOT binge”
I discussed proper goal setting back in my article 3 Essential Keys to Recovery from Your Eating Disorder, so if you’ve read that post, this will sound familiar.
I want you to decide right now what you want your goal to be for tonight (or whichever day Halloween is, if you’re reading this beforehand). I mean that. Stop reading, decide on a goal, and then continue. This will be the most important piece to this puzzle.
The problem with the oft-used “don’t binge” goal is that it’s by definition a negative goal. It’s always worse when you fail by doing something than when you fail by not doing something. That is to say, getting yourself to do something (given it’s a realistic, easy task) will be more consistently easy than stopping yourself from following through on a neurobiological impulse, like bingeing.
Here are 3 ideas I came up with off the top of my head for Halloween goals that keep you away from “don’t binge” territory:
A) Talking to that cute girl or guy at the Halloween party (even a “h-hi, I l-like your c-costume” is still a win!).
B) Nailing the DIY costume you’ve been working on.
C) Prioritizing basic self-care (especially if you’re not going out tonight, which I’ll touch on again in a bit): take a hot bath, meditate, go on a walk, do yoga, call a friend, gratitude journal, listen to upbeat music!
Eat 3 normal meals today
It could be 4 or 5, if that’s closer to the normal amount for you. The idea is just to ensure you’re “eating normally” throughout the day. If you don’t have a normal meal schedule, for the time being, just use 3.
It’s important not to get into the trap of restricting earlier in the day to “justify” the candy-eating. That’s the thought process behind this step. I so often hear those who claim to be recovered from their binge eating (or some other eating disorder) talk about “saving up calories” or doing “damage control.” With all due respect to those people, those are definitively disordered behaviors still.
But beyond that, you want to make sure your eating decisions later at night are dictated by your true hunger and satiety cues, not by deprivation or restriction. Because those latter factors will inevitably lead to a binge, and probably a worse binge than you would have had otherwise. Treat your body with respect today. Feed it appropriately.
If you’re wondering whether you have an eating disorder (or to what degree your eating is disordered), I’ve got a meticulously curated quiz here for you, which is 100% free and will use 23 detailed questions to land you in one of 9 possible categories, each giving you a full-length response as to what that means for you and what to do next! Check that out here: Quiz: Is My Eating Disordered?
And, for the record, this applies also to just eating protein and vegetables, or any other approach intended to “justify” your candy-eating later on.
Eat around others
It’s never a bad idea to turn a binge food into a normal food. While this is a lot easier said than done, the concept is important. When you do eat candy tonight (foreshadowing Step #5 here), you’ll want to make sure you’re eating in a “normal” environment. For 99% of binge-eaters, having a large amount of hyperpalatable foods available while you’re by yourself is just asking for trouble. Eating candy around others, intermittently breaking to converse and laugh and compliment you friend’s not-too-shabby Post Malone costume, will be a great way to keep the behaviors “normal.”
Once the environment starts to resemble a “binge environment” (i.e. for me, this would have been driving home by myself and passing by convenience stores), the limbic system is already starting to cue the ensuing behaviors. Since binge eating is not much more than a maladaptive neurological response to a perceived stress, the binge environment is essentially a warning sign to that part of the brain that food is dangerously scarce and food intake needs to be initiated promptly.
(For more on this, Kathryn Hansen and Cookie Rosenblum’s blog and podcast Brain Over Binge is amazing!)
The introvert or extrovert approach
This next step differs depending on whether you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert.
Be somewhere else tonight, or somehow keep yourself occupied. Since you already know your tendency is to keep to yourself, and that social activity tires you out quickly, it’s smartest to play to your strengths and be by yourself (or with a limited number of others, who you’re close with) somewhere else. Again, you and I both know what happens when it’s just you and a bag of assorted fun-size chocolates in a room. Even where I am now, over a year into full recovery from my eating disorder, I know myself well enough not to let myself get into a situation like that. It just demands way too much willpower on your part.
Plan on being with others. If you haven’t made plans tonight, make those now! Again, if that means stepping away from this article for a second (even though there’s only one step left!) to solidify - or come up with - plans, do it. Your mental health and wellbeing deserve it. Even if you’re not feeling fully up to it, challenge yourself to get out there and hang out with friends in some capacity. That could mean a Halloween party, trick-or-treating, a casual get-together, or anything in between. Make it happen!
Have at least 3 pieces of candy!
Okay, I can almost feel the eye-rolling treatment you’re giving me right now. Corny? Maybe. Silly? Kind of. Purposeful? Hell yes.
You see, the best way to control a binge is to not control it. The nature of a binge is that it will fight back. Our brains will prioritize food access over almost anything else, and this prioritization of food is only amplified in those with binge-eating tendencies. Trying to force a square peg into a round hole here is going to be a complete waste of your time, and it will only worsen the binge (see the Venn diagram later in the article for more).
That’s why we’re setting a minimum for candy intake, not a maximum. The idea is to give yourself a radical amount of permission, so that no element of restriction, deprivation, or punishment is allowed to seep in.
But wouldn’t having NO candy be a victory?
Nope, and in fact, for the majority of people, this might be closer to a loss. Consider these two scenarios:
Scenario A. You avoid candy entirely. It takes all the mental fortitude and strength you can muster, but you do it. You spend all day and all night trying to resist deep-seated urges to eat candy. It sucks, it’s not fun, and you become borderline angry watching family/friends enjoying themselves while you’re having to stop yourself from even indulging a little. But, hey, you had no candy!
Scenario B. You have three delicious pieces of candy. You enjoy them with friends, you eat them at a normal pace, and you converse and laugh and drink water in between. They taste great, you don’t beat yourself up for it, and you go back to living your life. But wait, you had candy!! You failed!
Humor aside, the point is that bingeing is not a personal fault. Like I said earlier, it’s a maladaptive behavior pattern and nothing more. So, to see the food intake side of the equation as somehow a “failure” is to not only totally miss the mark but also to worsen the stress and frustration present. So, sidestep that whole thought process and enjoy some candy! I command it.
And remember, I’m saying at least 3 pieces, not at most. Please don’t misconstrue this advice.
Don’t fixate on what kinds you have or anything like that. But make sure you have at least 3.
In closing, your 5 steps to a binge-free Halloween are to:
Make the goal something other than “not binge-eating”
Eat 3 normal meals today
Eat around other people
Be somewhere else tonight (if you’re introverted) or make sure to make plans for tonight to be around others (if you’re extroverted)
Have at least 3 pieces of candy tonight
And I’ll leave you with this:
The stress of an upcoming binge is going to be significantly more damaging than the binge itself.
That might sound a little silly, but seriously reflect on it. In fact, I’ve created a Venn diagram (pictured here) to compare and contrast the effects of both.
As a corollary of that, the stress you feel about how you’re going to deal with the Halloween candy tonight is way worse than any candy could ever be for you.
For a broader, more comprehensive list of tips to stop binge eating, check out this article:
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