Occasionally, adventurous souls use Halloween as an excuse to find a gateway to hell.
Many sugar-conscious folks out there have already found its fiery entrance without so much as leaving the house: the candy dish. Or cupboard. Or maybe even the depths of the freezer, anywhere those little pieces of sugary Halloween heaven can hide.
Wherever they are, they can spell a torturous slide into a daily sugar habit from now through other candy-heavy holidays such as Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter.
“While Halloween is only one day, the associated treats lurk around for much longer. It seems that every year stores stock the shelves with goodies earlier and earlier. The consequence: more exposure to candy and treats that you might not normally keep around the house,” says Jeannine Goetz Wiltse, assistant professor at the Kansas University Medical Center and assistant director of Kansas University’s Weight Control Research Project.
“When Halloween is over, many individuals are faced with even greater temptation — you may still have candy left over, plus the stash your children may bring home, and finally the stores further tempt us by marking down the price on the treats they didn’t sell prior to the holiday.”
But fighting back against the beginning of candy season is possible, Goetz Wiltse says. It all starts with a plan.
First things first: There’s the candy you can control, the kind that you bring into your home. Goetz Wiltse suggests picking something that you don’t particularly enjoy to give away to trick-or-treaters. Or, even better, pick a non-food item, such as glow sticks or pencils, as something to give out.
“While we typically preach anything in moderation is OK with a healthy diet, it is very easy with the miniature- and snack-size treats at Halloween to quickly go from moderation to overindulgence,” Goetz Wiltse says, adding that even she gets tempted despite what she does for a living.
“For instance, rarely would I ever sit down and eat a candy bar. But when I have miniature-size candy bars around the house, it’s easy to walk by and grab one and then later grab another. Most of the time, two to three of those snack-size candy bars are the equivalent of a full-sized candy bar — and let’s be honest, sometimes it’s even hard to stop with two or three. Very quickly you can wind up consuming far more calories than you had planned.”
The candy plan, part two
And then there’s the stuff you can’t control as easily — what your children bring home. Cary Allen knows this dilemma well.
The Lawrence mother of four has three kids of candy-eating age, and the gobs of sweets they bring home on a typical Halloween night is nothing to smirk at.
“My two boys go to Pinckney and ... trick-or-treat at the hospital during school,” Allen says. “They kind of start out with a lot just from there. Then we usually do go around our neighborhood, too, on Halloween.”
To deal with the impending mound of candy, Allen says she took a tip from her dentist: Let the kids eat a lot for a short time and then take it away rather than stretch out the sugar-laden days by doling it out a piece at a time.
“I kind of let them eat as much as they want almost, but only for a few days. And then after that time I say, ‘OK, whatever you have left is gone,’” Allen says. “It has seemed to work, but as the kids get older, I think the kids get a little smarter about hiding it.”
Despite the loophole, Goetz Wiltse says this approach is a good way to go because it keeps the candy from staying in the cupboard, where it can become a mindless snack. And don’t bring any more into the house after the holiday has passed, no matter how cheap it is, she says.
“The key,” Goetz Wiltse says, “is to get rid of that candy rather than having it around for you to consume. Resist the urge to purchase the sale candy — while you think it might be a good buy, the extra calories you will be consuming will cost you far more in the end.”
Teaching, not eating
And what’s more, it may end up costing your kids later if bad habits creep into everyday life rather than just being limited to a holiday, Goetz Wiltse says.
“Modeling healthy eating behaviors starting early in your child’s life is an important step towards helping them develop these same habits,” Goetz Wiltse says. “If they see you eating four or five snack-size candy bars, they likely won’t think a thing about it when they do the same.”
Despite the occasional stash under the bed, Allen says that her kids seem to have become very conscious of what they’re putting into their bodies.
“It’s funny,” Allen says. “I sort of feel like since we started to give them a little bit more freedom with it, they actually kind of come to their own decisions (like), ‘Wow, I ate too much candy. I’m not going to do that again.’ Or ‘Yeah, I don’t even really like this, so I’m not going to eat it.’”
That said, she doesn’t worry about Halloween as the gateway to a six-month candy binge — she’s more worried about the experience than the sugar.
“We’re celebrating through food, kind of,” she says of the holidays. “I don’t want to take that away, but I think you can sort of be smart about it.”