The science behind that post Halloween candy binge

La maison

Did you binge on the Halloween candy? Before you curse your will power or lack of self-control, consider the science of eating behavior. Using this evidence-based approach may help you experience more food peace in the upcoming holidays.

Don’t blame yourself for the candy binge⎯It’s really Food Habituation

Do you categorize foods as good versus bad? Labeling food this way can set anyone up to feel out of control about what to eat. Food is not an exact science. Rather than considering food as good versus bad, think of food lying on a continuum. This means there is more gray than exact black and white rules.

Folks who categorize foods as good or bad will, more often than not, experience binges on those “bad” foods. Research explains this through the science of food habituation. This type of research demonstrates that the more we’re exposed to a food, the more our brains could care less about it. On the flip side, the more unique and rare the food, the more our brains fixate on it. This promotes intense cravings, and drives us to want to eat the novel food.

Healing Hint: Instead of blaming yourself for the post-Halloween candy binge, consider the science behind the experience. Are you around this food often? And, if so, do you allow yourself to eat it? If the answer to both questions is “no”, point your finger at your lack of food exposure instead of your lack of will power or self-control.

Don’t blame the food after the candy bingeIt’s really “Food Deprivation

The more we abstain from a food, the more our brains like to fixate on it. How often are we actually around Candy Corn or Tootsie Rolls? No wonder it’s so tough to stop eating them. And, when we avoid the fun food long enough, we often feel guilt-free and give ourselves permission to “indulge”.

Why does “just one bite” often lead to a binge experience? This is the basic law of food deprivation. When we’re around an avoided food, our brains light up with interest — sometimes even as far as obsession. When we finally allow ourselves a bite, it’s often hard to stop.

Some clinicians connect the one bit to binge experience as food addiction. I’ve been keeping up with this research too, yet so far, it’s flawed. Until the researchers take into account food deprivation and habituation, the research means nothing — unless people become robots without free will.

Healing Hint: Rather than blaming yourself for the candy binge, consider the science behind the experience. Have you been dieting? Have you been limiting the variety in your food choices? Have you been disrespecting hunger? If your answer is “yes” to these questions, then point the finger at food deprivation.

Practice unconditional permission to eat

Allowing candy to remain around can help us navigate through different types of food. Is this too scary? You’re not alone.

There’s a way to heal this. It’s called unconditional permission to eat. When a person has true permission to choose any food, in any amount, eating according to physical hunger and fullness cues ⎯ this should be the norm. This won’t work if “permission” is tangled up with one of these familiar sabotaging statements:

  • I will just have one.
  • I will save up my calories to have candy tonight.
  • I will exercise off calories to have candy tonight.

When we view food choices with permission, we begin to experience healthy ways of relating to food. This concept is from the book, Intuitive Eating, by Tribole and Resch. Life changing work is done within the framework of eating intuitively. I encourage you to read it.

To feel safer during Halloween and other holidays, be curious as to why the binge is happening, or happened. When you hear your self-talk blaming your lack of will-power or self-control, consider the science instead. Blame diets, food rules, and body hate. Learning to experience food with self-compassion and trust will help you eat to promote health and peace.