Halloween unofficially marks the beginning of the holiday feasting season. And for anyone trying to watch his or her weight, the scariest part of Halloween is not ghosts and goblins but the ever-abundant Halloween candy. Sugar and mostly empty calories is what you get in candy, and the truth is that most of us don’t exercise enough to warrant those extra calories.
Those cute little fun-size candy bars seem harmless -- and they are, if you can limit your consumption. But that's easier said than done.
"All it takes is an additional 100 calories a day or the equivalent of one snack-sized chocolate bar and most adults will experience weight creep before they even know it," says Lona Sandon, MEd, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
When your cupboards are loaded with candy and the kids come home with bags full of even more treats, it's hard to resist. Many people try to lessen the temptation at home by bringing their extra candy into work, thus setting a high-calorie trap for their co-workers.
"Don’t get sucked into the 'see food diet' mentality that makes you want to eat the candy simply because you see it and not because you are hungry," says Brian Wansink, PhD, a Cornell researcher and author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think. "We eat more of visible foods because it causes us to think about it more, and every time you see the candy bowl you have to decide whether ... you want a piece of candy or not.
"Simply thinking of food can make you hungry, so when you see or smell something associated with food, like the shiny foil-wrapped Kisses, it can actually make you salivate."
But there are ways to keep your hands out of the candy jar so you can avoid packing on some extra pounds even before the holiday season starts. Here are 10 expert tips to help you avoid the temptation of Halloween goodies, at home and at the office.
- Buy candy you don’t love. If the candy in your pantry is stuff kids like but that you don’t enjoy, it will be easier to resist opening those bags and diving in. For most of us, that means anything but chocolate. "Sour candy, gummy-textured [candies], hard candies and the others that are not chocolate are lower in fat and calories and typically not the candy we overeat," says Sandon.
- Out of sight, out of mind. Ask your co-workers to keep their candy jars and bowls inside their desks or stashed in a cabinet in the break room so you won’t be tempted every time you see it. If they want to keep candy on their desks, ask them to use a colored container with a lid so you can’t see inside.
- Savor one piece of your favorite candy a day. Decide what time of day you most relish the sweet stuff, and save your special treat for that time. Then sit back and slowly savor the taste sensation. "It is so easy to pop a piece of candy into your mouth mindlessly and not get the full enjoyment you would get if you saved it and ate it when you know you will enjoy it the most," says Sandon. Indulge your sweet tooth on occasion, because denying yourself completely could lead to an all-out binge.
- Chew gum. Sugarless gum gives your mouth a burst of sweet sensation for very few calories. "Studies have shown that gum chewing can also help [you] relieve stress, mentally focus on tasks, satisfy a sweet tooth, overcome the urge to eat candy, and help manage hunger pangs to hold you over until your next meal," says Sandon.
- Replace the candy with better choices. Make the see-food diet work in your favor by putting out a bowl of colorful fruit or veggies in place of the candy.
- Move the candy jar. Wansink and colleagues have done studies on how frequently people eat candy when it is within reach, out of sight, or requires them to get up to reach the jar. "If you have to get up to get a piece of candy, it is not always worth the effort, whereas when the candy is convenient, consumption is higher," says Wansink.
- Count the empty wrappers. It's so easy to pop fun-size candy bars into your mouth that you can lose track of how quickly the calories are adding up. "If you keep the wrappers on your desk, it will remind you of how many you ate and hopefully inspire you to exercise moderation and stop after one or two," says Sandon.
- Take a walking break. Getting away from your desk for a breath of fresh air can invigorate you and help you get over the mid-morning or mid-afternoon slumps that are often mistaken for hunger.
- Manage your hunger. Eat breakfast before coming to work and plan for a few healthy snacks along with a satisfying lunch. Your preplanned meals with keep you feeling satisfied and make you less likely to raid the candy bowl.
- Sip on a low-calorie beverage. Keep your hands and mouth busy by drinking a zero-calorie cup of hot tea (rich with disease-fighting antioxidants) or big glass of water. And light hot chocolate can satisfy your sweet tooth for few calories than most fun-size chocolate bars.