Halloween can be a scary holiday for grown-ups, but not because of the devilish decorations and haunted houses. For people who have been working hard to shed extra pounds, the holiday that celebrates the fun-size candy bar can be downright frightening.
What do experts suggest at Halloween time for people who are tempted by candy but trying to trim down?
Believe it or not, "I would recommend eating the chocolate," says David Levitsky, PhD, a professor of nutrition and psychology at Cornell University.
"There are several reasons for this, but the major one is that if you tell yourself that you can't have it, you'll crave it," he says in an email interview.
Five fun-size Snickers adds up to 400 calories, which you could make up the next day by skipping a drink, snack, or dessert, suggests Levitsky. For example, skipping your usual flavored coffee drink -- say, a 16-ounce white chocolate mocha -- will save about 500 calories. Forgoing a snack of 1 ounce of crackers and 1 ounce of cheese saves about 240 calories.
Ellyn Satter, RD, MS, LCSW, author of Your Child's Weight: Helping Without Harming, says that what's good for children may also be best for adults.
"Treat-deprived girls in research studies load up on forbidden foods when they weren't even hungry and tend to be fatter, not thinner," she says. "Girls who were allowed treats regularly ate moderately, if at all, and were thinner."
What about those people who have a hard time stopping at just a few fun-size candy bars?
Satter believes this vulnerability to overeating results from people restricting themselves. The only way to break the cycle of deprivation and overeating, she says, is to:
- Stop depriving yourself.
- Eat three meals a day (meals you truly enjoy).
- Stop eating when you are comfortable, knowing that you'll have another enjoyable meal when you're hungry again.
10 More Ways to Make Halloween Less Scary
Besides making sure you don't feel deprived, nutrition experts offer 10 more tips to help keep you from overdoing the sweets this Halloween season.
1. Buy Candy You're Not Crazy About
For example, if you're a chocolate lover, give away Skittles or Twizzlers. This doesn't mean all candy you give out has to be unappealing to you, but it might be easier if you buy just one type you like, in a limited quantity.
2. Give Out Nonfood 'Treats'
Another option is to offer trick-or-treaters small toys, stickers, pencils, erasers -- even shiny quarters -- instead of candy.
In one study, 3- to 14-year-olds who were given a choice between toys and candy on Halloween night were just as likely to choose the toys as the sweets. Do your own experiment this Halloween: Let kids in your neighborhood choose between toys, money, or candy and see which is most popular.
3. Offer Healthier Treats
You can offer healthy foods to kids on Halloween, says Rebecca Puhl, PhD, psychologist and researcher at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University.
"Not only does this give kids a healthy option in their bag of treats, it also prevents parents from having to bring lots of candy to the house," she says in an email interview.
Some healthful options include granola bars, sugar-free gum, and individually packaged portions of raisins, apple slices, dried cranberries, and nuts.
4. Don't Ask Your Kids to Hide the Candy
If you're a parent, Halloween offers an opportunity to set a good example for your kids. Model moderation, not deprivation, nutrition experts recommend.
"We know restriction only makes people want it more," says Barbara Rolls, PhD, a researcher at Penn State University and author of The Volumetrics Eating Plan.
So don't ask your kids to hide their candy from you. That would only encourage the "candy ban" mentality.
5. Make the Candy You Do Eat Last Longer
Put a handful of your favorite candy bars in your freezer so that when you do enjoy a piece or two, it will last longer and you'll have the chance to truly savor the flavor. It takes twice as long to eat a frozen candy bar as one at room temperature.
6. Enjoy, but Be Mindful
Levitsky urges grown-ups to enjoy Halloween and the candy that goes with it. But, he says, that doesn't mean you can just forget about the calories. Prepare by eating a little less in anticipation of Halloween night, or adjust your eating a bit after partaking.
7. Don't Get Too Hungry
"It's much harder to resist candy when you're hungry," says Puhl.
If you skip a meal on Halloween day and let yourself get overly hungry, you'll be more vulnerable to candy temptation. When temptation abounds, it's especially important to remember to eat when you are hungry and stop when you are comfortable.
8. Plan the Perfect Halloween Night Dinner
Have a tasty, balanced meal for dinner on Halloween, urges Puhl.
Rolls, who has done research on which foods are most satisfying, says soup and salad both help you feel full on fewer calories. She suggests choosing a dinner that is high in fiber, and includes some lean protein and a bit of fat, so it will take some time to digest. Refined carbohydrates move through the digestive system quickly, so you're likely to feel hungry again sooner.
Her ideal Halloween night dinner? "Roasted or baked skinless chicken breast, a plate of vegetables, and some fruit salad," says Rolls.
9. Sip a Warm Beverage
Keep your hands and mouth busy while you hand out treats on Halloween night by sipping hot tea, decaf coffee, apple cider, or light hot cocoa. There's something about a warm drink that satisfies.
10. Avoid Boredom
People often end up munching mindlessly when they're bored. So keep busy Halloween night by making plans with family, friends, or neighbors.
Arrange a Halloween potluck, go trick-or-treating with the kids or grandkids, go to the movies, or attend a Halloween celebration at a local church or community center.
Or, just curl up with a cup of tea and a good, scary book.