Sarah's No BS Guide to Handling Halloween

Halloween is Saturday. Are you ready? What’s “ready” mean to you? I have seen a barrage of email from all the fitpros in my network on Halloween readiness. And so much of it infuriates me. I mean, one suggested that you start associating all “bad” food with negative thoughts, essentially to self-hypnotize yourself so you’ll stop eating “naughty” foods. Every time I see this dichotomy of foods set up, I want to scream. Please repeat after me. There are no bad foods. And let’s stop using words like “naughty” for foods that are delicious and satisfying. It’s OK to gain pleasure from food. You just need to figure out how to do that and have it jibe with your health and wellness goals. I do this ALL THE TIME with clients. And you know what? It works. Self-deprivation and shame = binging and gain.

Then there’s the Halloween candies you should “never” eat – they contain artificial colors and flavors and OMG, they can kill you. Like candy corn because of the dye, Dots because they’re chewy and will lead to tooth decay and/or Necco wafers because a roll has more sugar than you should be consuming in a day. People? Are you listening? A steady diet of these I do not encourage. But an evening spent enjoying a few of these treats? Especially if followed by a thorough brush-a-brush of the teeth before bed? OK by this trainer. I can’t think of a “never” food. There are “sometimes” foods and “more often” foods. No nevers.

What about the ubiquitous “how long does it take to burn off a fun-sized Snickers?” chart . . . with all your tiny favorites neatly charted out next to various forms of physical exertion. These reduce your fitness to the old “calories in, calories out” approach, which is, folks, just way too simplistic. It’s far more complicated than this – your metabolic rate, your body composition, your weight, the intensity of your exercise . . . all a factor in your calorie burn. What’s more, the quality of food you’re eating matters. So yeah, a Snickers isn’t as good a choice as an apple, but um, far be it from me to try to sell you on an apple if you’ve got a Snickers calling your name. Let’s be real.

It’s the truth. Halloween can put panic into the heart of any person trying to better their health. A giant bowl of candy sitting in your front hall? Who has the “willpower” to walk by that and head for the baby carrots? It’s not realistic.

I’m far from urging moderation. Moderation doesn’t work for a lot of people, including me. You need a plan. One that’s customized for you and your particular situation. Are you trying to lose weight and don’t want to undo your calorie deficit from the week leading up to the holiday? OK, you need to act and react differently than the woman who’s at her ideal weight. Are you a person who can just eat a couple treats and quit? Party on – choose your own treats, find a quiet moment, and savor them. Are you the opposite and once you open one delightfully crinkly wrapper you’re halfway down the rabbit hole . . . looking up in an hour to find you’ve eaten the equivalent of a couple (maybe more?) full-sized candy bars? (This is me.) Then you need to figure out whether you’re going to have anything at all outa that pumpkin-shaped bowl on Saturday night.

Here is what is NOT GOING TO WORK. Telling yourself, “I’m gonna be good.” “Sugar is poison.” “I’m going to have zero treats and be happy with my tossed green salad with vinegar and baked chicken breast.” Yeah, right. My best suggestion? If you’re at any risk of FOMO (fear of missing out), figure out an alternative by Thursday. What’re you going to do for yourself on Halloween so that you have something fun and delicious to look forward to? Maybe that’s Butterfingers. Maybe that’s fruit parfaits with some sort of whipped topping. Maybe that’s an uber-satisfying dinner that’ll fill you up with yummy goodness so you’re not white-knuckling it as you toss out candy for the next few hours. Maybe it’s leaving the house and shutting out the light. Whatever it is, chart it out. Write it down if you need to. Gather your supplies. Shore up your bunker. ‘Cause leaving it to chance? That’s for amateurs. And it never, ever works. You are awesome, but you are human.

I will remind you that there is nothing magic about Halloween candy. Candy is available 24/7, 365.  It always has the same number of calories, the same sugar content, often the same crap ingredients. Those don’t magically disappear if you’re sneaking treats from the bowl and eating them in the bathroom. And Halloween is not your only chance to procure the goods.

I urge you to think ahead to how you want to feel on Sunday and Monday. How would you like to look back at the weekend? Maybe you LOVE Halloween and you’re having a party. You decide to indulge and have a super time, that is awesome. Enjoy. It. All! Maybe you are trying to lose the last 10 lbs. and you really want to avoid the awful Monday morning dread that comes after eating stuff that’s incompatible with your goals – then girl, you need to figure out some alternatives. Stat. Maybe you want to be in the middle somewhere, enjoy a few treats, but not go nuts. Again. Make a plan for that. How much is OK? How will you signal to yourself it’s time to stop? Distraction and gum are powerful.

Me? I use a one-two-three punch of a delicious and healthful dinner I’ll look forward to, a special dessert (but that’s not candy – likely fruit with coconut whipped topping – something I rarely have), mint gum and distraction. I am that crazy woman who designs and orders her holiday cards at Halloween (there are often discounts to reward this lunacy). I love to hand out candy and see the kids’ costumes, but I really don’t care about Halloween. So I participate, but I also keep myself out of the candy bowl with a project. Because otherwise? BUTTERFINGERS.

But wait, there’s more. I have a TREAT for you. Want to know how I kill cravings? Halloween and every day of the year? My Craving Crusher Cocoa. I learned about this from my good buddies over at Metabolic Effect, and I’ve used it for years now: One to two tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder (like Hershey’s baking cocoa, Cocoavia or raw cacao powder), stevia to taste and hot water. Mix it all up. Drink it all down. Watch your cravings disappear like magic. Cocoa is a woman’s BFF. Cocoa powder is jam-packed with phytonutrients and chemicals that make us G-O-O-D. One of the most well-known is phenyethlamine which helps the body release endorphins while boosting the neurotransmitter dopamine.  Endorphins and dopamine gives one a sense of well-being – a little uptick in mood.  Cocoa also contains serotonin and tyramine, which make us calm and help reduce anxiety. So mix one of these up for yourself if you like – and feel free to add add cinnamon, cardamom, any spices and/or extracts you like (peppermint or almond extract are favorites of mine) to jazz it up. Sometimes I also make “ProCoa” – stir in a scoop of protein powder and my hunger and cravings are kicked to the curb, stat. You might want to try this on Saturday night. A little warning though – cocoa can be stimulating for some, so be aware of how close to bedtime you have this treat.

Here’s my parting thought. It’s one night. If things don’t go your way, move forward in a healthy way the very next chance you get. Sunday morning, get up, reset, restart. Don’t try to atone with hours at the gym, a juice cleanse, or any other such nonsense. Leave the guilt behind. Enjoy some vegetables. Drink water, drink teas. It’s not shameful to be human and to be tempted. It happens to the best of us. EVEN THE FITPROS. You will mess yourself up ten times worse if you dwell on it all, let it make you feel humiliated and awful. In fact, you will likely send yourself further down the rabbit hole. Better to admit you messed up and just move forward. Life’s too short to feel shitty. Let’s maximize the good.

Big hugs! Happy Halloween!