sugar cravings

3 Tips for Avoiding a Halloween Candy Binge

Halloween is coming friends! With that comes the joy of costumes, spooky decorations and more candy than anyone really needs.

Candy can be a tricky thing (see what I did there?). On one hand, Halloween is only one day out of the year so why all the fuss? Some might argue that it’s silly to put a limit on candy and celebrating in schools because “let kids be kids”.

On the other hand, we are all familiar with how early grocery stores start rolling out the candy, and how long it can linger around the house. So is it really just one day?

As with most controversial issues, I find myself somewhere in middle. I encourage my clients to take candy off of the pedestal where it often resides. I also understand the power of creating a supportive environment, and I realize that as humans we often make decisions out of convenience. Today I wanted to share a few manageable strategies for avoiding a candy binge using one of my favorite models - the ABC assessment tool!

Halloween Blog.png

Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence

When I was still working in an office, I clearly remember the break room conversation that started around this time of year and continued all the way through the new year. It was basically equal parts contemplation, restriction and guilt.

I find that most people:

  1. Don’t think they should be eating candy

  2. Have a hard time completely abstaining from it

  3. End up overdoing it, then

  4. Feel totally bad about themselves for doing so.

The Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence (or ABC) assessment tool is just one way to observe problematic behaviors and then get to the root cause.

ABCs of behavior observation
  • Antecedent: the events, action, or circumstances that occur before a behavior

  • Behavior: the behavior

  • Consequences: the action or response that follows the behavior

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Knowing this, if the goal is to change the outcome (or consequence), the first step is to modify the antecedent! Use this simple model to think about a current behavior that you want to change. Then think about what circumstances could be shifted around to make the behavior easier.

Here are three different ways you can change an antecedent using the candy example so you head into Halloween feeling prepared and empowered!

Buy only what you need

The giant bags of candy are perfectly arranged and waiting for you at the store and if you have a sweet tooth, it can be tempting to buy more than you need to make sure you get some too. However by doing this, you might be setting yourself up to make a difficult decision every.single.time you walk by the candy bowl.

As an alternative, buy only how much you think you’ll need, and and then come up with a plan for what to do with the leftovers. Here are some ideas:

  • Donate it to a local dentist office or charity

  • Freeze it for later use

  • Bake something that you can bring to a game night/football watch party/any other social event and distribute the wealth!

Focus on regular meals & snacks

If you know you’ll start seeing more candy in the days leading up to Halloween, be extra diligent about eating regular, balanced meals and snacks to keep yourself nourished and energized, sans the sugar.

The benefits are two-fold: this prevents you from getting overly hungry and can also help prevent the inevitable sugar crash that comes from eating sweets on an empty stomach.

Along with timing, make it a point to include high fiber (fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains), high protein eats for your main meals and snacks on these days. Wondering what this might look like? Here’s an example:

Breakfast - Whole grain toast + scrambled eggs + avocado

Snack - Yogurt with berries

Lunch - Fall Salad in a Jar (I’m obsessed with this salad!)

Snack - Apple + peanut butter (might include a piece of candy or two here)

Dinner - Parmesan crusted salmon with brown rice and asparagus

balanced breakfast of eggs, muffin and peach

Come up with a game plan

Lastly, if you really love and look forward to a certain type of candy, come up with a game plan for how you can enjoy it in moderation. If you vow to completely restrict, there’s a good chance you’ll think about it even more and let me tell you, you have better things to think about!

Here are some ideas for how to strategically include your favorites:

  • you might commit to eat a full meal before having any candy

  • you might decide to pair the candy with some fruit

  • you might plan to sit down and enjoy any candy you do eat, free of distractions

Hold yourself accountable by writing down your game plan and hanging it somewhere visible as a reminder. If you need some assistance, I’d be happy to help!

What are your thoughts on Halloween? I would love to hear them in the comments 👇👇


If you struggle with situations like this on a regular basis, you might be a great candidate for 1:1 nutrition coaching and support! Schedule your free 15-minute intro call to learn more.


The Why Behind Some of Your Sugar Cravings

salt and straw san diego honey lavender ice cream cone

I often hear others talk about struggling with having a sweet tooth. As in, sugar is addicting and impossible to resist. I find that most people identify with with being at least a little anxious, and sometimes totally out of control around sweets. Today I wanted to unpack that a little bit and pose the question - why does this happen and if this sounds like you, what can you do about it? I've come across a lot of questionable tidbits of advice around the internet that recommend everything from cayenne cleanses to a Whole30 to get sugar intake under control. Those are both pretty extreme and in my opinion, unnecessary. Here are three reasons why you might crave sweets frequently (and none of them involve being addicted to sugar).

Obligatory disclaimer: it's totally fine (and normal!) to crave something sweet on occasion but if you feel like this is all-consuming and something you want to work on, read on! Also, nutrition is personal and individual - these are potential causes, but not necessarily true for everyone so take this post with a grain of salt.

1. You are under-eating.

You might remember this post I wrote back in December where I shared my thoughts on the idea of sugar addiction. Even though each of us might deal with indulgent foods differently, based on my professional experience, I find that most cases of sugar cravings are the product of under-eating. 

As an example, a friend of mine once shared that she felt seriously tempted by afternoon sweets, but once we dug a little deeper she came to her own conclusion that this happens on days when she doesn't pack enough food to get her through the work day. So essentially she just needed fuel, but her biological hunger was being misinterpreted as a sweet tooth. Does this sound like it could be the case for you too? 

I also see this happen in the evening. If you are cutting way back on carbohydrates at dinner, you might be back in the kitchen searching for something sweet an hour or two later. 

salmon with orzo salad

2. You don't get enough sleep.

Another potential culprit of increased sugar cravings (or increased appetite in general) could be a less-than-ideal sleep routine. Research strongly suggests that insufficient sleep results in decreased levels of leptin and increased levels of ghrelin. These are two hormones that play a role in our hunger and satiety signals and this particular combination results in a stimulated appetite, decreased satiety after a meal and decreased energy expenditure (1,2). 

I ask my coaching clients about sleep habits in our first meeting together and I can always see a bit of confusion as to why this would connect with nutrition. In addition to the hormone-related example above, if someone is overtired, chances are they might skip exercise, choose less healthful food options and over-rely on caffeine too. 

3. You're stuck in a cheat day mentality.

Oh the cheat day... this can be a tough habit to break, but I swear things are more fun and relaxed on the other side! One question I often ask someone who is considering an all-or-nothing type approach is:

Have you ever known someone who does a cleanse or super strict diet? If yes, what was their eating pattern like on the day after it ended?

Chances are, it involved seriously overdoing it on all of the foods that weren't "allowed". This isn't a long term strategy and it can promote binging, guilt, and a vicious cycle of feeling out of control around food. I shared this article from Bon Appetit on Facebook a few weeks back and found it to be really spot on. The author describes how the cheat day mentality "sabotaged attempts at finding balance in... health and nutrition". Getting stuck in a cheat day mentality can be destructive to your relationship with food and might even result in you constantly thinking about foods that are off limits (like sweets). Working with a registered dietitian to develop sustainable eating patterns can help you end this pattern for good. 

chocolate chip cookie

Action Steps Moving Forward

So now the question is, what action steps can you take to move away from some of these behaviors? First and foremost, choose meals and snacks that are satisfying, balanced and taste good to you. Trying to go low-cal or only picking the "healthy" item can backfire and lead to cravings later if it's not something you even want or like in the first place. I usually encourage clients to eat more, not less, to prevent this sort of thing from happening. This can also prevent large blood sugar spikes. 

If your sleep routine could use some work, make a serious effort to get that figured out. I won't go too deep into this topic because I know most people have heard all of the classic recommendations already. If you make it a priority and still can't seem to get a solid night of sleep, this is something that warrants a doctor's visit because you could potentially have sleep apnea or another underlying condition that requires treatment. 

Using a meal time habits journal for a week or so can be a helpful way to track eating patterns and how certain meals/snacks make you feel. This isn't your typical food recall or My Fitness Pal log. It's more focused on behaviors such as: how hungry you were, where you were, who you were with, and what your mood was in relation with what you ate at a given time. This can be extremely helpful for identifying issues that you might not even be aware of (see below to download the template I use with clients). 

Now I would love to hear from you! Can you relate to any of these issues and if so, what steps have you taken to overcome them? 

References:

1. Taheri S, Lin L, Austin D, Young T and Mignot E. Short Sleep Duration Is Associated with Reduced Leptin, Elevated Ghrelin, and Increased Body Mass Index. PLoS Med. 2004;1(3):e62.

2. Dashti HS, Scheer FAJL, Jacques PF, Lamon-Fava S, and Ordovás JM. Short Sleep Duration and Dietary Intake: Epidemiologic Evidence, Mechanisms, and Health Implications. Adv Nutr. 2016; 6(6): 648–659.

Meal Time Habits Journal

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