I am someone who loves candy.
Like, the kind of person who would eat candy for every meal if it had the nutritional value to sustain me for the rest of my life.
It’s a serious love.
So Halloween, a day devoted to candy, is my holiday. But when I was struggling with binge eating, Halloween became a nightmare. There were years when I vowed I wouldn’t touch any candy, and sometimes I’d make it all way through October 31. But then, on November 1, not wanting the leftover, half-priced candy to go to waste, I’d buy multiple bags and binge until I couldn’t breathe.
Other years, I’d start early, and the month of October would turn into a month-long candy binge. Day after day I’d find myself at CVS, buying another bag of fun size Skittles or Snickers.
I felt completely out of control.
Since recovering from an eating disorder, Halloween looks much different. There’s no more dread as September and October approach. And while I’m still tempted by the candy aisle, I’ve learned how to indulge just enough, without my love for candy turning into an out-of-control feast.
Here are some tips that have helped me—
Have a Plan
Rather than avoid candy—which will likely lead to a binge later on—it’s super important that you give yourself whatever you’re craving. That said, if you struggle with binge eating, having a huge bag of candy in your house can spark a ton of anxiety. In this situation, I suggest planning ahead. For example, whenever you buy a bag of chips, candy, whatever might be a common binge food for you, make sure you give yourself permission to eat a little bit more than you might actually want the first night. Doing this signals to your brain that this food isn’t a scarce commodity. It also allows the novelty to wear off a little bit.
When it comes to Halloween candy, it also helped me to make sure that I ate a piece after every meal—even breakfast. Again, this allowed me to relax and realize that I was allowed to give myself candy multiple times a day. Knowing that you can have another piece of candy at the next meal calms your mind and lets it focus on other things other than food.
Create More Pleasure
One of the main reasons why anyone binges is because it’s pleasurable…until it’s not. Those first few bites of food are divine. They make all your problems seemingly disappear; all you can focus on is how good the food tastes.
So when you’re working on stopping the behavior, it’s vital that you add more pleasure into your life—even if it’s only for a few minutes every day.
I’d often binge at night. Overeating was a way for me to relax after a long day. To combat this, I started to string together 3-5 activities that would give me a similar sense of calm that food gave me. I’d go for a walk outside right after dinner, take a long bubble bath, watch some reality TV, do my nails, call a friend. Although in isolation none of these activities produced the instant rush that binging gave me, when I did these activities one right after the other, they created enough pleasure that I didn’t find myself reaching for candy as often. There were still times when the habit of binging took over—even after doing the activities—but I knew that what was driving the binge was just a habit, not a need for pleasure that I wasn’t giving myself. The ability to differentiate between the two helped me to stop binging because I could see that a habit was something that I could replace; it was just up to me to choose differently.
Delay Gratification & Track and Reward Progress
One of the side effects of adding a routine that will bring more pleasure to your life is that it allows you to delay a potential binge. Throughout the recovery process, I made a point of telling myself every night that I could binge if I wanted to—but only after I had done my 3-5 pleasurable activities. While the option to binge was always there, more of than not, by delaying gratification, I found I was already satisfied and didn’t feel the need to reach for food after my new nightly routine.
Coupled with this, I made sure to track my progress. It doesn’t have to be anything big, but I’d put a little star next to the days on the calendar when I didn’t binge. Seeing my progress on the calendar gave me incentive to string together as many "star" days as possible. At the end of every binge-free week, I’d reward myself with either a new item of clothing, a manicure, a pedicure or a massage. And, on the weeks when I wasn’t as successful with my goal of not binging, I didn’t beat myself up; I promised myself to shift my focus to the next week. If you’re recovering from binge eating, there’s going to be many ups and downs. The kinder you can be to yourself, the better. This is a process, and you have to know that even during the downs, you will overcome this.
Figure Out What’s Eating at You
Binging doesn’t just happen. Usually, it can start after you’ve been restricting for a long time and your body desperately needs more calories. Sometimes, though, there isn’t any restricting involved; the binging may be a way to protect yourself or a way to give yourself attention that you're not receiving in another area of your life. There's always a good reason why you’re binging; this disorder is serving you in some way. Figuring out why you’re binging—getting to the root of the emotional reason—is important. Journaling, seeing a therapist and meditating helped me immensely during the recovery process. Eating disorders are never about food. Your obsession with food is just a symptom of what’s going on emotionally. It really helps to keep that in mind.
Give Yourself Permission to Indulge
Finally, give yourself permission to eat a little bit more than you might physically need to on Halloween. This circles back to the first tip: plan ahead to give yourself whatever candy you want on the actual holiday. Overeating is quite different from binging. When you're binging, you've lost control. Planning an evening to indulge means that you might end the evening more full than usual, but you haven't hurt yourself with the amount of food you've chosen to eat. I think as long as you’re in control, it’s okay to overeat from time to time; in fact, it’s quite healthy. And, one day of overindulging doesn’t mean you’ll gain weight or lose progress when it comes to recovery; it just means you’re letting yourself indulge in something that gives you pleasure.
There's no right way to recover from an eating disorder. Every person's recovery process is different. In the end, you are the one who knows your body best. Binging is incredibly frustrating and defeating, and unless you've been through it, it's hard to understand how challenging this disorder can be. If you're in the midst of it, just know that you have the ability to make it through the other side. Be patient with yourself, and reward yourself for every. little. victory.