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  • Dr. Jenna Daku

This Halloween, let's leave the fear-mongering for the ghosts

Traditionally known as All Hallows’ Evening, Halloween was a Samhain festival to celebrate the end of the harvest season aka the end of summer. Winter, unsurprisingly, was associated with death and illness due to reduced access to food and extreme weather conditions 

All Hallows' Evening was about protecting the last of the crops from evil spirits, in order to ensure more food before the winter. People believed that tonight, the boundary between the living and the dead would be blurred, making it easier for the ghosts of the dead to return and ruin their crops.

So people would gather their loved ones and feast, leaving spots at their tables for “good spirits” and then lighting massive bonfires to fend off the nasty ones.  In addition, pastries known as “soul cakes” would be distributed by the church for people to leave out for roaming spirits as it was believed this would help protect the living. (aka an early form of trick-or-treating)

Obviously things changed when Halloween arrived in America, but it still holds a lot of Pagan undertones: Like, many of the costumes you’ll see today have foundations in early spiritual beliefs and folklore.

What about the candy?

However, lately I've been hearing a LOT of fear-mongering around Halloween candy.  For example, news outlets have been printing stories rating Halloween candies from "best to worst" (I'm not even going to justify them by linking to them in this post).  And I'm sure that everywhere I go today I will overhear people talking about how 'bad' they've been, or how long they're planning to spend at the gym tomorrow to 'make up' for candy consumed today.  

Basically, by moralising sugar and candy, diet-culture has made Halloween ALL about the candy.  We have come to fear sugar, with some of us even believing that we can be addicted to sugar.  So, most of us spend our days consciously or unconsciously tracking our sugar consumption out of fear that we could be eating 'too much'. I am not a nutritionist or a dietitian, so I'll leave the defence of sugar to the nutrition pros like Laura Thomas.  

But what I can say, is that the more we tell ourselves we shouldn't have something to eat, the more we want the thing we shouldn't have.  This is a phenomenon known as the scarcity mindset, and it actually a very clever biological mechanism designed to help us survive famine.  Back in the day, when we were hunters and gatherers etc, we would go through periods where there was an abundance of food and periods with less.  So our bodies had to adapt in order to survive these inconsistencies.  So our bodies do things like slow down our metabolisms when we are in energy deficit (aka not getting enough energy from food or expending too much energy exercising). They also do this clever thing where they prime our brains to think about and seek food persistently -- because this increases our chances of finding food in food deprived environments.  

Whilst these were evolutionary mechanisms designed to help our species survive....our bodies cannot tell the difference between environmental famine and self-imposed famine (like the restriction that we do on a diet, or when we restrict certain foods because we think they are 'bad').  So..the more we tell ourselves we shouldn't eat candy, the more our brains and bodies seek candy.  

So, thanks to diet-culture and its moralising rules around sugar and candy, Halloween has become the only acceptable day to eat candy.  Hence why Halloween has become all about the candy, and why we end up eating it way beyond the point of fullness or satisfaction.

If we give ourselves permission to eat candy whenever, Halloween would be less about the candy and we could leave the October fear-mongering for the ghosts x

If you're struggling with disordered eating and you find yourself feeling anxious today, here's a few tips to help you get by:

1.  Today is just one day. What you eat or don't eat today isn't going to have an impact on you for the rest of your life. 

2.  You are not 'bad' for eating Halloween candy - even if you've eaten way past the point of fullness.

3.  You do not have to 'repent' at the gym tomorrow (or any day) for what you've eaten today.  This is part of the disordered eating cycle, and it will only fuel restriction and set you up for eating past the point of fullness again. 

4.  There's nothing 'wrong' with you or your body.  You live in a culture that demonises sugar and candy, so if you feel like shit about eating it today please know that it's not your burden to bear -- it belongs to diet-culture.

5. Even if eating candy was horrible for your health (PSA: it’s not), you are not morally obligated to pursue health - especially the one-dimensional definition of health that is projected by diet-culture. 

6. Eating the candy when you feel like it is better for your mental health than shaming yourself in to not eating candy all day, then eating all of the candy because “I’ll start over tomorrow” and then wallowing in self-pity and self-criticism for the rest of the day or until you can compensate for it in some self-punishing way.

- Jenna xx

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