Body Image,  Eating Disorder Recovery,  Shame

Halloween, Candy, and Diet Culture

The Thursday before the Halloween weekend typically marks the beginning of the Halloween festivities. Simply put, the disbursement of Halloween candy, cookies, treats begins. This is such a mixed holiday- the focus is largely on candy and cookies and other treats that diet culture marks as “bad”. For someone with an eating disorder, this can create high levels of anxiety and the eating disorder voice really gets ramped up. But also, diet culture thoughts, voices, comments, and behaviors get ramped up- for everyone. If you haven’t already, you’ve probably heard comments and talk about not keeping candy at your house, eating all your kids candy, working off the candy you ate in the gym or on the pavement, etc, etc, etc.

This list goes on, right?

Well, I have a pretty straight forward challenge for this Halloween.

What if you decided not to participate in the fear of candy, cookies, and treats this Halloween?

I’m not talking about jumping head first into unconditional permission to eat all foods (as much as I’d LOVE that for you), I’m just talking about making one small shift in your acceptance of the message diet culture is sending. Because Halloween is about more than candy and costumes, even. Rather, it can be. My challenge is simple in instruction, difficult in nature:

This Halloween, my challenge is to refrain from participating in diet culture talk about how terrible candy is, how bad you’re being by eating it, how good your friend is from restricting AND refrain from costume comparison.

If you’re interested in this challenge, I’ll give a few quick points and then you can be on your merry way!

  1. Practice Compassion- My friend, this is the time to begin being kind to yourself- and to those around you. One way to combat diet culture, comparison, and ultimately shame is to practice compassion. When you start beating yourself up for eating or even wanting the candy/cookies/treats, stop and be nice to yourself. It’s okay to eat or want candy. It honestly has nothing to do with your value or worth if you eat and enjoy candy. Most fears around this time are binge eating candy (because we have such restrictive thoughts or behaviors around it). Sp let’s say you do just that- you binge eat candy/cookies/treats and then you feel physically and mentally rough afterwards- PRACTICE COMPASSION. Know that the reason you just binge ate has nothing to do with your worth or your value. Know that there is something driving binge eating behaviors and that something is NOT that you have no willpower, that you aren’t good, that you don’t care about yourself or your health. Be kind to yourself and be curious- be curious about your emotions and thoughts that lead to the behavior. And then maybe step outside. Breathe in the cool air, watch the kids shriek with excitement and look at the fun costumes.
  2. Challenge Comparison– Maybe this could be a part of practicing compassion for yourself, but please attempt to step out of the comparison game. Our culture is really good at comparing EVERYTHING…. seriously, we compare the obvious- like our bodies, exercise level, cars, houses, clothes, shoes- to beliefs- political, religious, academic, world view – to our families – husbands, wives, kids, parents, siblings, pets. And everything in between. So for this weekend, challenge yourself to put the comparison down. Especially when you see someone in a costume and you start to compare bodies. Remind yourself that we all have our own values and unique contributions to our own relationships and our communities and those contributions have nothing to do with the aesthetics of our bodies. When you find yourself comparing, simply stop and reframe your thoughts. Practice not judging yourself for having the thoughts. So if you have a thought like, “Look at how good X looks in that costume! She’s had 2 kids and looks way better than I do. Man, I wish I looked that good.” (You get the drift) A reframe would be, “I think she looks really good in her costume, but that doesn’t mean I don’t look good in mine!” OR “Wow, I am starting to compare myself- who can I reach out to right now? Who can help me get out of this comparison trap?” Make it your own, but use compassion and/or curiosity to challenge comparison.
  3. Challenge Judgment- The flip side of comparison is judgment. Judgment and comparison are rooted in our shame, but often judgment feels safer than comparison. Maybe it feels better if we’re honest. I’d much rather be hard on someone else than myself. (I said it, so you can admit it too!) So when you, or another person, starts judging someone else “She/He should NOT be wearing that”… step out of that. Because friend that isn’t helpful for anyone- YOU, the person who is judging, or the person who is being judged. If you are the one judging, try to find something nice about that person (whether its a friend or stranger). If you aren’t the one judging, feel free to change the subject, stand up to the “judge” or simply leave the conversation. If you are the one being judged, leave. Don’t stay around for that, go find people that appreciate you!
  4. Channel or Reach Out to Safe People– I think it’s imperative to find a safe person to get you through this holiday. I added the word SAFE because you want to make sure the person you reach out to isn’t going to jump in comparison/judgment/shame with you… you want it to be someone who is not actively engaged in diet culture. For some, that may be a therapist or Intuitive Eating/Health at Every Size dietitian, or it may be a friend, family member, or spouse. You may talk with the person either in the moment or before you begin your Halloween activities and discuss strategies for how to deal with thoughts and emotions that surface throughout the weekend. For some, it may be a blogger or author or podcast you love. Because we live in diet culture, often our loved ones, even helping professionals, are active participants in diet culture and reinforce food rules and food shame (often unintentionally and without realizing the harm). So maybe writing quotes from an author or blogger or podcast would be helpful. This way you have something objective to fall back on when that shame rises or that comparison voice starts in on you. Maybe you have a podcast ready to play when you need a moment. Have a safe person to lean into, in some way, during this season.
  5. Practice Compassion– I’m saying it again because it’s that important. No matter what happens this Halloween, practice compassion and being kind to yourself and others. So when you start comparing or judging or feeling the weight of diet culture and shame, practice being curious and compassionate with yourself. What would you say to a friend who is having your thoughts and emotions? Say those things to yourself. Do something kind for yourself (a walk outside, a bubble bath after the kids are down, read a good book, listen to your favorite song, listen to an uplifting non-diet podcast). Our world would be a different place with more kindness, so let’s start by being kind with ourselves.
Halloween isn’t an easy time living in diet culture, but we can begin to step out of the shame of Halloween and into the fun of Halloween.

Also, feel free to find what you enjoy about this holiday! Scary things are NOT my jam, but for some people, they love all the scary. Others like to bake fun holiday-inspired treats, others like to think of crazy or unique costumes, others like to hand out candy/treats to kids, others like to participate in local trunk or treats or fall festivals. Use this time to find and embrace what it is you really love about Halloween!

If you decide to accept the challenge, let’s storm social media with fun hashtags!!! #permissiontotrickortreat #eatthecandy #nocomparison #halloween&compassion

 

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