Tricks & Treats – On Halloween & Recovery Wins

Halloween was always one of the most triggering days for me in recovery. After all, binging on Halloween candy in my youth was part of how it all started. My mother (with good intentions) was extremely health conscious, and Halloween candy was highly guarded and rationed. We had a short window of time to eat candy after school over the course of a few days until the candy was gone. This of course made me want the candy even more, so when my window of time to eat came around, I gorged myself.

I think my mom assumed I couldn’t eat enormous amounts of candy in a few minutes (wrong), but it became almost like a challenge to see how much I could cram in there. This was very priming for me, and I began to associate candy benders with freedom, taking back control, and (guilty) pleasure. Of course there were lots of other factors that led me to develop bulimia, but this was part of it for sure.

By the time I got into recovery, a lot of the messages deeply conflicted with my experience. The nutritionists and doctors related to me the same way they related to the girls who were restricting.  I was told I “should” be eating the Halloween treats I was offered without guilt (easier said than done, I might add), but that was only half right. Guilt is toxic, so that part was spot-on, but they didn’t offer any useful tips for dealing with that. They also seemed to ignore the fact that I was completely addicted to binging on sweet foods and purging.  I tried it their way, but it always led to a binging and purging episode. Forcing moderation was WAY too hard for me at first.

Eventually I started listening to myself, and what I internally knew to be true. The win for me wasn’t eating all the sweets and not feeling bad about it, the win was eating healthy, nourishing food without feeling deprived. Instead of going for the sweet, I went for the veggie. Not because I was depriving myself–that always led to binging as well–but because I knew that sweets were going to lead me into a world of hurt on Halloween, and whole foods weren’t. To be clear, it’s not that I never ate sweets in recovery, but on certain days like Halloween, and Thanksgiving, I learned through trial–and mostly error–that it wasn’t safe for me.

Eventually I could eat Halloween treats without guilt, binging or purging/restriction after, but that took a LOT of inner healing work, and it took time. If you’re dealing with binge eating or bulimia, please don’t try to force that before you’re ready (keep reading for some tips on moderation if you are).

On the other hand, with anorexia, orthorexia or other restricting eating disorders, eating those sweets may be the best thing you can do! Treat yo’ self! Your recovery win is going to look completely different. THERE IS NO ONE SIZE FITS ALL in recovery, so listen to your intuition and do what you feel is in your best interest long term.

If you’re having trouble with that ask yourself the following question: “Would my best friend think of this as a recovery win for me?” Even if you don’t have a best friend, imagine someone who loves you and has your back. If they would be proud of you for eating it, then eat it. If they would be concerned or worried in any way, then it might be best to skip it.

Sometimes it’s easier in the beginning to think of an external person looking out for us, because our own internal messages have gotten mixed up through diet culture’s toxic conditioning. This is not our fault and we can restore a clear inner voice over time, so please don’t despair!

If you’re far enough along in your recovery where you’re working toward moderation, one helpful trick is to make sure you’re not alone. Most of us don’t binge in front of other people, so if you are at home with your family, or at a very long event with lots of people around, that is the safest place to start working on moderation. If I knew I was going to be surrounded by people, and it would be very difficult to purge, I could practice eating moderately without spiraling out of control. Generally it’s best if you’re staying the night somewhere, so keep that in mind!

Best of luck to you all today, and wishing you a Halloween full of recovery wins!

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