Halloween was a magical time for me as a child.
Every July, my mother would ask me what I wanted to be for Halloween. She would then buy (or sometimes design) a pattern and make the most elaborate, hand-sewn costumes for me. We’re talking full body shark suits, giant foam filled character heads, embroidered details, and even the occasional practical effect…. My elementary school classmates sometimes protested my participation in costume contests because the costumes my mother made were off the chain. I still love dressing up.
Halloween was also a tough time.
Every time we walked by a larger bodied person, she would lean over and remind me not to eat too much candy so that I wouldn’t “wind up like that.” For a kid in a larger body, that was always a confusing, painful message. The whole experience was a complicated mash up of being absolutely fabulous, body shame, food guilt, and the ever-present quest for the holy grail of Halloween candy: a full-size package of Reese’s peanut butter cups.
Halloween is a tough time for folks affected by eating disorders. Parents feel anxious about food decisions. Fear about weight gain, fear of compensatory behavior, feelings of unworthiness, anxiety about food conflict in the home, finding a costume that fits your body… the holiday can feel like a hellish day with ED in the driver’s seat.
Let me suggest a few tips to help navigate the holiday.
1. Holidays are special. They are marked by special food and special rituals. They aren’t earned and they’re for everybody. Give yourself unconditional permission for Halloween to be special.
2. No food is bad food. It’s okay to enjoy the candy! One of the biggest vulnerabilities to eating disorder behavior is a sense of deprivation. Denying your child or yourself access to the pleasurable foods most associated with the holiday can actually increase vulnerability to behavior.
3. Keep costumes fun. Choose costumes that are comfortable and make you feel good.
4. All bodies are good bodies. When trick or treating with your child, be mindful of your language about bodies. When attending holiday parties as an adult, avoid comparisons – they are thieves of joy!
5. Enjoy your treats mindfully. Give mindful attention to the appearance, taste, texture & aroma. Notice the sound of the wrapper and the sound of the crunch or chew. Notice, don’t judge, sensations that arise in your body while you eat.
6. Follow your values. Ask yourself, “What does Halloween mean for me?” If it’s raucous fun, uninvite ED. He’s a notorious party pooper anyway. You might even think about your costume helping you to hide from your eating disorder. If October 31 has a religious connection for you, lean into that. The more bandwidth you give to your values, the less room there is for ED.
7. Smooth seas never made a skilled sailor. Any way you slice it, there’s going to be some food exposure work to do here. That’s okay! (That might even be a good thing.) Think about Halloween as an opportunity to practice skillful means. Recovery doesn’t hinge on a single holiday. Whatever happens, the sun will rise tomorrow and the journey to recovery will continue.
And above all, have a happy and safe Halloween.