For Some Women with Eating Disorders, Halloween is No Treat

Pumpkins at Halloween

Many holidays seem to revolve around food, making those in recovery from an eating disorder wary of joining in the fun. But you can still enjoy the tricks and treats of Halloween without having to turn off your porch lights and stay inside. (Although it’s perfectly fine to do that, too.) Planning ahead and preparing yourself to handle any negative feelings that come up will help you avoid resorting to unhealthy eating behaviors.

Facing Your Fear Foods

Halloween is spooky enough on its own, but if you add in “fear foods” the holiday can become downright frightful! Fear foods are foods that cause intense stress and anxiety in people with bulimia, anorexia, or binge eating disorder. It’s not surprise that Halloween candy and other sweet treats typically rank high on eating disorder patients’ lists of fear foods.

Those who restrict their caloric intake as part of their disorder are afraid of gaining weight if they indulge in something that they have forbidden. Those who binge may fear losing control, over-eating, and dealing with the physical discomfort that accompanies a binge. Both those who restrict and those who binge tend to want to avoid the guilt and shame they feel after eating a food that’s challenging for them.

Fortunately, there are tools that can help. If the thought of attending an event where many of your fear foods will be available makes you want to run and hide, try this Dialectical Behavior Therapy(DBT) exercise.

Ask yourself:

  • What are the facts of this situation?
  • What is the “threat” of the situation?
  • What is the worst-case scenario?
  • How likely is that the worst-case scenario will happen?
  • How would you cope if it did happen?

Answering these questions will help you to put things in perspective. Gaining a significant amount of weight or developing a health problem from eating a few pieces of candy is extremely unlikely, as is completely losing control and bingeing on all of the treats. You don’t have let your fear foods scare you away from a good time with friends and family.

The Costume Contest in Your Mind

By now, we’ve all seen the annual parade of sexualized Halloween costumes for women. They range anywhere from sexy librarian to sexy hamburger. There’s even a sexy Mr. Rogers costume that is currently causing a stir.

While Halloween can be a time when women feel free to have fun by expressing their sexuality and exploring alter egos, if you have body image issues, you may find yourself falling into the negative comparison trap. This can tempt you to re-engage in your eating disorder behaviors.

There are other options, though. If you chose to dress up for Halloween, find a costume that you love and feel comfortable in. Still find yourself feeling triggered by what someone else is wearing? Take a deep breath and remind yourself:

  • Comparative thinking is part of your eating disorder.
  • You don’t have to engage with comparative thoughts. When someone else looks good, it doesn’t mean that you look bad.
  • You don’t have to judge or berate people who make you feel insecure, even silently, to yourself. That will just leave you feeling angry, resentful, and miserable.

Take Care of Yourself

If it’s early in your recovery, and you don’t feel up to taking on these kinds of challenges, it’s perfectly fine to stay home. You are not obligated to put yourself in any situation that may compromise your recovery. You could always just invite a few understanding friends over for pumpkin carving or scary movies. Your primary goal should always be to take care of yourself. Stay tuned in to your feelings and be realistic of what you can handle in this particular season of your life.

Or maybe the holiday has made you wonder if you need professional help. If find that you are struggling through the serious and potentially life-threatening stages of eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, we’re here to help. The Meadows Ranch has critical care and residential treatment programs available. For more information call one of our caring and knowledgeable intake coordinators at the number on the top of this page.

If you’ve already been through treatment or just need some additional tools, our Life Without Ed: Transform Your Relationship with Food and Your Bodyworkshop at the Rio Retreat Center at The Meadows may be for you. This weekend workshop was developed in collaboration with Meadows Senior Fellow Jenni Schaefer, author of the breakthrough bestseller, Life Without Ed.