The scientific reason you can’t eat just one piece of Halloween candy

Sugar is only one of the reasons you can’t stop eating Halloween candy. seanmfreese/Flickr
  • Many people struggle to ration their Halloween candy or limit themselves to just one piece.
  • This has nothing to do with lack of willpower or restraint.
  • TIME reports that the combination of fat, sugar, and salt trigger pathways in the brain that make people eat for pleasure rather than hunger.
  • There are ways to avoid a candy binge.

It’s almost impossible to resist candy, especially on Halloween night.

After all, you put so much mental effort into a creating a costume and so much physical effort into walking around your neighbourhood to score free treats (or if you’re an adult, so much money into buying candy for trick-or-treaters who never came.) More often than not, one piece turns into two, which turns into three. Before you know it, you’ve eaten all the candy that you promised you would save.

But your inability to limit yourself to one piece of candy has nothing to do with a lack of willpower. It all comes down to science (and some tasty ingredients).

While you may assume that sugar is solely to blame for your candy addiction, that’s not completely true. According to TIME, the combination of sugar, fat, and salt kickstarts the hedonic eating system – otherwise known as “eating for pleasure”. When this system is activated, it overrides the signals that regulate normal hunger and satiety, causing people to overeat.

Read more:
What happens when you eat too much sugar

There is also the nostalgia factor, as Rachele Pojednic, an assistant professor of nutrition at Simmons University, explained to TIME.

“We’ve all had experiences with food where there’s this really wonderful memory around it, and we have this pleasure memory that goes along with it,” Pojednic said. “It’s not just pleasure from the taste or the smell of it, but also the situation that goes along with it.”

Halloween candy craving
To avoid overeating, practice intuitive eating and fill up on protein. Caroline Praderio / INSIDER

Though it’s difficult to override your brain, there are some tricks you can try to curb your sugar craving and avoid a Halloween candy-induced coma.

For starters, you can add some extra protein to your meals throughout the day. This will keep you fuller for longer and potentially keep you from eating too much candy later in the night.

When it comes time to eat the candy, practice intuitive eating – eating what you feel like eating, with zero guilt. This also means asking yourself if you really want to eat that piece of candy, or if you’re doing it because you feel like you have to,

Another trick is to place your candy somewhere out of sight, according to Psychology Today. Even putting it in a cabinet or drawer instead of right on the counter will keep you from seeing it and being tempted by it on a daily basis.

Read more:
How to store your Halloween candy so it lasts longer

And if you do eat all your candy at the same time, don’t stress about it. New research suggests it’s better to eat all your candy at once, as excess sugar over time can cause more damage to your teeth than lots of sugar eaten in one sitting.


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