Willpower and the Power of Halloween Candy


willpower and halloween candy It’s that time of year again where visions of ghosts and goblins delight children and adults alike. That is, unless those ghosts and goblins come in the form of Halloween candy.

Then it becomes a time when weight worriers everywhere call on the good graces of the god of willpower.

Willpower sits at the core of the diet mentality. “If I have enough willpower, I can resist the candy.” Even though everywhere we turn, it’s calling to us from store displays, newspaper inserts, the office mate’s desk… everywhere.

That is, if we’re dieters. If we’re not, its voice is greatly diminished.

Does Willpower Really Help?

Willpower could be a wonderful thing. If it really exists. I’m not convinced it does, at least as an effective force for many of us when it comes to eating.

To me, willpower is about the strength to do what we want in the face of significant temptation to do otherwise.  Webster’s leaves out the temptation part and defines it just as energetic determination.  But do we ever hear the word used when there’s not some enticement to do the exact opposite of what we’re trying to do?

Related Article: Healthy Eating Plate Model

Seems to me the issue, then, is about what we really want.  Can it be what we really want if we’re so easily tempted to do the opposite?

Willpower and the Power of Chocolate Chip Cookies

I stumbled across an old article in Psychology Today that mentioned a study showing college students were able to work 11 minutes longer at a difficult task if they were allowed to sample from a nearby plate of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies rather than having to ignore them (or try to).

The researchers concluded that resisting the cookies left the students with little self-discipline to focus on the task at hand.  Their willpower to continue working waned quickly in the face of temptation.

The lead researcher also said we can build up our willpower “muscle” through frequent use.  But I don’t see any proof of that mentioned in the article. My work with women struggling to avoid foods they think they must, but really don’t want to, doesn’t give me any proof either.

Try Eating What You Want this Halloween

Instead of relying on willpower to help us accomplish what we want, I vote for spending time exploring what we think we want. 

In the case of eating well, at Green Mountain we find an approach that includes the cookies (or whatever food we think we can’t have) along with the basics of balanced eating makes willpower less of an issue.

Perhaps some willpower is involved, but only a small amount because the seduction of the temptation is seriously robbed of its power.

Related Article: Mindful Eating: Eating What We Want and Loving the Result

So this Halloween, consider the candy as something you can have if you want it. But then ask if you really want it.

Tip: You will be much better able to make a decision in your own best interest if you are well fed. That means eating regularly and balanced and, yes, what you want. Also realize that if you like candy, you likely will want some of it.

If you’re overly challenged with making such decisions – it is a process for those of us who have been mired in the diet mentality – you can assert control in another way by managing your environment.

3 Tips for Managing Your Halloween Candy Environment

1. Buy single servings when you want candy. Convenience stores also sell bite-sized, one piece at a time.

2. Don’t keep it in the house until you are ready to. We all eat more of something we like if it is readily available. Tip: Once you get past the novelty of eating it when you want, without guilt, you may find you forget it’s even in the house.

3. Bring in the candy that afternoon for the true ghosts and goblins of Halloween. Mindfully enjoy what you want to eat, too. If there’s a lot left over, make the last trick-or-treaters really happy with the extras. Or donate it to a food shelter.

Happy Halloween!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

About the Author

Marsha Hudnall, MS, RDN, CD

If you’re looking for an embodiment of dedication disguised as obsession, look no further. Marsha is a registered dietitian who has spent the last four decades working to help women give up dieting rules and understand how to truly take care of themselves. Her mission in life is to help women learn to enjoy eating and living well, without worries about their weight. She encourages women to embrace their love of food, which you might call being a foodie. If so, it’s appropriate because being a foodie means you pay attention when you eat. That’s a recipe made in heaven for eating well. Marsha is the President and Co-Owner of Green Mountain at Fox Run.

View Author Page