Happy almost Halloween for those who partake! I am sure many of your celebrations will be looking a bit different this year, but Halloween candy and marketing around it is still in full force presently.
You may have seen the post on Instagram earlier this week regarding candy, and how a person’s relationship to/with candy can be even “scarier” or less healthy than the candy itself. I hope this either resonated with you because you agree with it and can see what I meant or because you have more questions and would like to understand it better. Either way I welcome you to this post about habituation and how it can make this time of year and all days a little less “spooky” around food.
So what is habituation? It is a non-associative learning, and the psychological definition is “the diminishing of a physiological or emotional response to a frequently repeated stimulus”. So the stimulus is food, the response is eating. This habituation particularly with food increases as we have repeated exposure with certain foods. This is in part due to the fact with sensory specific satiety, our senses become satiated (aka habituated) if they continuously experience the repeated stimulus.
So how can you practice or attain habituation? Well it starts with the unconditional permission to eat all things. Remove the label of foods as bad or unhealthy and remember that food has no moral value; allowing yourself to eat all things allows you to take a dive into habituation and remove the guilt/shame. Allowing all foods, especially the ones you have deemed “off limits” (such as candy this time of year!), must occur as well. Making all foods part of your intake will take foods off a “pedestal”. Food habituation research indicates that the more a person is exposed to and allowed to eat a food, decreased desirability of said food ensues. When you are in an appropriate environment and mood to continue exposing yourself to the food, continue doing so. Increasing the amount of exposure times helps to desensitize certain foods. This lessens the fear of never being able to eat a particular food again, which remember with unconditional permission to eat should not be a concern! In short, repeated and long-term exposure of certain foods will increase food habituation causing the foods to become less desirable and lessened fear associated with.
What does this mean for Halloween specifically? Allow yourself to eat whatever kind of candy or Halloween treats you really want. Do so without “saving up” before an event or trying to compensate with your eating habits during the remainder of the day or days after. This compensatory way of thinking is still a form of restriction. And practice positive affirmations - the science backs this up, there is nothing wrong with me for needing to practice habituation, and this will take time! Be kind to yourself as you practice these skills.