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Keeping treats a treat

The trick to staying healthy, Halloween or no Halloween


Sugar overload! Photo by Abram Gutscher
Sugar overload! Photo by Abram Gutscher

Halloween seems like the perfect time to ignore everything you’ve been told about good eating habits. Well, you’ll like me, because I’m saying when it comes to Halloween, eat all the candy you want! Just know your limits outside candy-worthy circumstances.

In second year I took a psychology class — THE psychology class that everyone takes to decide if it’s a field they want to study (or to fill a mandatory science credit). One professor told us a story that stuck with me. She said that despite what people may say, sugar does not make you more awake or excited. That’s why instead of giving her children candy throughout the week, she gave them one giant bowl of candy every Friday.

That’s when I realized society’s problem with food: keeping treats treats. As far as I’m concerned, stuffing your face with candy on Halloween, a Friday night, or after a particularly bad breakup is entirely acceptable, as long as you acknowledge that you’re treating yourself. Issues arise when treats become snacks, and snacks become meals.

Sara Kirk, a Canada Research Chair in Health Services Research at Dalhousie, agrees.

“We don’t treat treats as treats,” says Kirk, who has written articles and blog posts such as “When is a treat not a treat?” and “When did fruit become a trick?”

She saw the snack-meal crisis on her children’s soccer field, where after burning about 160 calories during exercise they were given “snacks” like Wagon Wheels and Kool-Aid. These snacks can easily topple into more than 300 calories and completely canceled out the physical activity.

“It’s a culture thing, it’s a social thing and it’s a value thing,” she says, “and I don’t think we value food in the same way we should. We value it for money, but not for health.”

This summer I interviewed a woman named Lana Chaisson who went from bad meals and bad exercise habits to eating properly and biking 12 km a day. She did it gradually without programs and hasn’t weighed herself yet, but measures her progress by how she feels. She said something that stuck with me: “You fuel your body; no one else fuels it for you.” Your body will tell you if you’re using the wrong fuel.

If you eat garbage, you’re probably going to feel like garbage. According to a joint report from the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canadian Institute for Health Information, one quarter of Canadians are obese or overweight. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, obesity is a major risk factor for high blood pressure, heart disease and strokes; heart disease and strokes combined are the leading cause of death in Canada.

So how often should you be allowed to treat yourself?

Kirk, who specializes in obesity, says that ideally people should only treat themselves once a week, but realistically not more than twice a day. For those who are snack happy, they should try switching treats for yogurt tubes, crackers and cheese, or fruit.

For me, that doesn’t mean no bad stuff ever. I personally plan on stuffing my face with candy on Halloween. But I treat my body as if it were a university course. I can slip up sometimes, but I know I have to make it up to myself. I know that if I hand in strictly C- papers I’m not going to make the honours list, just like I know if I eat strictly hamburgers I’m not going to make it past 60.

But the trick: know your treats.


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