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Tips to avoid binge eating on Halloween

Halloween can be a scary time of year for people with eating disorders or who struggle with healthy eating habits.

With piles of candy and other sweets everywhere from school to the office to front-and-center displays in grocery and drug stores, temptation is all around. Add to that the loads of candy kids bring home from a night of trick-or-treating, and overindulging can seem impossible to avoid.

"For many who struggle with disordered eating or who carry extra weight, Halloween can literally be a tricky time," said Nina Crowley, Ph.D., a registered dietitian nutritionist and health psychologist working as the metabolic and bariatric surgery coordinator at the Medical University of South Carolina. "Even for those without a history of an eating disorder, your pattern may be that you historically overindulge which sets the tone for the following days or weeks."

It can be especially difficult for people with binge-eating disorder (BED). BED is one of the more recently recognized eating disorders, formally added to the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the medical guidebook of psychiatric conditions, when it was last updated in 2013.

Binge eating disorder is characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food, often very quickly and to the point of discomfort; a feeling of loss of control during the episodes; and experiencing shame or guilt afterwards. Unlike people with the eating disorder bulimia, people with BED do not engage in purging to counteract the bingeing.

It's the most common eating disorder in the United States, according to the National Eating Disorders Association.

Dr. Julie Friedman, executive director of binge eating treatment and recovery at Eating Recovery Center, explains that at a neuropsychological level, people with BED respond more to food cues, like the very sight of food, which can be hard to avoid during the Halloween season.

"In the reward center of the brain in people with binge eating disorder there's less activity, and at the same time when they do eat, they get a lot of dopamine, or that feel-good chemical, being released in their brain," she told CBS News. "So this combination of having a diminishing rewards system and then when I eat or even look at food, I get this very good feeling from it, that creates a habit and a learning pattern very easily."

Binge eating disorder can be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy, help from a dietitian, and in some cases, medication such as Vyvanse, the first prescription drug approved for BED by the FDA in 2015. Some people may find anti-depressants helpful. 

Experts offer the following tips to help keep the urge to binge at bay this time of year:

Limit the amount of "trigger foods" in your environment. If you know certain foods tend to trigger a binge, experts recommend restricting the amount you have in your home.

"It's not that you don't have candy in your house at all. It's limiting the access. Not having it a month before Halloween and not buying way more than you'll ever use," Friedman said.

Don't totally deprive yourself. Friedman suggests planning ahead for a snack that includes the candy or food that you want at a frequency that is tolerable and in a way that is not emotional and impulsive. "For example, when you're at work, allow yourself to have three candies from the candy dish, you do it, you call it a day and then you limit your access to that candy at home," she said.

Have regular, balanced meals. Getting too hungry will increase the likelihood of bingeing. Make sure you eat at regular times and that your meals are nutritious. If you snack, try to choose an option that is both filling and satisfying. 

Get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can increase the tendency to binge eat and bingeing can be a coping mechanism for people seeking to relax from a hectic schedule. "This tends to be a very busy time of year, this sort of lead-up to the holidays. People tend to sleep less, and they're stressed more," Friedman said. 

She suggests taking a breath and scheduling some down-time to experience a pleasurable activity that doesn't involve eating. "Building that time in and making sure you get enough sleep are really important pieces of this," she said.

Give away Halloween treats. Most children will come home with a huge haul of candy after a night of trick-or-treating  "Keep an amount that's reasonable for the kids. Decide ahead of time with your children what a reasonable amount is, what we can consume in about a week. They collect about four times more than they need, typically." Friedman said. After that, donate the rest of the unopened candy to a local charitable organization or community center. "It's a really good strategy both for the kids and for the parents," she said.

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