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October 31, 2018

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

Your seasonal candy binge isn't *entirely* your fault

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candy-addiction-flickr Steven Guzzardi/Flickr

What you should know about your brain and body's reaction to candy.

After nearly a week speckled with Halloween parties, spanning from last weekend through this weekend, chances are you’ve had your fair share of Halloween candy. Perhaps you’ve even given yourself a stomach ache unwrapping piece after piece — seemingly uncontrollably — like you did after a night of trick-or-treating during childhood.

As it turns out, there’s a scientific reason that you can’t stop popping the bite-sized pieces, despite your better judgement, as TIME reports. While we know sugar is highly addictive, it’s not just the sugar that keeps your hand reaching for the candy dish.

Your uncontrollable candy urges are due to the unstoppable union of sugar, fat and salt — the main ingredients of most candies. According to Rachele Pojednic, an assistant professor of nutrition at Simmons University, this trifecta “really revs up the hedonic eating system,” noting the phenomenon of eating for pleasure rather than physical need, she tells TIME. 

RELATED READ: This 'healthier' Halloween candy option is not worth your time – and 'troubles'

The reason for all of this is because sweet and fatty foods can activate pathways in the brain associated with pleasure and reward. This sends your brain signals in charge of self-control and hunger regulation into a tailspin, causing many of us to overeat out of pleasure, not hunger because that combination of sugar, fat and salt is virtually irresistible.

But there’s another theory about why you can’t seem to walk by the candy dish with your usual healthy eater’s self-control that puts the blame on our brain instead of our taste buds. Pojednic explains that our brains remember the good times, the pleasure candy brings and, “That’s why when you walk into the office and you see that Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, your mouth literally starts watering. You will automatically start salivating, because you have this memory of pleasure, so that cycle sort of continues.”

If you’ve been fed up with your inability to avoid semi-regular candy binges this Halloween season, mindful eating might come in handy. Harvard Health outlines eight steps to mindful eating, but the one that’s perhaps the most helpful in this situation is to eat slowly — avoid scarfing down these goodies so quickly and you might be surprised at your ability to stop at say, two pieces, instead of six. Baby steps, people!

Another option is to replace your mini Butterfinger stash with a slightly healthier candy option — chocolate-covered nuts can totally give off candy vibes and have at least a little bit of nutrition compared to a plain ol’ candy bar!

All in all, rest assured that your candy addiction isn’t entirely your fault — rather, it’s your body and brain's reaction to a “deadly combination” of salt, sugar and fat. Perhaps some detoxifying foods like beets and walnuts can help you bounce back after this candy-heavy holiday.

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