Halloween brings out the ghouls and goblins, but for those with chronic pain, the holiday brings about difficulties of a different kind. You may be wondering how you’re going to escort the kids around trick-or-treating. Maybe you’re dreading all the ups and downs required to answer the door. To make Halloween a little easier to manage, here are some ways to handle pain. We’ve also included tips for how to manage sugar as a chronic pain patient after the holiday passes.
Plan well in advance
Planning the candy you will have available, as well as choosing decorations and costumes well in advance will help ensure Halloween is both fun and stress-free.
Sitting down and making a list gives you plenty of time to make Halloween successful and memorable. Planning everything out and then chipping away at all those items will help reduce stress because you’ll know everything is taken care of.
Stores typically begin stocking goodies and costumes well over a month in advance, so take advantage of the early bird timing and thin crowds. Just try to avoid diving into that candy too early!
Buy plenty of treats so you don’t run out on Halloween night and end up needing to buy more. Empty all of it into a big bowl to minimize movement associated with preparation, and keep the bowl by the door to make it easier for you. You might also consider putting the bowl on the front porch, perhaps in front of scary-fun decorations so you participate in the holiday without causing yourself pain or stress.
Give leftover candies away at work or to friends. That way, you don’t find yourself with too much temptation on hand! We’ve also included more tips for how to create a healthier diet with sugar later in this post.
Ask a friend or relative to help out with escorting kids trick-or-treating
Perhaps you might take the kids out for 20 minutes or half an hour, or however long you feel comfortable, but knowing your limits is important for keeping Halloween enjoyable.
Getting out of the house, walking around, and seeing all the kids dressed up in fun costumes might put a smile on your face. You could always try, but it would be good to have a friend or relative on hand who can pick up for you if you start to feel tired or experience pain.
If you do go out trick-or-treating, make sure to wear comfortable shoes with adequate support and take a bottle of water along for the road. Staying hydrated is important for staying healthy and keeping your body humming along.
Party smart—and healthy
Halloween parties are another area replete with temptation. If you thought keeping away from the bowl of candy temptation by your front door was hard enough, staying away from the table full of cream-cheese filled appetizers and oh-so cute desserts that contain a week’s worth of calories and sugar can seem like a whole other endeavor.
To stay healthy at parties, eat a meal full of healthy, satisfying fats, like those from fish, before going. Walking into the party fully satisfied will help limit temptation.
Once you pass the chocolate and sugar gauntlet, enter alcohol, another inflammatory agent that can exacerbate chronic pain symptoms. While everyone is laughing and having fun at parties, it seems natural to imbibe in a glass of wine or a mixed drink. In these circumstances, it’s good to know your body and what it can handle. Perhaps you can drink one, or even two drinks, and feel fine.
Or maybe, drinking causes inflammation and results in you not feeling well the next day. When faced with temptation, think about how the drink will make you feel. If it will make you feel sick, try to avoid imbibing, instead drinking something fun and healthy, like cranberry juice with seltzer water.
Also consider the time that you feel capable of spending at parties. It’s easy to overextend yourself while fulfilling social obligations. But don’t feel like you have to stay all night, or even attend at all. By knowing your limits and staying true to yourself, you can make it through the party season with as little pain as possible.
Stress is sometimes a natural side effect of anything festive. Halloween and other holidays bring with them the need to prepare and plan. It’s easy to get overwhelmed in the details and lose sight of the bigger picture. For Halloween, the bigger picture is that this is supposed to be a fun holiday!
Don’t worry about having the best candy in the neighborhood, the most interesting costume, or the most festive decorations. The most memorable part of Halloween can be laughing with your family and friends, enjoying this spooktacular time of year, the crispness of fall, and seeing everybody else’s fun costumes.
Keep an eye on what really matters and let the rest go. It’s a sure-fired way to enjoy the fun without letting stress ruin your laughter or good time.
Minimize indulging in candy
Halloween marks the unofficial start to the holiday season, that fun time of year full of lights, decorations, parties, and temptation.
There’s probably no more difficult time to stick to a diet than during the holidays. Particularly on Halloween, when those bite-sized pieces of candy bar goodness peer out at you, seeming to whisper, “Just one, just one.”
But, as you probably know by now, there is no such thing as just one! One leads to another, which leads to another. It’s just a bite, the devil on your shoulder rationalizes. Unfortunately, candy is full of sugar, which causes inflammation and exacerbates most chronic pain conditions.
To avoid binging on candy, keep healthy sweets on hand, such as fruit and dates. If you do indulge, try to keep it to a minimum. After the holiday, focus on minimizing sugar consumptions.
Should you quit sugar after Halloween?
Eliminating sugar completely from your diet can be a challenging task that includes a complete dietary overhaul, but there are benefits to actively working to reduce your sugar intake, especially for chronic pain patients. After Halloween’s parties and candy bars might just be the best time to do it.
For many chronic pain patients, inflammation is the largest source of pain. Whether located in the joints or elsewhere in the body, chronic inflammation can result in pain that is refractory and resists treatment.
Several studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition have indicated that processed sugar can significantly increase inflammation in the body. This increased inflammation hinders proper cell function. It also makes it more difficult for the body to function and handle chronic pain.
While increased chronic pain might be enough to convince you to start thinking about how to quit sugar, consider this: there is clear evidence that sugar is just as addictive as cocaine.
Mental health benefits
James DiNicolantonio, a cardiovascular research scientist at St. Luke’s Mid-America Heart Institute in Kansas City, Missouri, conducted an analysis of multiple studies and concluded that not only is sugar more dangerous than salt when it comes to heart disease, but it is also as addictive as cocaine. DiNicolantonio drew a clear distinction between refined sugars and those that occur in fruit.
The process of ingesting higher levels of refined sugar is gradual but predictable. He noted:
“When you look at animal studies comparing sugar to cocaine even when you get the rats hooked on IV cocaine, once you introduce sugar, almost all of them switch to the sugar. You get this intense release of dopamine upon acute ingestion of sugar. After you chronically consume it, those dopamine receptors start becoming down-regulated — there’s less of them, and they’re less responsive. That can lead to ADHD-like symptoms … but it can also lead to a mild state of depression because we know that dopamine is that reward neurotransmitter.”
DiNicolantonio’s analysis is confirmed by multiple other studies indicating that consumption of sugar brings about neurological changes that mimic similar changes that occur in the brain when drugs are introduced. Researchers have noted a surge of dopamine production in the brain when drugs are introduced. They have recently seen the exact same response when sugar is consumed.
Similarly, withdrawal symptoms from lack of sugar are neurologically the same as withdrawal symptoms that occur in the brain when laboratory rats are undergoing opioid withdrawal. Laboratory rats that demonstrated addictive-like behaviors with regard to sugar also had a behavior that corresponded to similar drug-addicted behaviors: escalation of intake. This escalated intake led to larger meals in between doses of sugar. This can lead to other issues, such as obesity and diabetes, in the laboratory mice.
Sugar and aging
Sugar changes not only your body and your brain chemistry. It can also alter your DNA. Sugary soft drinks (and perhaps excessive sugar in other forms) have been linked to increased aging in cells. In a study from the University of California, San Francisco, researchers found the 350 mL of soda a day caused almost five years of aging in cells. This was measured by the length of telomeres, protective caps, on the end of each chromosome. In people who drank the most soda, the telomeres were much shorter than in those who drank less.
Professor Elissa Epel, of the University of California, San Francisco noted that diseases themselves may be caused not only by sugar but also by sugar’s effect on the aging process:
“Regular consumption of sugar-sweetened sodas might influence disease development, not only by straining the body’s metabolic control of sugars but also through accelerated cellular ageing of tissues.”
How to reduce sugar intake
Because of all of these effects of sugar on the brain and the body, for some people, including some chronic pain patients, the answer to “Should you give up sugar?” is very simple. Yes, they should give up sugar. For others, the answer may be a little more complicated.
People in the U.S. currently consume 100 to 150 pounds of sugar per year. This level of consumption is unsustainable in terms of obesity, diabetes, heart conditions, and chronic pain. There are easy, painless steps to take to reduce your sugar consumption without cutting it off completely. Here’s how to quit sugar at the amount that’s most appropriate for you.
1. Skip the soda
Soda is one of the biggest culprits when it comes to sugar. One 20-ounce serving has 44 grams of sugar. In one beverage you will have exceeded the recommended daily limits of 37.5 grams of sugar for men and 25 grams for women.
2. Read labels
Sugar is hidden everywhere. Get used to reading ingredients, looking for anything like sugar, glucose, or fructose. These are all types of sugars that add up.
3. Re-frame what “sweet” means
Instead of having a sugary dessert after every meal, reach for a piece of seasonal fruit. Eating fruit in season means it is loaded with natural sugars and will be especially delicious.
4. Avoid sugar alternatives
Artificial sweeteners and natural alternatives like stevia and honey are all still sweeteners. When you are trying to cut down on sugar, simply swapping sugar for a substitute may not be the best. That said, if you do consume sweeteners, sticking to honey as the least-processed alternative can be a great idea.
5. Ask your doctor how to quit sugar
Even for positive changes like limiting sugar intake, a conversation with your doctor is always a great idea. She may be able to give you more suggestions or direct you to local resources to help support the change.
If you need something sweet at the end of the day, or a sugar craving hits, reach for:
- Berries: High in fiber but lower in sugar than many other fruits, berries can satisfy your cravings for something sweet without a corresponding spike in blood sugar levels.
- Dark chocolate: Dark chocolate has anti-inflammatory properties but is lower in sugar than its milky cousin.
- Dark chocolate covered almonds: Dark chocolate covered almonds add protein to the mix, with almonds bringing even more anti-inflammatory properties to the snack.
How much sugar do you consume daily? Are you thinking of giving it up after Halloween?