My Circus Talent

I had spent my entire childhood trying to accomplish a dream: work in the circus. I fell in the love with it the first time I heard the creepy music and saw the ringmaster with his dazzling hat introduce a sword swallower. There was one thing missing from the performance, though. So at age seven, I practiced my skill–my talent–so that maybe one day I could join the circus and marvel the audience members just like the sword swallower.

For years I practiced in secret, perfecting my craft. I often worked in the basement or in my room behind closed doors. My mother would always ask what I was doing. I’d usually say homework or video games. She was okay with that. My father wasn’t home much, so it was easy to keep my secret from him. 

When I turned 18, I applied for a job with the city circus. Finally, my lifelong dream was almost a reality. The interview was simple. There were four people there to greet me. One of them I recognized as a ringmaster, and the other three dressed up in suits and ties and looked boring. They didn’t ask me how much money I wanted, or what had been the biggest obstacle I had overcome–all they asked was to see my talent. And when I showed them, they hired me on the spot. 

I was very excited that my dream had come true. My whole life I had wanted to entertain people and make them laugh–to make them marvel–and that day had finally come. I skipped like a schoolboy all the way home, eager to tell my mother the good news. The moment I walked in the house, I saw her with my father getting dinner ready. Good, I thought. I can tell both of them. 

“Mom, Dad, guess what?” I said. “I have great news!”

“What is it son?” my dad asked. 

“I got a job!”  

“Oh, I’m so happy for you, Tubs,” my mom said. “Did you get that job at the grocery store?” 

“No,” I said. “I found a place much better. Let me give you a hint.” I then inhaled a deep breath and blew air out of my nose, slowly forming a bubble the size of a basketball. I then grabbed it with my finger and tossed it in the air.

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The Coronavirus Chronicles: 2020-2022

January 4, 2020

Happy New Year! This is my first journal entry of the decade. Time is flying by. I can’t believe I’ve been married for ten years. And I can’t believe the twins are already seven. Goodness.

2020 used to seem so far away. I always imagined myself as an old man in my 40s, wearing mirror shades, clothes inside out, flying around in my cool car. I assumed NASA would be sending passenger ships to Mars.

The reality is: I’m 45, I drive a shitty Rav4, NASA hasn’t done anything since the ’70s, and I’m wearing the same clothes I bought at American Eagle nine years ago. The only thing that’s changed is we have “smart” phones, and we like to take pictures of ourselves and post them to social media. My 16-year-old self would be disappointed.

I’m excited to start the decade though. I have a new job with the health department. I’ll be implementing wellness programs to help battle the obesity. I should be able to make a difference, which is motivating.

Christmas and the kids’ birthdays were awesome. It was nice seeing my brother and sister again. I wish my mom and grandma had the chance to meet Max and Eva. Makes me sad.

Everything else is going great. Everyone’s in good health. My workouts and diet have been going good, but I’m still a fat ass with an beer belly. Need to stop drinking IPAs.

January 31, 2020

I’m writing this from Starbucks. I come here everyday. I don’t even have to tell the barista what I want–as soon as I walk in, she starts pouring my tall blonde roast. Good service! 

The kids are doing good. They are learning so much in first grade. I still can’t believe they know how to freakin’ read.

Work is going great, still enjoying the new job. I love working downtown. I never thought I’d ever say that. The past few days, a lot of people in the office have been talking about a new virus spreading in China. Apparently, someone in Washington state has it now. The president just cut off travel from China so no one brings it back here. Fine with me. Anyway, it’s probably just another SARS or H1N1. Social media blows everything out of proportion. People will do anything for ratings, views, comments, and likes. Annoying.

February 28, 2020

It’s nice to finally be home. I just flew back from a work trip in Hotlanta for a nutrition workshop with the CDC. Jaz and the kids survived fine without me for the week. Max and Eva looked older, bigger, as if I was gone for months.

My diet has been going well. Switching to White Claws has made a difference. So far I’ve lost five pounds in our company weight loss competition. Woot woot. I was able to workout in Atlanta everyday – so proud of myself. I jogged around CDC’s campus and it was crazy to see all the news reporters on the streets covering “COVID-19” – the name of the virus everybody is talking about. Don’t ask what the hell it means. The area around campus reminded me something out of Stranger Things. Deep roads and driveways were everywhere, and they all seemed to lead to secret laboratories. Everything was blocked off with gates and signs saying AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL or NO TRESPASSING. There’s something mysterious going on down those deep, hidden drives. For the first time, I got the feeling this virus is more than just the flu.

March 17, 2020

Holy crap a lot has happened since my last entry. I’m now working from home and home-schooling the kids! To prevent the virus from spreading, my work sent me home last week and the governor shut down all the schools until April. I’m not sure how this new routine is going to work, but thank goodness Jaz is also working from home and we’ll be able to coordinate our schedules and teach the kids. She took the bedroom office, and I’m working in the den. The kids “classroom” is in our dining room. Our dining table is now covered with all their school stuff. A mess. The governor also just announced, to further “flatten the curve,” he’s closing down all restaurants and bars. Good grief. Everyone is panicking and buying bread, hot dogs, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper. People literally must be shitting their pants.

At least it’s almost Spring and the weather is getting warmer. Daffodils are blooming. Other than not being able to come within six feet of someone for fear of being coughed and sneezed on, things are going well. Spending a lot of time playing with the kids outside. People outside are walking, exercising, socializing. Never seen our neighborhood so active and friendly. I put up our Christmas lights.

April 8, 2020

It has been hard to adapt to working from home. Too many distractions. The kids’ teachers keep pinging me throughout the day with lesson ideas, trying to help. But it only stresses me out more. I try to do my best to teach them, but instead, I find myself prioritizing work. They are spending too much time playing the Nintendo Switch or watching some loser on YouTube play Roblox. Am I a bad father for not prioritizing their education over my own job? Is my job safe? So many things to think about. Thank goodness alcohol sales are still allowed.

Jaz is working upstairs in our dark bedroom everyday, also stressed, doing her best to balance her work and the kids’ education. But there’s no line drawn when you work from home. The balance is faded.

It was 70 degrees today, so I took the kids outside to play ladder golf and drive around in their jeep and police car. Thank goodness the weather is nicer.

The virus is still spreading. Something like 10,000 deaths in the US. They expect the curve to peak in the next few weeks. The governor suggested we all start wearing masks when we go out in public areas. I’m not ready for that yet.

The stock market has plummeted, millions of people losing their jobs. Luckily, we still have ours. Dear Lord, thank you! 

May 29, 2020

The last few weeks have been very tough. Jaz and Max both got sick with a cough and fever. They had all the symptoms of the virus, but our telehealth doctor didn’t think they were at risk enough to get tested, so they were instructed to take some Nyquil and ride it out. Eva was so helpful at taking care of them. Such a sweetheart. She really doesn’t understand what’s going on, but knows how the virus can make someone very sick. Fortunately, everyone was okay and back to normal after a week. Jaz goes back to work Monday. I think she should rest another day.

Aside from our struggles, things have been getting better with the “rona.” Many states have started to allow businesses to return employees to work, but everyone has to wear masks and reconfigure their environment to allow for social distancing. They don’t want the curve to spike back up. Honestly, I don’t think things will ever get back to normal until there’s a cure. When I walk or jog down the sidewalk, people still move into the street to avoid me. It’s a mind-fuck. 

Happy 10-year anniversary to my beautiful wife. We were supposed to take the kids to Disneyworld this week, but we had to cancel.

August 3, 2020

The virus is pretty much gone. Thank God. The CDC thinks they can fast-track a vaccine by the end of this year. Somehow, thankfully, Eva and I didn’t get the virus. I wonder if we are immune? 

Summer is going great. Society is finally getting back to normal. I went to the bar for the first time in six months. Got drunk with Greg and Sam. I didn’t wear a mask, and I didn’t care–it was nice to be able to breathe without my glasses fogging up. The economy (and my retirement savings) is recovering nicely. Kids are going back to school and start 2nd grade later this month, but they will have to wear masks. Most importantly, sports are back! The NFL kicks off preseason games this weekend. No fans are allowed to attend the games. That will be weird, but I don’t care. Go Browns!

November 20, 2020

Terrible news. There was an unexpected surge in the virus. It started in China, like last time, but it has been spreading across the world much quicker. They’re saying that everyone who has had the virus is getting it again. They aren’t immune, and no one knows why. Praying every day for Jaz and Max. Governor announced another stay-at-home order. Businesses and schools are all closed again, and the stock market is at the lowest ever. The presidential election was postponed. Looks like another holiday where we won’t be able to see our family.

Dear God, please stop this! 

January 30, 2021

I’m very saddened to write that my brother got very sick last month and was unable to fight off the virus. It happened so fast. I wasn’t allowed to visit. I couldn’t even say goodbye! Where is the humanity in that? 

It has been over a year since this shit started and there are no signs of it slowing down. Many more new cases every day. All the scientists keep twiddling their thumbs trying to develop a vaccine, but they are taking too long. The president is pissed. They’re saying the vast majority of deaths have been from people who had the virus last year. Doesn’t make sense. Don’t they have the antibodies? No one seems to know. 

The death toll is now at half a million people worldwide. Thankfully, Jaz and Max are healthy–thank you God for answering my prayers. But I’m terrified for them. We have been super careful–paranoid–to make sure we don’t bring in germs from the outside. THIS IS NO WAY TO LIVE. 

February 17, 2021

It doesn’t seem real. I don’t know how much more I can take. My friend, Greg, passed away yesterday from the virus. And Sam is sick and not doing well. People everywhere are getting sicker, faster than last year. Plus, they found out all the ventilators that the car companies made last year have been failing, killing so many people in the ICUs.

March 10, 2021

Sam passed away Sunday. He was only 37. Had three kids. I talked with him on Facetime, but my phone battery died before I could say goodbye. 

June 3, 2021

The president just held an emergency press conference. They are now saying the virus is an act of bioterrorism. It’s not organic, but nanotechnology made to look organic like a normal virus. No one knows who made it. It’s very advanced. Good God–this is something out of science fiction. Everyone is scared. We all feel like this could be the end. 

My wife lost her job. I still have mine, but does it really matter now? 

Please Jesus, return soon. Take us home.

September 26, 2021

Today is my birthday, but there’s nothing to celebrate. The virus took Jaz and Max last month. It’s just me and Eva. Alone. Scared. I’m trying my best to hold it together, to look strong for my daughter. But it’s hard. I break down and cry everyday.

The virus keeps getting stronger, smarter, more resistant. Grocery stores are closed and empty. Canned food can be ordered through Amazon, but the internet stopped working two weeks ago. We’re hungry, eating nothing but bouillon cubes and microwavable Rice-a-Roni cups. The world’s population is now cut in half. People are now using guns to protect themselves and keep their social distance. I can’t believe this is happening. 

January 24, 2022

As I’m writing this, I’m sick on the couch, listening to the emergency radio that I’d never thought I’d need to wind up. The world’s population is less than one billion. I just heard they’re sending scientists and political leaders to White Sulfur Springs, WV–underneath some mountain. They hope to be isolated and protected from the virus. To focus on a cure. At least that’s what the news says.

January 25, 2022

It’s hard for me to breathe. Eva is doing everything she can to take care of me, but we don’t have any medicine. I can’t get through to a telehealth Doctor. My lungs hurt and my fever is very high–there’s nothing we can do to bring it down. I’m too weak to get up.

I miss Jasmine and Max. I miss Greg, Sam, and all my friends, my brother, my mom, grandma. Everyone is dead, but I’ll be seeing them soon.

I’m so scared for Eva, she’s only nine years old. What will happen to her when I’m gone? Please Lord, take care of my baby girl.

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Calories and Campfires

Our metabolism is like a campfire. When we eat food and drink, it’s sent to the liver to be metabolized and burned away like wood to produce heat (calories). If we hork down too much, like three out of every four people in America, we’re tossing a large amount of wood on a fire that won’t get burned. This extra wood is then stacked up in our body as glycogen and fat, and saved for later.

Glycogen is extra carb storage in our liver and muscles. It’s readily accessible and our body’s first choice for fuel when food isn’t around. But glycogen storage is limited. When it runs out, we convert extra calories into fat, which is stored virtually everywhere in the body–around our organs, in our bloodstream, or packed into our guts, asses, and hips.

When we have an abundant storage of “wood,” things can get out of control. Since our bloodstream is like an interstate system, when it gets too crowded, it doesn’t work efficiently. Too much fat on our freeway can cause traffic jams, car accidents, and jack-knifed 18-wheelers, inhibiting the performance of our daily physiological needs. Over a period of time, this leads to obesity and resulting diseases–like type 2 diabetes, fatty liver, heart disease, and cancer. 

So what are the sources of calories? 

Carbohydrates, protein, alcohol, and fat can be burned down to produce energy. Carbs and protein give off the least heat, at 4 calories per gram. Alcohol (my favorite) comes in second place at 7 calories per gram. And fat provides the most heat at 9 calories per gram.

Sticking with the campfire example (pun intended), carbs are like kindling. They burn quickly and are a necessity for getting things started and building a fire. They are great breakfast foods. 

Protein is like a bundle of wood you buy at the grocery store that costs about $10. It is good for building your fire and providing a framework. Protein takes longer to burn.

Fat is like that big fat tree stump you put on the fire. It takes forever to start burning, but when it does, it provides fuel for a long time. 

Alcohol is like lighter fluid. You might use it if you suck at building a fire from scratch. At first it produces a bright, amazing flame and you think: This fire is awesome. Who needs wood when you got lighter fluid, brah? But the fire, and fun, doesn’t last. The flames usually die off in about 10 seconds and you’re back where you started from. 

Drinking alcohol has the same effect. The moment you take a shot, pound a beer, or drink a fancy glass of rosé, the alcohol gets absorbed into your bloodstream and the flame ignites, releasing fun, drunken energy. But the flame burns away, and you soon feel like a burnt out stick. 

How much fuel do you need?

Well, it depends. The size of your body, and how much you use it, determines how much wood to toss on your campfire. The smaller you are, or the more inactive you are, the less wood you need. If you’re tall and active, you’ll need more.

Most people follow the 2,000 calorie-a-day standard, but this is an average amount. A small, sedentary female will get fat eating 2,000 daily calories because her campfire is small. But a gigantic, active manbeast will lose weight because his bonfire is ginormous.

Bottom line:

Your metabolism is like a campfire. Know how much wood you need to toss on it or you’ll get fat. To find out, google “calorie calculator,” choose one of the millions of calculators, and plug in your information. This knowledge will help ensure your campfire burns bright and incinerates anything you toss into it.

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Parquet Floors to the Past

I wake up, surprised to find myself on the floor at the entrance to my grandma’s house. Excited to be home, though, I dust myself off and follow the parquet floors up three steps to the kitchen.

“Mom?”

She isn’t in her chair by the window, coloring with her favorite set of colored pencils, or doing word searches while listening to the Beatles. The chair is empty. The room is quiet.

“Grandma?”

I follow the floor back down to the landing, my body feels unusually worn. The walls, which are normally yellow and bright, now look faded by time, tar, and nicotine. “Mom, are you down the basement?” I run down to see her, thinking she’s probably doing laundry or hanging up sweaters on the clothesline. But she isn’t there. The clothesline is barren.

I walk towards the finished side and see there’s only one board game resting on our game shelf. Where are all the other games? Where’s Huggermugger? Where’s Rubik’s Race? I grab Life and look at its cover–an image of a mom, dad, and two kids playing, smiling. It’s a cheesy picture, my sister and I always joke about it. But the picture of the family is covered with too much dust, their faces and clothes drained of too much color.

I turn on the light to the liveable side of the basement. Finished with the frayed, mint-green carpet from our living room and wooden paneling that my brother nailed to the cement walls. I expect to see a centipede scamper across the wall looking for a dark, damp shelter. But he’s not there to greet me. Where is everything? There’s no gold chair, bed, or bookshelf. There’s nothing stashed in my brother’s handmade closet, or piled up in the corner next to the broken fireplace, or even hidden under my mom’s train table. The only thing that remains is my brother’s red guitar, the same one that still echoes songs like Fly By Night and Over the Hills and Far Away.

I exit the finished side. For some reason, my bones, my body ache like the yellow walls. I pass my grandma’s silver table that looks like something straight out of Johnny Rockets. Sitting on top is a VHS storage drawer with tapes of Funny Farm, Ishtar, Fletch Lives, and a 1987 Browns-Broncos game. I recorded them straight from the TV, pausing during the commercials. But there are no old boxes stacked on the table; there are no old totes stored underneath.

Did Mom finally do some Spring cleaning?

I glance over at our utility sink, where I wash my hair, and where my friends piss during my parties. Off in the corner is our laundry chute–where clothes disappear dirty and reappear clean in my closet and dresser. Like magic. But there are no dirty clothes underneath. The hamper is gone.

My thoughts begin to race. I know something isn’t right.

On the opposite side of the basement, next to the furnace, is our giant 1950’s freezer. Large enough to fit four people inside. Like everything back then, it was made by steel workers and built to last forever. I open the door, but there’s nothing inside but stale-smelling ice crystals. I glance over at our pantry shelf, which now only holds a can of French cut green beans and a can of disgusting cream of mushroom soup. Normally, the shelves are filled with boxes of cereal and pasta, cans of Maxwell House and Busch beer, and rolls of paper towels and toilet paper.

I open the thin, wooden door to our closet under the stairs, hoping to see our Christmas tree and holiday decorations, praying to see the clutter of glassware, antique bowls, coffee mugs, and my grandma’s plastic exercise bike–the same bike we used for hyperspace travel in our homemade movies. But the closet under the stairs is empty. The shelves are vacant, the floor barren!

“Mom!” I try to run up the stairs, but my legs don’t move quickly enough and I stumble and fall, hurting my knee. I walk through the kitchen towards the dining room, grimacing in pain.

“Mom? Grandma? Are you home?”

My grandma isn’t in her recliner watching Matlock or Murder She Wrote. Her chair and TV are gone–even the blue clock hanging on the wall has vanished.

I run into the bathroom and splash water on my face. I look in the mirror, frightened to see a man staring back at me. His hair is thin, gray. He’s an old man with a dying face, covered with wrinkled skin that droops from his neck and chin like a chicken’s.

“Dear God!” I cry. “Mom, are you home? Please tell me you’re home!”

Keeping Your Foundation Strong. A Message from Vitamin D.

Dear humans,

Hello, my name is Deon. You may know me by my Earth name: Vitamin D. With winter upon us, I thought it necessary to provide you with critical information.

First, I ask that you keep this message confidential. The Academy of Nutrients, Vitamins And Minerals (ANVAM) has made me swear not to reveal my true identity—that I’m one of many sentient nano beings employed to work inside the human body to ensure it functions properly.

I work closely with my friends, Cali and Phred (you know them as Calcium and Phosphorus) to keep your bones and teeth healthy. I also do some work on the side to keep your immune system and genes healthy, but for the sake of this discussion, my primary job is in the Bones and Teeth Division. 

I don’t live inside your body, I just work there. I travel via pills, food, or on a beam of ultraviolet light. I prefer light travel—it’s fast, efficient, and I enter through your skin in a greater capacity. Food is a much slower vehicle, and humans rarely ingest me because I’m found in disgusting foods like sardines and cod liver oil. However, for the past ninety years, food scientists on Earth have been fortifying me in milk and cereal, so many humans onboard me during their breakfast.

When I travel to your body I’m always in hypersleep, which means I’m dormant upon arrival. I must be transported to the liver or kidneys to be activated. There my work shift begins!

My job classification is a Regulator. Along with my supervisor, Paul Thomas Harold (aka Parathyroid Hormone), we make sure Cali and Phred are in the right place and in correct balance so your bones and teeth work at optimal efficiency. I’m the only member of ANVAM that possesses the magic keys that will unlock the doors to bones and small intestines, which is where Cali and Phred are absorbed and begin their work shift. I especially need to keep an eye on Cali. She’ll sometimes get lost or try to leave work before her shift is over, so I make sure she doesn’t hop aboard a pool of your urine and exit the body. Losing too much of her could lead to weak bones.

Sometimes, if you don’t eat the right foods or see enough sunlight, I’m unable to report to work. This is especially common during the winter months in Earth’s northern regions (and the reason I’m sending this message). When this happens, Cali and Phred are on their own, gathering outside your bones and small intestines waiting for my magic keys. But since I’m not there, they can’t do their job. Potentially, this could lead to an outbreak of osteomalacia or rickets—and your bone foundation might deteriorate like a house whose structure has been digested by termites. Not fun.

So this winter, make sure you eat vitamin D-fortified foods or take supplements. I put in a lot of hours taking care of you; I’d hate to see your bones slowly crumble into a pile of dust.

Happy new year!

-Deon

Deon Dihydroxy III
Regulatory Communications Officer
Bones and Teeth Division
Academy of Nutrients, Vitamins, and Minerals


Store Holiday Memories, Not Holiday Fat

The snow before January is white and crisp—take a picture and post it on Instagram.

The colors of Christmas lights radiate your neighborhood—tell a story on Snapchat.

You enjoy some holiday cheer with friends and family—tag your besties and siblings on Facebook. No, wait—you better not post that picture. Your face looks fat, and you don’t want your Facebook friends to see that you’ve packed on poundage.

The holidays are filled with magic, but that magic can often dispelled by an online sedentary lifestyle that results in weight gain. We sit on the couch. We gaze into our phones. We shop online. We get groceries delivered. We take selfies. We cook less. We gaze into our phones. We send gifs to our friends. We place mobile food orders. We post pics of our dogs, cats and food. We eat.

Did I mention we sit on the couch?

Our waistlines suffer from this introverted lifestyle, but so do our holiday moments and memories. Here are five things that will help you tip the scales and make the most out of the holiday season:

Put Down Your Phone. Interact with humans instead of interacting through a 6.1 inch diagonal screen. The offline world is filled with sights, sounds, and smells—a feast for your senses. Plus, if you go out for a day of shopping, you can burn up to 750 extra calories. To burn even more, walk the stairs instead of riding the escalators, or make extra trips to your car to drop off gifts. Use your legs, they were put there for a reason.

Do More Chores. A half hour of cleaning can burn over 100 calories, and an hour of doing laundry can burn up to 150 calories. When you get home from work or errands, a clean house and clean clothes will be waiting for you.

Eat Salads. Salads are a great way to eat more fruits and vegetables. When ordering salads, however, be aware extra calories from salad dressings—they can sometimes account for half the total calories of the salad. Ask for your dressing on the side so you can control your portions.

Get it Grilled. Sometimes the calories of a fried chicken sandwich or salad can outnumber the calories of a half-pound cheeseburger. Ask your server how your chicken is prepared; if it is fried or breaded, go grilled.

Don’t Eat Cheese. Give it a try. Cheese is on EVERYTHING. One serving of cheese or cheese sauce can be anywhere from 50-100 calories (about 20 minutes of walking). The sandwich tastes just fine without the cheese. Use salsa or mustard for dipping sauces since they are much lower in calories.

This year, embrace the offline world and avoid future diagnoses of “text neck” and smart phone-induced depression. Instead, waltz into 2020 a few pounds lighter with holiday memories posted to your brain instead of your social media account.

How to Trick the Undead this Halloween

It’s damp, cold, the last warm breath of summer whisked away with a pile of leaves. You grab your now musty jacket and sit on the porch glider, swinging and shivering, telling yourself fall is better than summer because of the beautiful leaves.

You shift your eyes away from your half-dead tree in the front yard and notice a pack of people walking down the street. At first, you think they’re children walking to the nearby middle school. But as they get closer, you notice something much more horrific than pre-pubescent teens.

This can’t be happening. You rub your eyes, and look again. The people are not children, but undead creatures—zombies, wraiths, and skeletons—floating and limping towards you. You can’t believe your eyes! Their bony fingers on outstretched arms are holding small colorful packages—oranges, browns, reds, blues, yellows—the only things bringing color to their lifeless bodies. You squint and reveal one of your darkest evils, a caloric evil you have successfully avoided all year:

Peanut butter cups!

Chocolate bars!

Candy!

The undead are on your front yard now, tempting you to binge on their treats, wanting you to inhale as many calories as possible until you feel depressed and miserable, until you feel as if you’ve gained five pounds in one day. You stand up from the porch swing, checking your hips and love handles. Determined, you shout, “NOT THIS YEAR!”

Don’t let Halloween and the annual return of the undead transform your hard-earned 4-pack stomach into love handles by the end of Christmas. Don’t put yourself through another haunting New Year’s resolution filled with promises of weight loss. Instead, use the following tricks to fight back and free yourself from the impending holiday doom.

Trick #1: Learn control

Like a famous soothsayer once said, “Control, you must learn control!” Whether you’re invading your kids’ trick-or-treat bag or eating everyone’s chocolate donations at work (because they would rather you get fat than them), the key is control. Only mental prowess and will power can save you. Only then can you conquer the undead.

Trick #2: Limit yourself

Don’t let Halloween turn into World War Z. It’s okay to treat yourself, but try to limit your candy consumption to a max of three pieces. A mini peanut butter cup is about 50 calories. A fun size chocolate bar is around 75 calories. Keeping yourself under 200 calories for a treat is okay, and it will help satisfy your cravings. If you find yourself chowing down on a sack of sweet tarts and fun-size chocolates like it’s a bag of microwave popcorn, then the candy zombies have won.

Trick #3: Balance things out

It’s all about balance when maintaining weight. You probably hate hearing that—hell, as a dietitian I hate saying it—but unfortunately it’s the truth. If you eat candy, balance it out with exercise or cut back on a snack or beer later in the day. It’s easy to burn off 200 calories—just hop on the nearest elliptical machine for a quick 15-20 minute stride, or take a walk or two around the block and admire the dead (colorful and beautiful) leaves. Or if you don’t want to exercise, and would rather be a sedentary snail, opt out of a second helping at dinner or pass on the late night soda, chips, pumpkin ale, or goblet of wine.

You have a long haul ahead of you this holiday season. It’s important to get off to a good start. There’s a big fat turkey with cheesy potatoes and pumpkin pie waiting in the wings, only to be followed by calorie-laden holiday parties filled with grandma’s Christmas cookies and ginormous feasts large enough to feed the city of Whoville instead of a family of four. Without a little discipline, it’s easy to gain 5-10 pounds in two months. Over your lifespan that adds up—and if you’re not careful—you’ll be 70-years-old and 300 pounds, and the undead crawling up your front yard won’t be holding candy, they’ll be holding heart and diabetes medication.