We all love the famous phrase…trick or treat. Although it is not just one treat these days, it is pillowcases full of the stuff.
My 3 year old daughter went out last year for about 15min and came home with 2 plastic pumpkins full of for lack of a better word…crap! Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a chocolate bar just like anyone else. But this holiday (like many other things these days) is totally excessive.
It is now recommended by the American Heart Association that preschoolers sugar intake be kept to approximately 4 tsp per day. The average small Halloween chocolate bar has about 25g of sugar or over 6 tsp. Not only is that a lot of sugar, but it often GMO corn syrup…the worst kind.
Corn syrup is cheap and because it has a lower glycemic index it was once thought to be the perfect choice for diabetes. Since corn syrup is rich in fructose, it is not used by most cells in the body like glucose and instead is metabolized in the liver. It has been linked to fatty liver disease, diabetes, obesity, insulin resistance, high blood pressure and in rodent studies found to be more addictive than cocaine. Unlike glucose, fructose doesn’t trigger the satiety hormones and thus causes your body to never want to stop eating!!
So what do we do?
While I will never pretend that I am a parenting expert or child psychologist, I have had quite a bit of experience in human behaviour when it comes to food. We use food in response to many different emotions; pleasure, pain, celebration, and boredom. When I coach adults on emotional eating we talk about the simple fact that human beings make every decision based on two things…avoiding pain, or receiving pleasure. We don’t want to eat brussel sprouts because we are avoiding the taste, or because they make us gassy (avoiding pain) but we will eat sugar because it tastes so great (receiving pleasure). We are genetically programmed to like the taste of sugar, fat and salt…so of course these things taste good. The problem is that our genetics are locked 10,000 years ago when there wasn’t bountiful amounts of Halloween candy that last for weeks and weeks on end…only to transition into the plentiful amounts of Christmas goodies.
In working with my lovely patients that struggle with emotional eating, have been on every diet and are still brave enough to keep trying I have learned that developing a healthy, respectful and realistic relationship with food help to prevent the emotional eating cycle. While some will argue that children are too young, or you are “only a kid once” I think that it is important to educate and empower our kids to understand why health is important, what is healthy and how to go about eating in a healthy way. This is not, nor should it ever be about weight, fitting into skinny jeans or changing some part of your body. But it is about how when consumed in excess how these sugary foods make us feel, what they do to our digestion, energy and mood.
While I would love to put my kids in a bubble, and shelter them from all of the bullies, pain, heartache…okay and maybe food dyes, hydrogenated fats, GMO’s, corn syrup and refined carbohydrates… I know this is not realistic. What I can do is educate and empower them to make their own healthy food choices.
So after much thought and deliberation…here is my Halloween plan!
- When the treats come in, dump them on the living room floor and start to sort. While Hershey bars are not necessarily “natural”, they at least have some real ingredients (and no corn syrup). We sort the somewhat real food…chips, chocolate from the foods that contain food dyes and corn syrup. Because you know…every girl has a bottom line!! Food dyes have been related to hyperactivity and poor brain function and should be significantly minimized if not eliminated in our diets. I have said my piece about corn syrup, and while sugar is sugar…I feel that small amounts of glucose is a better option.
- Once the food is sorted, Blake enjoys her candy. I will sit there with a smile on my face (while slightly dying inside) and watch as she enjoys the pleasure of sugar, fat and salt! I am going to try very hard this year (my husband may have to put a gag on me J) to not interfere and let her decide how much she would like to have. After all…this is the Halloween Holiday…Day, Day, Day…get it 1 day.
- After these food experiences, we usually have some sort of issue…trouble falling asleep, bad dreams, meltdowns, hyperactivity, stomach aches. So, the next day we do an experiment and talk about what happened. Talk about how those foods make her feel and the fact that sugar is a great treat but now we need to fuel her body with healthy foods.
- Time for the sugar experiment….Ask your child how much candy they would like to continue eating per day. Most of the time they will pick 5-6 pieces (or at least this has been my experience). Figure out how much sugar is in the amount of candy they chose (1 piece is about 6tsp, 5 piece is 30tsp) and get them to physically put the sugar in a bowl. Get some white sugar, and have them physically put 30tsp…one tsp at a time in the bowl. My daughter actually got tired last year and asked… “are we done yet”. “Nope honey – this is still the amount of sugar you would be eating in the candy you chose.” Talk about the fact that for our body to be healthy we need around 4-6 tsp per day. Give them their own intrinsic motivator, for example “it will be hard for you to play hockey, practice music or go to dance class if your body is feeling tired from your food choices.” Decide on an appropriate amount of sugar that you are both comfortable with having in a day. The key is to make them part of the decision making process, so that they can understand and be empowered about doing the right thing for their body.
- Decide how long this goes on.
Last year this worked beautifully on Blake, and she ended up deciding that 2 pieces was the right number for her. Now this is still a lot of processed sugar, hydrogenated fats, and artificial ingredients and something that I feel can’t go on for a long period of time. So after 1 week of enjoying our treats Halloween was over, and we went back to enjoying our homemade popsicles and dark chocolate.
While there are going to be many differing opinions on using rewards or exchanges, in working with many people I find that non food related rewards gives people the motivation to make better health choices. In our family, after the week they are encouraged to trade their candy in for a reward in recognition of their great choices to support their healthy, strong and beautiful body. This obviously could be a book or toy, but doesn’t have to cost any money. It could also be an outing…a special trip to the park, play area, hike, play date, trip to the museum.
What to do with all of the Candy.
We will be collecting any unwanted candy for the Canadian Food for Children Foundation. Dr Andrew Simone collects candy and ships it abroad. The candy gets shipped directly to agencies in Central America who work with children in need. Dr. Simone explains that for these malnourished, and often dehydrated youngsters, the sugar stimulates their appetites, as starving children are often unable to eat. He also reminds us that most of these children have never tasted candy, and that we can bring a moment of joy to another child’s life through our donations.
What a great way to share some of the pounds of excess candy in our homes after Halloween! We will be collecting candy at the clinic, and will take it to the warehouse in Mississauga.
Love and enjoy these holidays, they create wonderful bonds and memories with your children.