By Susan Peirce Thompson, Ph.D
Who doesn’t love Halloween? A holiday that is solely driven by eating candy – and lots of it. Of course you want your kids to take full advantage of this, to enjoy the holiday and have fun trick-or-treating. But you might also be dreading the aftermath of – “My child is up way too late and now he/she wants to eat all this candy… and I have to say, No… right?”
As a New York Times Bestselling author and psychology of food expert I tell parents that letting their kids indulge for just Halloween holiday is OK.
Insert sighs of relief.
You don’t have to spoil the holiday and spark a battle with your kids by taking away the sweets entirely. However, you don’t want it to set kids down the slippery slope toward sugar addiction either.
So how can parents manage the candy consumption?
First, let me explain exactly what I mean by sugar addiction. Sugar actually hijacks our hormones and neurotransmitters and changes our brain, rewiring it to ensure that we will continue consuming more and more of it. In other words, it is highly addictive. And a sugar addiction is often the first step toward a lifetime of overeating and obesity.
But the good news is that a short-term sugar binge – like on Halloween night or the next day – will not rewire the brain. It’s the consumption over a prolonged period of time that we need to watch out for. So as long as Halloween doesn’t jump start a long-term candy habit, you should be fine to manage it.
Here are some things you can do:
- Let kids enjoy and binge on their candy for one day or possibly two, but three days absolute max.
- Refrain from limiting their candy intake during that time. Limiting intake will create too much of a focus and possibly, a fixation. Instead, allow them to indulge.
- Avoid trying to replace their candy binge with, say, a binge on carrots. They’ll feel deceived and cheated and will only crave candy all the more.
- Above all, model good eating habits year-round, with plenty of fresh fruits and veggies but minimal sweets.
Talk to your kids about sugar
Halloween is also the perfect time to talk to your children about sugar. Have the “sugar talk” to explain to them why sugar isn’t good for us. In addition to being addictive and a major culprit in weight gain, sugar is associated with a whole plethora of health risks, from heart and liver problems and diabetes and even cancer. Kids should know this. Not to mention that eating sugar can lead to cavities, and unpleasant dentist visits.
We teach our children about making good choices everyday – look both ways when you cross the street, use your words instead of fists, do your homework first before playing – why not teach them how to make good choices when it comes to food as well?
We won’t be able to dictate our kid’s plates forever; the best way to ensure lifelong healthy eating habits is to teach them how to eat. More importantly, though, parents need to model good behavior when it comes to sugar. Children are always watching and always modeling what their parents are doing.
Ultimately, there isn’t a “correct” amount of sugar to let them have or not have. It is something we want to avoid long term exposure to, but like any catch 22, we cannot completely avoid it. Halloween is one of those times to let the kids have fun, eat some candy and explain why the rest is going away.
Susan Peirce Thompson, Ph.D. is the New York Times bestselling author of Bright Line Eating: The Science of Living Happy, Thin and Free. An Adjunct Associate Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Rochester, Susan is an expert in the psychology of eating. She is President of the Institute for Sustainable Weight Loss and CEO of Bright Line Eating Solutions, a company dedicated to sharing the psychology and neuroscience of sustainable weight loss and helping people achieve it.