By: Sapna Doshi, Ph.D.
Trick-Or-Treat! Give me something good to eat!
As you know, eating disorders, disordered eating and weight management are our specialities! So with there being tons of candy around this time of year, we thought we’d share some tips and strategies for helping children enjoy candy in an effective way. With that being said, all the same tips can be applied for adults too!
1. Don’t restrict your child from eating candy. Many studies have shown that when you restrict a child’s food intake, they then consume more of the food you’re trying to restrict them from when they have access to it (1, 2, 3, 4, 5 ). On the other hand, not having any limits or structure around food can lead to eating when not hungry, mindless eating, binge eating, emotional eating and decreased intuitive eating (6, 7, 8).
Sweets are going to be an inevitable part of your life and your child’s life. Learning how to help children relax around these types of treats can help them have a healthy relationship with sweets for a lifetime. Keep reading….
2. Let your children go to town with candy the night of and the day after. Let them come home and review with great joy how many different types of candy they got! Part of this is quite normal and a day or two of overeating on candy is not going to sabotage your child’s health. It’s a bit like how on Thanksgiving, most people will tend to overeat. For special occasions, it’s OK!
3. Let kids know ahead of time that the plan will be that after a day or two of excitement over candy, they’ll still be able to have candy, but at meal and snack times. Meal structure is important for children and adults alike to strengthen our intuitive eating abilities! Have candy as dessert after a nutritious meal sitting at the dining table with no distractions. When eating candy after a meal, the protein and fat can help slow the release of sugar into the bloodstream. You can also present candy as snacks as well. When candy is given as a snack or dessert, there is often less room in the belly to consume excessive amounts.
Ellyn Satter, MS, RD, CICSW, BCD, is our go-to expert when it comes to feeding children. We love her Division of Responsibility approach where the parents are in charge of what, when and where eating takes place and the children are in charge of how much and whether they want to eat food. Here’s her website with amazing resources: https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/who-we-are/about-ellyn-satter/
4. Teach your kids about intuitive eating. Help your kids talk about what candy they like and don’t like. Teach them that if they don’t like a certain type of candy, they don’t have to eat it just because it’s in front of them. If you notice your kids feeling sick or uncomfortable after eating candy, ask them to reflect on how that made them feel (in a nonjudgmental, curious fashion) and discuss what can be done differently next time.
5. Model relaxed behavior around various types of food and limit discussion around dieting and fears of weight gain. Perceived pressure to be thin and encouragement of dieting can lead to unhealthy weight control behaviors in children and adolescents. This can have a lasting impact into adulthood. Research has shown that these factors are linked to the onset of eating disorders (9, 10). If you have an unhealthy relationship with food in any way that makes it difficult for you to model well for your children, please contact us. This is one of our main specialities! We’re happy to help!
6. Teach children that food is kept in the kitchen and not to be stashed away in a secret spot in their bedroom. Again, this is why it’s important to have candy be a normal part of life… so there is no need to hide it.
7. Make the holiday about more than candy. Enjoy all aspects of Halloween including dressing up in fun and creative costumes, going to haunted houses, decorating the home, playing pranks, telling ghost stories, etc. This helps making candy just one aspect of the day.
Happy Halloween! Enjoy!!