This Halloween Let Them Eat Candy!

Kinzie+Riehm, Image Source, Getty Images

Halloween is a favorite holiday for kids, but the focus on treats can stress out parents who worry about the health of their children.  However, it doesn’t need to be a struggle.  Dietitian Katie Grubiak, who works with clients of all ages (and practices from an Intuitive Eating approach), offers some tips to make this year’s Halloween fun and stress-free. 

  1. Don’t villainize candy:  Don’t express worry or negativity about the candy or make comments about how unhealthy the treats are.  Halloween is a great opportunity to send the message that there are no good foods or bad foods. People who develop eating disorders develop very black ​and white thinking and rigid dietary rules.  By allowing candy and acting neutral toward it, you can set the tone that candy is both nothing to be afraid of and not that special.  Research shows kids who are allowed candy are less likely to overeat it
  1. Don’t trick or treat on an empty stomach:  Serve your child a balanced dinner (including all the major food groups) before sending them out to trick-or-treat.  This will reduce the likelihood they will overstuff themselves with candy. 
  2. Let your child celebrate the holiday: Participating in "life" is important. Holidays are a happy part of life; celebratory food and non-food fare should not be shamed out of the festivities.  It is HEALTHY to celebrate, so let your child trick or treat and collect candy. A candy bag that is just the right size – not too small or too big – can naturally encourage a feeling of "I have enough" by the end of the night.  Opting for the huge pillow case and wanting it full might lead to a feeling of never getting enough candy.  One idea is to make a bag the size & shape of an average pumpkin by sewing together two pieces of felt with a draw string and allowing your child to decorate it.  This might just be what the dietitian ordered.
  1. Use Halloween as an opportunity for your child to learn to self-regulate:  When the child returns home don’t set a limit on how much they can eat.  Allow the child to do the navigation.  Instinctively they often dump the candy out and start categorizing what they want now or later or what they will give to their brother or sister because they don't really want it anyway. They may also designate some to regift.  Over the next few days, allow the child to choose some candy at appropriate times, like desserts and snacks. This natural process is part of the excitement and fun. If you as parent stay neutral, the candy fun will usually run its course over a few days and weeks.  Trying to contain it can encourage hiding and lying about candy. Restriction often creates the desire to eat more. An "emotional charge" is put upon the candy: it ceases to be merely candy and becomes a token of shame.  This fusion creates fertile ground for the cultivation of an eating disorder. If you do not invest the candy with this power, it is likely that after a few days the child will forget about the candy, at which time you can put it away or donate it.
  1. Teach your child to listen to their own body signals on hunger and satiation:  You can tell them you trust their body to tell them when they’ve had enough candy.  If they do get a tummy ache, that is a learning opportunity!
  2. It’s not just Halloween anymore:  Other holidays and birthdays will arrive throughout the year.  Encourage a similar process with all celebratory foods.  Allow their natural presence and the desire they arouse to match the excitement around the occasion.  Don’t stifle the natural flow.  You will see that the sweets will have a special place in your child’s heart attached to the emotion of joy at the appropriate time and place. No dysfunction can come from that.

Halloween can be a wonderful opportunity to help children develop their intuitive eating skills!

To learn more about facilitating Intuitive Eating in children:

Sources:

Satter, Ellyn, How to Feed Children. http://ellynsatterinstitute.org/ 

Tribole, E., & Resch, E. (2012). Intuitive eating: A revolutionary program that works. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

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