Halloween can be a tricky dilemma for families who are trying to ‘clean-up’ their diets and create healthy eating patterns for their children.
- Do you let your kids go collecting and just limit how much they eat daily?
- Or maybe not restrict at all? Just let them have at it!
- Do you let them experience collecting candy but not let them eat it? Trade it for toys or cash?
- Do you just not let them go at all? Take them to a movie instead?
What kind of lessons are we teaching children with this tradition? And more importantly, what are they learning from our teachings?
There are more and more families trying different ways to limit the damages of trick-or-treating. Some believe we are teaching them to binge eat and there’s nothing healthy about it. While others believe that it is a childhood rite of passage.
My experience with Halloween was troubling as a child. I loved it! Right up until we had to hand over our candy and it was doled out in rations. It was so stressful picking the one or two pieces that I was allowed each day.
The best way to add value to anything is to put restrictions on it. This is true in all areas of life. If everyone and anyone can get something, it’s not valued. If it’s rare, then it’s revered and its value goes up. We want what we can’t have. And we know now from research that food restriction leads to disordered eating and secret eating.1 That is exactly what happened to me.
Inadvertently, we are teaching our kids that candy is so special and so rare. For some kids like me, this turns into a habit of secret eating and food hoarding. These children feel ashamed because they know they “shouldn’t” but they just can’t help themselves. They will ‘steal’ food and scarf it back as fast as they can before anyone catches them. This type of obsessive food thinking leads to disordered eating behaviour.
If you think about it, when you start a diet how much do you notice the food commercials? How often do your friends meet over food, or bring food when you get together? It starts to feel like food is everywhere! When food is the focus, that is all we see.
Perhaps it would be easier if you did not allow your kids go out trick-or-treating at all. That could be a solution, right? Then there would be no candy to worry about. Unfortunately, being left out is really hard on a kids’ self-esteem. Halloween is talked about on TV shows, at school, and with friends. It’s big conversation – what will you go out dressed up as? What candy did you get? So, as a parent this isn’t a solution for our household.
What I’ve decided to do is to allow my son to go out and get his loot. Of course I will go through it to make sure that it’s safe to eat. Then when he is going to eat his candy, he can do it at the table, with attention paid to the candy itself. He cannot eat the candy, mindlessly, while watching TV or playing video games. He eats until he is done. What’s happened in my house using this approach? The candy is never gone. Every year there is always leftover candy getting tossed out in the spring. Only the candy that is really tasty and satisfying gets eaten. Over the years there has only been one tummy ache from eating too much candy. That stomach ache wasn’t enjoyable, so he hasn’t done it again.
How do you handle Halloween? Will you try something new this year?
1 Appetite. 2016 Jun 1;101:192-8. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2016.03.008. Epub 2016 Mar 4.