It’s the day after Halloween, and my dining room table is completely covered with candy. Some of my old favorites are featured: Reese’s pumpkins, peanut M&Ms, Milky Way, and Heath. In our house, my kids get to pick their favorite pieces, no more than ten (I’m flexible because the size varies), and the rest gets donated. Mom and Dad get to save a few as well, because ’tis the season, right?
I know there’s an intuitive eating movement to let kids have all the access and listen to their bodies for stopping cues, and I respect that… but it doesn’t line up with what we know about brain health. Big Food Patriarchy wants your kids (their consumers/users) hooked on candy for a lifetime, so of course they develop their products to hit the bliss point of food, without ever feeling the physiological satiation or urge to stop.
I’m all about teaching my kids to listen to their bodies, but we also have to understand the neurotransmitter hijack that occurs with these engineered food products and the long term impact on developing brains.
It’s not about willpower, discipline, or being able to eat intuitively. It’s about understanding that our brains are wired for survival. And anything that gets our serotonin and dopamine hitting harder and faster pumps up our norepinephrine to make us feel good in the moment – until we don’t anymore, and we need another stronger hit.
Talk to your kids about listening to their bodies. How do they feel an hour after candy? How to do they sleep that night? Are they crankier than usual? How does their stomach feel?
There is no need to food shame or demonize candy or make it a morality issue, when there are so many physiological drivers against us. Different types of food affect us differently, and the impact of highly processed food on sugar on mental health is well-documented.
As I always say, a body in stress won’t digest. So is there a way to not stress about sugar? I think so!
Here are some ideas to use for your family:
- Let your kids pick 5-10 favorite treats to save, and “donate” or toss the rest. It’s not a treat if you have something every day!
- “Switch witch” option – switch the candy out for a toy they’ve been wanting. My friend Rachel does a combo of number one and two. Her kids get to keep five favorites, then they trade the rest of the candy in for five dollars!
- Switch the candy out for dye-free, lesser chemical laden candy, found at a health food store. My kids love the Unreal brand of candy, as well as “Giggles.” There are many documented side effects of artificial food dye and mood issues like ADHD, depression, and anxiety, so this is a great way to enjoy a treat without the neurological impact, especially for our already sensitive kids.
- Let them eat as much as they want. Hello, that’s always an option! You get to do what’s right for your family, and maybe you want to try the intuitive eating route. If that’s the case, watch for behavior changes – mood, sleep, focus, etc. Watch for sickness, colds popping up. The brain and body don’t lie, and ultra processed food has an impact on nutrient sufficiency, while sugar suppresses the immune system.
As always, don’t take my word for it. Don’t take the research articles I hyperlink as gospel truth either. There are many ongoing studies on the mental health impact of the modern processed food diet. Do your own digging and your own research. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: this isn’t the Middle Ages, when knowledge and research is left up to a few trusted experts. Incredible knowledge and research is available to all.
You get to choose how to advocate for your children’s mental health and well-being, and as their parent, you are more well-equipped for the job than any other voice. You know what your kids need. Listen to your gut. I’m happy to walk alongside you on that journey if you need support.