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Fretting over candy

gumdrops-sliderIt’s that time of year again. October leads the march for the next three months when sweets become one of the central issues for many families. Everywhere you turn there are suckers, cupcakes, frosted cookies and mini chocolate bars.

I’ve been hearing it from a lot of parents these days. (If you’re not one of them, if you’re totally OK with how the holidays play out at your house, feel free to skip this post!)

A lot of parents are worried about monitoring it and about kids whacked out on sugar and about arguments every morning about how many pieces and when. They’re worried about kids eating so much that they don’t eat dinner or who have pixie stix for breakfast.

On the other hand, kids love Halloween. Because they love candy. It’s not just the candy itself that they love; they also love the getting of candy. They love the having of candy. And yes, they love the eating of candy.

But for a lot of kids, the fun of candy comes with the drag-down of guilt because they know their parents don’t like it. Then the candy starts seeming like a much more complicated prize.

Sometimes I think holidays are a kid’s introduction to disordered eating/thinking because it’s such a binge time with all of those otherwise forbidden foods.

A child listens to her parents lament about the egg nog and the leftover Halloween candy in the breakroom, all those holiday pounds they want not to gain. The magazines scream at the child while she stands with her parents in the check-out line, all about how to stay thin over the dreaded holiday season. Then she’s faced with the bowl of whip cream, the holiday pies, the bowl of M&Ms in autumn colors. She eats it all up, she eats too much because it delicious. She wants it and she never sees it any other time of year. And then the shame, the disapproval. The adults who shake their heads at her when she reaches for another slice of pumpkin pie or breaks off another piece of gingerbread house. She listens to her uncle praise her cousin for turning down the gravy or for eating the spinach souffle instead of the candied yams. She comes home with a bag of candy and her parents take it away. Later that night she sneaks a piece off of the top of the refrigerator, tip-toeing off with the stolen Twix bar, guilt, pleasure and shame mixed with the melting chocolate in her mouth. She spends the time at her friend’s party trying not to think about the chocolate gelt they’ll go home with, wondering if she can eat it all on the ride home before her parents take it away.

These are the stories I hear from kids but from adult, too, who remember being that kid.

That’s not what we want for our children, right?

Halloween and all the rest of the holidays are a great opportunity for typical kids to learn eating competence. Young kids might need your help so after the candy sorting and counting, let them pick some out to keep for themselves (because remember having is part of the fun) and then put the rest away to distribute in the lunchbox and at the dinner table not doled out with worried counting, but some put by their plate without comment. If they eat it before the meal, no problem. Give them enough that there’s still room for the other food you serve but don’t fret about the order in which they eat.

(Imagine that — a world where candy is just food! Nothing else! Food you can eat just like any other food, because you like it and your body welcomes it! Food that is not better or worse than broccoli, which leaves you room to notice that sugar is not filling, that sometimes you want something savory. Imagine that!)

Bigger kids can be left to manage their own intake. Now they will likely make mistakes. They might gorge themselves and get sick and they might show up for dinner too full to eat. Instead of shaming them or taking the candy away, let them figure it out. What have they learned? What will they do different tomorrow? Mistakes are part of growing and really, how bad is the mistake of eating too much Halloween candy? It won’t end up on your permanent record or keep you out of college or get you arrested. It’s just candy.

You will find that when left to their own devices that every kid will handle it differently. Some will count out the days and give themselves a candy allowance. Some will eat it all over a few days and be done with it. Some will forget they have it and you’ll find it next Halloween when you go to unpack the treat bags. How they handle it is morally neutral because there are lots of right ways to handle it. What’s most important is that they learn to listen to their own bellies and they learn to manage their own intake.

If this all sounds too hard or too crazy, please check out Katja Rowell and Ellyn Satter. They both have web sites with a ton of great insight (and lots and lots of research) to help you feel empowered to grow children who can eat competently. You are not alone in this. There is lots of information and lots of help. You really can enjoy the holidays and feeding kids all at the same time!


On eating well

intuitive eatingAs we wind down to the end of January, many of us are contemplating where we are regarding our New Year’s resolutions around eating well and some of us are feeling pretty grouchy about our progress. Changing our diets is hard — it takes new planning, new habits, new skills and sometimes new tastebuds.

There’s no such thing as failure

Most of us, especially when it comes to the food we put in our bodies, view failure as a big, shameful black mark. We carry a lot of other things in our plans to eat better like negative attitudes towards our bodies, fear-fueled concerns for our health, and values we learned at our childhood dinner tables. Suddenly a stalk of broccoli or a bite of white bread gets awfully mixed up with a bunch of other emotionally-charged ideas. This is why we need to learn how to be kind and patient with ourselves.

Here’s the good news about missing our New Year’s resolutions: Not reaching a goal is an opportunity to get a better understanding of what works for us and what doesn’t. When we’re talking about how we fuel our bodies, we need to look beyond our physical well-being and look towards our spiritual and emotional well-being. Changing how we eat confronts essential ways we nurture our bodies and souls and sometimes restriction confronts the ways we need to do a better job of covering ourselves with kindness.

There is no one way to “eat right”

We are all carrying different bodies. We are not physically, culturally or spiritually identical to any other person. How our bodies respond to different foods and ways of eating is unique. Some of us do better with a greater variety of foods or less of a certain kind of food and that’s just fine. If your plan was to eat less carbs or more greens and you’ve found yourself heading back to your 2012 ways of eating, it may be that you do better with a menu that’s different than what you envisioned when you were making your new year’s resolutions. Choking down a food you don’t like or depriving yourself of one that you love isn’t the best way to long-term physical or emotional health. Think of yourself as an explorer lovingly discovering what suits your life best and honor the fact that you are an ever-changing human being. What works for you today may not work tomorrow; be flexible.

Going beyond dieting

If you have missed your goal perhaps it’s time to write a new one and use the information you gleaned over the past few weeks as an impetus for loving change. Perhaps you can look back and tune into what your Self (not just your body, but your heart and mind) were trying to say. Did you feel nurtured, nourished and cherished? Or deprived, afraid and resentful? Were you hungrier than was comfortable? What did work? Even if you didn’t succeed in all of your goals, did you discover a new food that’s delicious and makes you feel good? Or a new routine that makes you feel more energized? Celebrate that new information and give yourself permission to incorporate those “imperfect” successes.

You can also take The Fat Nutritionist‘s tagline to heart: “Eat food. Stuff you like. As much as you want.” When you give yourself permission to eat “too much” or “too little” and do it in a mindful, present way you can learn an awful lot about what works best for you. Instead of cutting out whole swaths of food on someone else’s say-so, you may want to give yourself the time, space and attention to eat those “offending” foods and see if they actually are a problem for you. I know that leaning on a plan can feel very comforting but you may find that someone else’s “perfect” diet only works for you when you let go of the rigidity that defines them. Paleo, primal, raw or vegan can be guides to what makes sense for your body in general instead of inflexible how-tos that set you up for failure.

Stay in it for the long-term

Being healthy goes beyond fueling our bodies a certain way; we also need to take care of every other part of ourselves. For some of us, the spiritual or emotional costs of giving up a certain food may be greater than the physical costs of eating it. By all means, add a green smoothie to your morning routine if it makes you feel great but don’t beat yourself up if you find that it’s not a habit that makes long-term sense for you. It’s ok to have one when you can but skip them on the days you’re over-scheduled or just don’t feel like cleaning out the blender. After all, adding green smoothies to your routine is supposed to make you feel better not worse and if it’s not improving your life, feel free to chuck it and try something else.

Remember, none of us will ever be perfect so instead aim for good enough and know that with every new thing you learn about yourself, you’re also getting better.


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