Halloween is one of the best holidays of the year. What’s not to love: fun costumes, perfect weather, friends, family, late bedtimes, and candy. All that candy can be overwhelming. You want to enjoy the holiday, have fun and be carefree, but you are also dreading the aftermath – the “My child is up entirely too late, and now they want to eat all this candy, and I’ve got to tell them no… right?”
We recently spoke with Susan Peirce Thompson, Ph.D, a psychology professor, a brain and cognitive scientist, and an expert in the psychology of eating. According to Susan, telling them no isn’t always the right answer. At least, not on Halloween night.
Research has shown that sugar is an addictive substance.
“Science has proven that sugar can cause an addictive response that is physiologically no different from how the brain responds to cocaine or heroin.”
We are all exposed to massive amounts of sugar each day. Sugar isn’t just in foods we generally term “sweets” or “candy,” but is also found in many foods we wouldn’t even consider. Lactose is found in dairy products, dextrose is obtained from corn, fructose is most in fruit, sucrose is common white sugar, and the list goes on and on. Sugar is in so many foods, tempting our brains every day to become addicted to it.
Rewiring of the Brain
Sugar actually rewires the brain. Just as our brains receive an addicted high from drugs, we also receive the same response to sugar. Our brains crave and want that same high, and in order to reach this place we seek out more and more sugar.
“The impact of sugar on our brains is actually visible on brain scans. The brain scan of a person addicted to cocaine and the brain scan of an overweight person often look exactly the same.”
Sugar addiction is real. We need to be aware of what to look for and how to prevent any further damage caused by sugar.
Signs of Sugar Addiction
- Thinking and craving sugary foods
- Going out of your way to obtain these foods
- Never satisfied, always craving more
- It is not subtle.
- Weight Gain
- Type II Diabetes
- Heart Disease
3 Ways to Indulge on Halloween
Allow your children to binge on Halloween candy for 1-3 days as a better alternative than extended sugar intake.
The brain cannot rewire itself in just a few days. Susan stresses, “The very real problem that’s going on right now is that over 60% of children are eating candy every day.” Candy, sweets, sugar is part of childhood, it’s not likely that these things are going to go away, but it’s the constant every day, long term use that has to end.
She adds, “It’s changing the structure of children’s brains. It’s making them crave even more sugar when they should be eating nutritious foods that support growth.” Sugar is disrupting healthy eating habits by changing our children’s brains to crave all the wrong things.
2. Do Not Limit/Do Not Swap
Swapping can leave a child feeling angry and unsatisfied, craving the sweet more. Halloween and candy are almost interchangeable. Swapping can lead to what Susan refers to as the “forbidden fruit” craving. It’s all a child can think about – candy, candy, and more candy; thus making the situation worse. By allowing kids to max out on candy during their binge helps to defeat this “forbidden fruit” idea due to the ability to indulge.
3. Model Good Behavior
Children look up to their parents. They are constantly watching what we do, say, and what goes into our mouths. Parents must set the standard. Diets should consist of healthy fats, fruits, and vegetables with minimal amounts of sugar. Sugar should be treated as something special, just like china, we only pull out the good stuff on holidays, birthdays, or special events. Otherwise keep the sugar in the cabinet (or even better, not in the house at all to avoid temptation). It is our jobs to help our children put their best foot forward – we can do this by guiding them down the right path, but allowing them freedom along the way.
Susan suggests that if your household is not already over-consuming sugar it may be best to let kids have some freedom in their choices: “It might be best to let your kids set the pace on eating sweets (and eating in general). If you’ve supplied them with many healthy choices, filling meals, and only a tiny amount of sugary options, they might be able to self-govern.” Isn’t that the goal of all parenting, getting kids to the point they make good choices even without us telling them?
Maybe it’s time to have the “Sugar Talk.”
Sometimes it’s best to just simply tell our kids – sugar isn’t good for us. We teach them about making good choices – look both ways when you cross the street, use your words instead of fists, do your homework – why not teach them how to make good choices when it comes to food as well? We won’t be able to micromanage our kid’s plates forever; the best way to ensure life long healthy eating habits is to teach them how to eat. Susan comments, “More importantly, though, parents need to model good behavior when it comes to sugar.” Children are always watching and always modeling what their parents are doing.
There is no right amount of sugar. Ultimately it is something we want to avoid long term exposure to, but like any catch 22 we cannot completely avoid it. Halloween is a very fun holiday, kids of all ages love it; don’t spoil the holiday by taking away sweets entirely. Susan says, “Again, I advocate to let them trick-or-treat. Let them eat whatever they want out of their sacks on the 1st and then the rest goes in the garbage.”
Photo Credits: Ashley Wells, Ashley Sisk, Nina Hale, Steven Depolo
Sources: Susan Peirce Thompson