Intuitive Eating For Kids: How To Help Your Kids Navigate Halloween.
No one thought I was an Intuitive Eater as a kid. I can still hear the sound of my Mom’s white Dodge Caravan pulling out of the driveway as she left the house. I’d immediately run across the linoleum floor of our kitchen, grab a chair, and climb up so I could reach the top of the pantry where she hid the candy. I’d carefully move the ceramics aside, the basket full of plastic spoons and there it was, our candy bin. Grabbing myself a big handful of the snack-sized demons, I’d run up to my room, hidden away to “enjoy” the treat?
I had heard her tell my brother before she left for work, that if he wanted candy, that’s where she left it…for him.
My mother wasn’t a horrible person, but she certainly has taken a lot of heat in my posts recently. She was a great Mom and so much of what’s good about me comes from her, but so does this…
She was a student of diet culture and she taught me all she knew. She didn’t trust herself around food, she didn’t trust me, and lived in fear of either one of us getting fat.
Now with three kids of my own, I try to evolve as a mother everyday. I’m faced with the challenges of learning from my experiences, trying to take what was so good, and edit that which did not serve me.
As many of you that have been watching my journey with Intuitive Eating know, I’m about a year into this transformation. I find myself here on the eve of Halloween and not exactly sure what to do.
I suspect other parents with issues around food and body image, might find Halloween and the candy that surrounds it to feel, well, like a “sticky situation.” As we try to lead our children while also “re-parent ourselves,” what we don’t want to miss is that Halloween could actually be an Intuitive Eating learning opportunity.
Understanding Halloween is going to look a little different this year, this blog is for those Mothers and caregivers of school age children out there that are looking to learn new and better ways to ensure they do not teach and enforce rules that ultimately led to their own disordered eating. We will explore how we can use this holiday to reinforce our children’s own innate intuitive eating skills. We will also look into the scientific data on the effects that our well-intended attempts at control ultimately have on our children (and us) long term.
Work Towards Having Your Child Manage Their Own Stash of Candy:
Ellyn Satter, author of, Your Child’s Weight: Helping Not Harming suggests initially on Halloween night, let them lay out their candy, look at it and sort it out and eat from it as much as they want. If the inevitable stomach ache occurs, talk them through it: “how does your tummy feel?” or, “ugh, sorry buddy, too much sugar hurts my tummy too.” Suggest, “next time we can have a piece and then listen to our tummy.” Then, let them do the same the next day. Observe if they are starting to regulate themselves a bit more, but try not to interfere. Remember, Intuitive Eating does not mean perfection. It is perfectly normal and expected to have a bit too much once and awhile.
At this point, have them put it away and reserve it for meals and snack time. Ellyn Satter’s feeding program, The Division of Responsibility, which is backed by the American Academy of Pediatrics among others, proposes that parents are responsible for deciding what food is offered, when and where.
With sweet foods, like Halloween candy, Satter recommends creating a “happy medium.” Regulate the candy to a couple of small pieces at dinner time to be eaten before, during or after the meal. At snack time, put out a small plate of candy and allow them (and you) to eat what they want, understanding the newness will wear off.
Sounds good, right? But why does this terrify us as mothers?
- If I allow sugar won’t that be all they eat?
This work around intuitive eating has taught me that as their mother I have brought these children into a world full of all foods. Through my own experience, I’ve seen the outcome of heavy restriction in the form of disordered eating patterns. When I was little, I certainly heard my Mom say not to eat too much sugar, and when her van drove away, that only made me race quicker to the cupboard to grab my handful and eat it in shame. The control did not make me eat less, it actually made me eat more, and feel horrible about myself in the interim. We explore the reasons behind this in this post about binge eating.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found in a two year long study of three groups of 5 through 9-year-old girls, that just like adults, children who have regular access to sweets and snack foods, eat them moderately. Where sugar and salty foods are heavily restricted for children, they typically load up on these foods when given the opportunity, even when they are not hungry. We’ve all either seen the friend go crazy when he/she gets to the “good snack” house, or we were the friend. 🙂
- Won’t sugar make them crazy?
As a mother of this generation, I certainly prescribed to the feeling that providing sugar for my kids was as close to child abuse as I’m ever going to get. With my first child, I made all my baby food from scratch and limited sugar whenever I got the opportunity. However, amidst the fears of most parents, studies show, it is not directly sugar that results in low cognitive performance and poor behavior in children, it is when they have had ONLY sugar to satisfy their hunger.
So again, offer sugar alongside other foods. Have a big glass of milk with a plate of cookies or a Halloween snack and you are able to achieve more balanced nutrition.
At the end of the day, we want our children to be able to be present in their innocent childhood joy around this holiday. They get to dress up silly or scary, play fun games and eat that which is delicious and different and new.
Diet culture is powerful, and fat phobia is real, but we must lean into both the data, and what we know to be true in our lives. To get a different result, we must act differently. Micromanaging our children’s intake of sugar will only work against us. These are the moments that as mothers we can model, that the candy is there and they can have it. That they can listen to their tummies and stop when they are full because more is available for them tomorrow.
If you’d like to learn more about raising Intuitive Eaters, you can read my post with Anna Lutz, Certified Eating Disorders Registered Dietician specializing in pediatrics and family nutrition. But the best way to raise Intuitive Eaters – and ensure you’re not passing your own food and body image struggles down to your kids – is to become one yourself. Book a Breakthrough Call with one of our coaches today!