Halloween is almost here, which means that kids have started getting excited about the bounty of candy they'll be getting and their parents are getting anxious about the very same thing. I don't think I'd be surprising anyone by describing our society as weight obsessed and fat-phobic. It's the truth. We are. There is so much focus being put on the issue of obesity recently that we have become terrified of every calorie and fat gram we consume and are unfortunately, passing this fear on to our kids.
When I was growing up, Halloween was simply a fun opportunity to dress up in silly costumes, hang out with your friends and get candy from neighbors. I remember when local news programs would talk about the trendiest costumes and the neighborhoods with the scariest haunted houses. But now I've seen things change in a way I am not thrilled about. It seems that there are things that have become much more terrifying than witches and werewolves and these things are called...brace yourself...CALORIES!
Gone are the days when we can unwrap and enjoy a piece of caramel or licorice without immediately calculating how many calories they contain and how much exercise we'll need to do to work them off. Here's the thing, I have no problem with adults understanding what goes into the foods they and their kids are eating. Actually, I think it's important that we know what we're putting in our bodies. What I don't want, however, is for us to hit our kids over the head with this information.
Kids are being inundated with messages about "good" and "bad" foods and these messages are not teaching them how to eat properly, but instead are creating an irrational fear around food in general. Contrary to all of the recent anti-obesity campaigns that use fear and shame to get kids to eat better, there is another way. The problem with focusing on fat and calories is that we make it an issue of weight instead of health. When people think of calories, they automatically think of weight and we want our kids to understand that the healthiest bodies are not necessarily always the skinniest.
Some Halloween candy tips:
1. DON'T point out how many calories are in the treats they bring home. Instead, decide (together) beforehand how many treats they'll be allowed to have each day and explain that if they eat more, they'll feel icky. Not to mention, the candy will also last longer.
2. DO show them that even candy is okay to eat if it's part of an overall healthy, balanced lifestyle, including regular physical activity. Demonstrate that fact by providing healthier options throughout the day so they understand how the sugary/salty snacks should play a much smaller role in their diet than the healthier stuff.
3. DON'T put a deadline on candy consumption.
Some parents let their kids go nuts for one or two days and then toss the rest of it in the garbage (or hide it in their own closets, but I don't judge). Time limits on candy consumption is not a good idea.The last thing we want to do is encourage any kind of binge eating.
Again, it's all about balance. Letting your child eat a few gummy bears or chocolate covered raisins is far less dangerous than being overly restrictive and creating a kind of "forbidden fruit" situation where all they can think about is finding a way to get to it. In fact, studies show that being too restrictive about the foods children eat can actually cause weight gain. I've heard stories of kids actually hiding candy in flashlights and pillowcases so they wouldn't have to give it up. Now that's scary.
Do explain that our bodies need lots of exercise and good nutrition in order for them to work well and FEEL good. The better we treat our bodies, the more energy we'll have and the stronger we'll be. Again, no mention of weight is necessary. We want our kids to eat well because they want to feel good, not because they're worried about looking bad.
DON'T worry so much. Your kids will be OK. Even if they have a little more candy than usual for next couple of weeks. Besides, there are scarier things to be concerned about when it comes to Halloween. (Have you seen the limited number of costume choices for girls these days that don't have the word "sexy" in front of them? But that's another issue.)
Just think, in a few weeks the treats will be gone and you'll have survived another food driven holiday, just in time for Christmas.
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