Deprivation Binge

Just let your kids eat all the Halloween candy


Halloween is just around the corner, and if your kids are anything like mine, they’ve already had exposure to a higher-than-usual influx of candy. And you know the kids are here for it.

If your child was already preoccupied with candy, holidays like Halloween may seem to make their fixation on candy even worse. Or if you have a stash of Halloween candy or treats in your home, your kids may seem obsessed with wanting to eat it.

“Can I have candy?” “I want to eat candy!” “When can I eat my candy?” “It’s not fair—you never let me eat candy!”

Sound familiar? Yep, I get it, mama. You might feel like your child is Veruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: “I want it and I want it now!” As much as we love our kids, the non-stop demands for candy can feel tiresome.

But there’s good news: You don’t have to withhold candy from your kids. Believe it or not, raising healthy children involves giving them candy. Here’s why.

Candy isn’t inherently bad—but fear and shame are

If your kids were constantly demanding you feed them broccoli, the desire for a particular kind of food might feel like a non-issue, am I right? But because the thing that your kids may be asking for is a food demonized as less than “healthy” and blamed as the culprit for all kinds of diseases and behavioral problems, it feels unsafe.

Candy may feel like something you need to rigidly control access to, but this approach can backfire. Have you ever hidden something from your kids, only to find they seem to become more preoccupied with it? We are naturally drawn to the very things that we’re told we can’t have. So telling your children that candy is off-limits can actually make them feel more obsessive about having it.

Adding a layer to this is the language that is often used about candy. It’s not uncommon for us to describe foods in polarizing terms, such as good vs. bad, or healthy vs. unhealthy. Even when used with good intentions, this language creates a moralistic association with food that kids can internalize at an early age.

You may tell your children that candy isn’t healthy for them and therefore, they shouldn’t eat it. Or your children may hear that candy is “bad” or “terrible” for their bodies. Again, language like this is often used with good intentions and with the belief that this will in fact deter kids from eating candy and sweets.

However, what this actually teaches kids is that they are bad for wanting or eating candy (not the candy itself). Kids don’t view food in the same way that we do as adults, nor do they make food decisions based on arbitrary standards of “healthy vs. unhealthy.”

All they know is what tastes good to them and what feels safe. Food can slowly but surely become unsafe when they begin learning that certain foods are “bad” for them.

The bottom line: Restrictive control tactics around candy, along with polarizing language about candy, can not only cause children to feel more preoccupied with candy, but it can create fear, guilt and shame for wanting and eating these foods.

Why it’s okay to treat candy like any other food

Remember that your kids are born with innate programming that helps them self-regulate the foods and amounts they need to grow at a rate that is right for them. That’s right—your child is born as a natural intuitive eater, and by taking a neutral approach and stance to candy, you can help preserve their innate abilities to regulate all foods, including candy.

Good health and nutrition goes far beyond the nutritive qualities of the foods themselves. It involves finding satisfaction and pleasure in food and being able to respond to and respect your body’s hunger and fullness signals.

When kids are presented with restrictive feeding tactics, this will interfere with their natural ability to self-regulate and increase their obsessiveness and preoccupation with these foods. You can help your child develop a healthy relationship with food by having regular and consistent opportunities to eat sweets.

The goal is not to try to avoid giving them candy. Rather, we want to help them have a healthy, non-obsessive relationship with candy. We want them to be able to eat and enjoy candy when the opportunity arises in an amount that feels best for them and then move on with their lives!

Raising healthy children means letting them eat candy without fear or shame

Because of the fear-mongering messages around sugar and our children’s health, as well as the fat-phobic culture we live in, candy has become demonized to the point that parents are terrified about allowing their kids to have candy.

The truth is, you can restrict your child from having candy or access to candy, but this will never be a long-term solution for helping them develop a positive relationship with all foods. A child who has been restricted from candy often grows up to be an adult who has a chaotic relationship with sweets, regularly binges on desserts or overeats candy whenever they do have access to it.

Regular exposure to candy doesn’t detrimentally affect your child’s health or well-being. In fact, the opposite is true. Meaning, if your kids feel more obsessive and preoccupied with candy, they will likely develop adverse behaviors around food that will be harmful to both their health and mental state.

Kids who are preoccupied with candy will be more likely to:

  • Overeat or binge on candy when presented with the opportunity (which can negatively affect their overall physical health)
  • Feel anxious, guilty or shameful around candy-eating experiences (which can poorly impact their overall mental health)

Research has found that when parents restrict their children from eating palatable foods, such as candy and desserts, then their kids will be more likely to eat in the absence of hunger, or overeat those foods.

In order for your child to have a positive relationship with food and their bodies, candy needs to be part of the equation. Again, this may seem completely counterintuitive to what you’ve been doing, or even how you were raised and brought up, but it’s so important to keep the big picture in mind in order to help support your kids in a positive, meaningful way.

What’s the difference between liking candy and being obsessive about it?

Most kids get excited about candy, am I right? I have yet to meet a kid who wasn’t excited about candy or sweets in some shape or form. But there are key differences between excitement and interest in candy and preoccupation or obsessiveness with candy.

Signs your child may be preoccupied/obsessed with candy may include but are not limited to:

  • Repeatedly asks you and other adults for candy
  • Displays food behaviors, such as sneaking, stealing, hiding, or hoarding candy
  • Unable to focus on other activities due to preoccupation with candy
  • Prioritizes eating candy above all other foods
  • Feels urgency, stress or anxiety about eating candy, or about when the next time candy will be available

This is in contrast to a general interest or excitement with candy, which may look like this in a child:

  • Enjoys eating candy
  • Is able to eat candy and move on with other activities
  • May leave pieces of candy behind when eating
  • May switch between eating candy and other foods
  • Doesn’t have a sense of urgency about when they will be able to have candy again

Preoccupation or obsessiveness with candy is a direct symptom of restriction. Meaning, a child who is showing signs of candy obsessiveness likely has restricted access to candy, or has not had enough opportunities to eat candy to help them feel satisfied and content.

If your child is displaying signs of obsessiveness or preoccupation around candy, know that there are opportunities to help correct this. By increasing exposure and opportunities to eat candy, you can help decrease any obsessiveness that your child might be having around candy.

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