Let your Kids Have their Candy at Easter — But Not Year Round
Susan Peirce Thompson
Between bunnies, baskets, egg hunts and chocolate galore, Easter is one of kids’ all-time favorite holidays. But, for parents, what starts as fun, family holiday can quickly descend into coping with the crazy, raucous sugar highs and inevitable crashes, followed by the incessant whining for more. With new evidence out proving that the sugar industry suppressed research showing how harmful sugar is, it can be a challenge for parents concerned about food choices and health.
Of course, our gut instinct is to put our foot down and say, “No. The bunny’s gone and candy time is over.” But that’s not always the right answer. At least not when holidays like Easter come around.
The good news is that, while sugar highs and crashes are a nuisance, they don’t pose any real dangers as long as they only occur every now and again. The real danger of candy consumption is that, if not managed properly, it can set kids off down the slippery slope toward sugar addiction.
It takes only three weeks of eating the national daily average, 22 teaspoons, to rewire the brain for sugar addiction. Just as our brains receive an addictive high from drugs, we have the same response to sugar, in the exact same center for pleasure and reward. Our brains crave hitting the same high every time, but in order to do that it requires more and more sugar.
This impact is actually visible on brain scans. The brain scan of a person addicted to cocaine and the brain scan of an obese person often look exactly the same.
In other words, sugar is highly addictive. And a sugar addiction is often the first step toward a lifetime of overeating and obesity.
But the good news when holidays such as Easter roll around is that a short-term sugar-binge — say, 1-day — will not rewire the brain. It’s the consumption over a prolonged period of time that we need to watch out for. A full 60% of one-year olds are eating candy every day. This is what we have to pay attention to. Giving kids the leeway to eat to their heart’s delight on Easter and other special occasions is fine–as long as it’s part of an overall healthy eating mindset and good eating habits day-to-day.
Let them indulge
Let kids enjoy and binge on their candy for 1 day or possibly 2, but 3 days should be the absolute max. Candy, sweets, sugar are part of childhood and it’s not likely that these things are going to go away. But it’s the constant every day, long term use — the kind that changes our children’s brains to crave all the wrong things — that has to end.
Don’t limit or swap
Swapping fruit for a candy can leave a child feeling angry and unsatisfied, craving the sweet more. It becomes all a child can think about – candy, candy, and more candy; thus making the situation worse. By allowing kids to set their own limits for brief periods of time you defeat the “forbidden fruit” idea.
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 fine 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 Peirce Thompson, Ph.D. is the New York Times bestselling author of Bright Line Eating: The Science of Living Happy, Thin and Free. An Adjunct Associate Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Rochester, she’s an expert in the psychology of eating as well as CEO of Bright Line Eating Solutions, a company dedicated to sharing the psychology and neuroscience of sustainable weight loss and helping people live Happy, Thin, and Free.