Intuitive Eating & Kids: Halloween Edition

Trick or treat! smell my feet! my friend Sumner is gonna teach you how to let your kids intuitively eat!

Hi friends! I have a very special guest with me on the blog today. Sumner Mango is a Registered Dietitian, an Author, Certified Eating Disorder Specialist, Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor AND one of my heroes, personally and professionally. I met Sumner in April, 2012 to, once again, find out what I should be eating so I could lose weight. I had just started gaining weight back from a previous (excruciatingly rigorous) diet and was desperate for someone to tell me what to do.

Sumner started blah-blah ing to me about Intuitive Eating and not being on a diet and, get this, TRUSTING MY OWN BODY TO DECIDE WHAT TO EAT AND WHEN TO EAT IT. Ridiculous. I decided she was loony. So, I thanked her for her time and didn't see her again until the following year, when I was ready to try a different approach to food...and ultimately, to my life.

Because of Sumner, I am also an Intuitive Eating Counselor, an Eating Psychology Counselor and an Intuitive Eater (about 89% of the time...I'm still not perfect, praise God!)

In my journey with eating disorder recovery, a lot of healing has taken place with my Mom and the way she viewed food and body image when I was a child...didn't see THAT one coming. And I realize that Halloween can be challenging for parents as far as candy goes. So, in honor of Halloween, Moms, Dads, and Trick-or-Treaters's Sumner!

Intuitive Eating and Holidays

Special occasions tend to bring up a lot of questions with regard to raising intuitive eaters. Do I set rules for kids about treats? Force them to eat vegetables before heading out to trick or treat? (No!) What if they eat so much they get sick?

Try to look at holidays as really no different from any other usual day, with the exception that there are probably some unique and different food choices available. Intuitive Eating involves honoring your body’s hunger and fullness signals, having unconditional permission to eat and nourishing your body with mostly foods that feel energizing. Kids are born to be able to hear when they need to stop. There’s no need to throw out any of these concepts just because it’s a holiday.

Halloween - the ultimate kids day! First of all, let’s not forget... Halloween is NOT JUST ABOUT CANDY! Kids LOVE to dress up, go crazy, and have a blast trick-or-treating. What kiddo doesn’t get excited about the idea of being in costume, knocking on doors and getting a bag full of candy they can trade with their friends? As a parent, it’s not your job to police your little ones, or take the fun out of this really special experience by freaking out about the candy. The bigger a deal you make about the candy, the bigger a deal the candy will be for your kids.The more you try to limit and set rules, the more they will want to rebel, sneak candy, or binge on it when you’re not around.

I’ll ask you think about standing in your kids’ shoes for a minute. How would you want your parents to handle Halloween and candy? Do you want to have negative emotions and harsh rules surrounding this fun day? Do you want to feel like you have to hide or sneak your candy behind your parents back? Or do you want to feel like you’re allowed to have the candy, spread it out all over the living room floor and categorize it from most to least favorite? Do you want to feel like your parents are enjoying watching you being happy and having fun? How would it feel for you to be worried about how much you eat for fear that mom or dad will not approve and think you’ve been “bad”? Do you want to remember the fun of dressing up, relishing in the excitement of a bag full of candy, and building positive, happy memories at home after the big event?

Here are some suggestions you might consider to help preserve the fun, foster intuitive eating and avoid triggering your child to want to sneak the candy:

  1. Be excited with your kids! Don’t say things about how bad the candy is, or how unhealthy it is, or how you can’t have it because of your diet. You’re not going to serve candy for dinner, and they don’t trick or treat every night. It’s a time when you can share a happy day, have fun, and yes, have some candy without it being a big deal.
  1. Talk to your kids: “What’s your favorite type of candy in your bag? What do you love about it? Who had the best costume? Did you have a great time? Were there any spooky houses? How many pieces do you want to have tonight? We’ll put the rest away to have for treats.
  1. Create some structure: Remember, kids need parents to create structure, without getting mad about food or using food as punishment or reward. As a parent, you can model some very important behaviors to your kids.
    • Don’t hide or express shame about having candy
    • Treat it like a normal food that is eaten after a meal or as a treat
    • Don’t voice how “guilty” or “bad” you are for having candy
    • Show them it’s OK to be happy and excited about having treats!
    • Don’t talk about calories and sugar in the candy (this means nothing to kids anyway). They will only start to sense from you that it’s bad to eat and then do so in secret when you’re not watching.
  1. Set some guidelines without being restrictive or harsh: This might look like, “Choose _ number of pieces for tonight so we can enjoy the treats over time.” Or “We have __ pieces after dinner, or one in your lunch, but we don’t have candy for meals or snacks”

I encourage you to keep in mind the most important thing about holidays, including Halloween, is that you create a happy, healthy memory of this day for your child. Help them look back on Halloween as a fun event, where lots of fun exciting things take place, and it’s not ALL about the candy. Kids are much more likely to binge or overdo it if they feel like they have to hide it from you so don’t set them up to feel the need to that. If they do get a tummy ache that’s their body telling them they’ve had too much... which in the long run, although it’s not fun, will teach them more than you telling them they’ve had too much. Kids will want to assert their autonomy and make the decision about how much to have on their own.

*Sumner Brooks is a registered dietitian and certified Intuitive Eating Counselor. As the owner of Not On A Diet in Portland, Oregon and co-author of Savvy Girl: A Guide to Eating, Sumner specializes in treating eating disorders and freeing people from the dieting rollercoaster.

Happy Halloween!

Grace & Peace,