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  • Julie C.H. Brake, MS, RDN, LD

Let Them Eat Candy!

Yep, it's the day before the trick-or-treating frenzy, and Halloween candy has been lurking in pantries, offices, and break rooms for weeks. We think of Halloween as one day, but really October is the start of months of sweets and treats. Halloween in October is followed by Thanksgiving in November, which is followed by Christmas in December, and then there is Valentine's Day in February, and lastly a little lag time before Easter in March or April. Then the diet culture tells us to "get in shape for swimsuit season." So let's step back and think about this logically. I'm going to write about freedom to eat candy, not playing the compensation game, and food allergies. It all relates, you'll see!

Starting with freedom to eat candy - Kids go trick-or-treating on Halloween night. We generally let them eat candy because it's fun and only one night, right? Then there's some candy enjoyed for the next week or so until it's gone. Guess what? Adults can do this, too! It may seem shocking, but when our kids come home with our favorite candy, we can ask them to share. Are there tricks to "healthy" treating? Only one: Pay attention. Eat what tastes and feels good to you, and stay in tune with your body's cues for when you are done. [Tip for kids: Let them eat as much as they want on Halloween night or one "holiday" time. Encourage them to stop when they know they've had enough. As long as they know they have permission to eat, they will tend to know when to stop as well. Younger kids may have a time or two where they get a tummy ache, and then they will realize that it doesn't feel good and they don't need to have so much. After the one "holiday" time, allow candy as you would any other dessert or treat. If you're not allowing desserts or treats, that's a whole separate blog post that's coming!]

Next, we need to be sure not to play the compensation game. This is a popular past-time among American adults during holiday seasons where if too much is eaten, less is eaten later. Sometimes eating is restricted early in the day when there will be a larger meal later. Other times there is compensation for what is seen as indulgent eating by requiring oneself to exercise. Can we please stop this? Your body has nutrition needs, and when you feel hungry your body needs for you to eat. You can respond to hunger and fullness cues when eating candy, a holiday meal, or a large dessert. Your body will tell you when it is done. Again, one guideline: Pay attention. [A note about physical activity: You should be doing whatever physical activity is right for you on a regular basis. Your activity levels do not need to change based on what you ate. When you follow your hunger and fullness cues, your body will tell you what it needs.]

Lastly, both a professional and personal note about food allergies. Holiday seasons can be very scary for kids with food allergies. Foods with common allergens seem to be everywhere. [The top 8 allergens are: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish, & shellfish.] If you didn't know this about me, my oldest child has multiple life-threatening food allergies. During candy and treat seasons, we are always extra aware of what is in his environment that may cause an allergic reaction. Our family, friends, and community have been so helpful in keeping his reactions minimal. How can you help those with food allergies in your community? Well, for Halloween, there is the Teal Pumpkin Project, This is to include kids with allergies by handing out non-food treats. If you still need to pick up trick-or-treating supplies, grab some glow sticks, slap bracelets, spider rings, or whatever else looks fun. At our house, we also hand out very allergy-friendly candies, like lollipops, Smarties, Sour Patch Kids, and Sixlets. However, if Peanut Butter Cups or 3 Musketeers are your favorites, please hand them out, too! While our kid can't have them, many kids can! I personally want every kid to enjoy trick-or-treating and sorting through the loot. It's fun and yummy! Also try to think about people with food allergies when bringing food for school events, church gatherings, and holiday meals. Ask what you can do to help, and then please understand that each person with food allergies manages them differently. One person may need something that another person doesn't.

In summary, let them - and yourself! - eat candy! Enjoy your celebrations, eat well, and prosper!

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