It’s here! The season full of holiday fun and lots of treats. You may be ready to dive in and indulge or you may have sweaty palms wondering how you’re going to avoid all the sugar.
No matter where you’re at, this season can be rife with stuff that nutritionally may not work as well for you as well as a whole lot of nutrition dogma and a heaping serving of guilt – as well as family, tradition and a lot of fun! This article will help you get more of the latter and less of the former.
You’ve probably been told that sugar is bad – maybe even that it’s “poison” – and it is true that high sugar intake is not great for our gut microbiome, inflammation or our hormones, but as with all things in health and fitness dogma and fear coupled with unhealthy relationships to food and restriction leave many women on edge, unsure of what’s best and often totally overwhelmed with information.
I want to help you start thinking vs. reacting when it comes to what YOU should do with all the nutrition and health info out there.
Less fear, less dogma and more “how does this fit for me?” Since it’s Halloween, let’s talk here about how we can think about sugar, candy and treats for ourselves, as well as how we can think about it for our family this time of year.
First let’s chat about us: the big kids — I love this holiday!
#1 Sugar May Not Be Your Devil (For Some People)
This time of year, I hear a lot of “It’s only a little bit of candy one day a year it’s no big deal” talk in the health world — especially from the fitness realm.
For some people, yes this time of year is no biggie either because they can take or leave sugar with little impact on their mood, health or hormones, they have great willpower around treats, or they don’t feel a significant emotional pull from sweets and/or they don’t struggle with guilt around foods often deemed as “bad”.
So yes, if you’re the kind of person that feels you have a healthy relationship with sugar and you dig some small sized candy bars this time of year: enjoy! Don’t sweat it one way or the other (although I’m not sure if you’re even ready this post, haha).
Or if you’re recovering from being overly restrictive with food or even an eating disorder, then restricting is likely a way worse option for you than mindfully indulging in some Halloween candy. Use this day and season to be mindful, enjoy the treat and learn about how you respond to it both physically and mentally, without judgment. Simply enjoy and be curious about what this particular food means for you and how it makes you feel.
#2 Even Small Amounts Of Sugar Throw You Way Out Of Whack
If you are someone like me that struggles with blood sugar balance (I have PCOS and insulin resistance) or you are someone that has a lot of hormonal, mood or inflammatory fall out from even small amounts of sugar, then let’s think less “sugar is terrible and I’m terrible if I eat it” and more, “this is just not a food that works well for me.”
Sometimes we’re still learning what works for us, but even when we know a food doesn’t work well for us sometimes we still struggle to sidestep it or even have it in moderation and that breeds a lot frustration, guilt and asking, “What’s wrong with me??”
Instead of berating yourself for having no willpower, be curious instead of critical. Ask yourself some questions:
- 1. What does this particular food mean to me? Is it comfort, convenience, a response to low energy or stress? The more you know about the why around it, the more you can make conscious choices to have it or not and skip the judgement and guilt.
- 2. What’s the #joyfactor? Personally I could give a hoot about a Halloween size Snickers bar, but give me an artisan sea salt chocolate covered caramel and I’m in. Remember that there is truly no shortage of treats and sugary indulgences in our lives — especially this time of year — so take a pause and ask yourself: what’s the #joyfactor? If it’s high, maybe you dig in. If it’s not, skip it for a treat that is worth it to you.
- 3. How do I feel when I eat it? Both during, after, later that day and the next day.
If there is discomfort with eating it, is it worth it to me? And also ask, is it worth it sometimes but not all of the time? For example, you may know you get a lot of inflammation from nuts so you don’t do it every day. But come holiday time you’re going to eat Grandma’s pecan pie and endure some consequences — consciously, and hopefully without self-judgement.
If there is discomfort, is it temporary? Or does it linger for days, such as foods that cause you a lot of inflammation or significant hormone imbalance, and given that: is it worth it?
As an example, I have learned to dabble in sugar. Historically a piece of candy sent my cravings on full tilt, and started a constant desire to have a bit of sugar here and there. This usually meant just one bite of candy turned into days or weeks of too much sugar, which brought an onslaught of decreased energy, some weight gain, water retention, and ALWAYS breakouts. All pointing to the fact that my hormones, especially my insulin resistance, were not happy.
Now I’ve learned that if I do have sweets, I will have more cravings that I have to manage. Some occasions I go for it (cuz high #joyfactor) but having this knowledge going in allows me to see those cravings as less immediate, less something that I must react to, and “Oh, that’s just my hormones responding to what I ate a few hours ago”. This mentality helps me ride those cravings out, and within 24 hours or so I’m back to my normal.
Other times I will entirely skip those sugary treats, because I make a conscious decision that I have enough on my mind and on my plate that day, to also have to worry about managing my cravings.
I don’t have more willpower than you and I don’t look at it that I’m right or superior to skip it and wrong to indulge in it, but rather I’ve just taken the time to get to know my hormones and ultimately learn what works for me. Again, curious instead of critical. You can learn this too, it just takes time and some patience.
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On the other hand, when I have gluten I am so inflamed and feel so crappy with my gums bleeding and my head in a cloud of fog that it’s just not worth it. I also get pretty depressed and it lasts for a couple days, so this one I just plain always avoid. The fall out isn’t worth it, whereas with sugar sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t: #joyfactor.
That’s the kind of thing I want you to learn about you! We teach you specifically how to do this in Hangry, or of course, email me to become a patient and I can directly help you.
Ok now on to how Halloween and sugar looks for your family:
#3 How You and Your Family Eat and Live the Bulk of the Year Matters Most
This matters way more than what you do on Halloween and the end of the year holidays. So ask yourself if the holidays and Halloween feels special or is it just like any ol’ Thursday?
If sugar is a real problem around your household and nutrition could stand to be spiffed up a bit, let’s take a look at that.
Where can you do better?
Can you start to crowd out more sugary or processed foods with more nutrient dense foods like fruits and veggies? Often just saying, “okay, no sugar or 30 days for this crew” ends up in a fight or you guys muscle through it and are back to old habits on day 31.
Can you find creative ways to get more exercise in as a family? Could you go for more bike rides or hikes on the weekends or take up a family sport like a martial art? Or could you simply have daily dance parties after dinner or to kick off your day before everyone leaves for school to work?
Again, know yourself and your family, so many of our questions are answered when we just sit and be honest with ourselves. If Halloween is just a notch up from your everyday nutrition use this as a barometer to check in on taking some strides to be in a better spot – together – by next Halloween.
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#4 Halloween (and Really, Any Holiday) is a Perfect Learning Moment – Especially for Kids
Just like the questions I posed to you above, start getting your kids to ask themselves about their bodies too. Ask them how it feels to eat a bunch of candy. Is there a point where it goes from delicious to nauseous? Kids get this. We don’t give them enough credit! They have way less “stuff” around food than we do, so give them a chance to learn about their bodies.
They may not have the emotional capacity and willpower to make a decision to stop before they feel nauseous, but conversations like this start a way of thinking. Most of us don’t learn healthy eating behaviors and how to listen to our body based on one conversation. It takes time to learn to tune in and how to listen to our bodies signals, our hormonal cues and to #beyourbestfriend so by all means get that framework and conversation started.
Something I do with my kids is let them have 1-2 pieces while they are out trick or treating, but otherwise try and keep them moving along and then when we get home and get dinner ready they can sort through and pick out a few that they think will be the most awesome and then they get to dig into those and that’s about it for the night. They are ages 8 and 5, and so far no complaints, but as a mom we have to be able to roll with it right? So I’ll adapt as they grow.
In years past they would get a piece or two a day for that week following, and after that they lost interest. Last year I ended up throwing out most of the candy after January, as it got put in a bowl in the cupboard and they forgot about it.
Or there’s the Switch Witch.
Like the tooth fairy, this imaginary witch can come and swap out candy for money or a toy or whatever works for your family, if you’d rather keep it to a day or two of sweets and then be done with it. I’ve never done this yet but as I see my eight year old hormonally following in my footsteps I do want to help her develop a good relationship with her hormones and learn what works and doesn’t work for her, so we may revisit this idea as she grows up a bit more and her hormones begin to be in more flux.
#5 No Matter if You Indulge or Not, Practice #graceoverguilt
There is no right or wrong way to do Halloween candy or sugar in general, there’s only what’s right for you and your family. While we can certainly point to facts about excessive sugar consumption on a regular basis being harmful to our health, fear mongering and dogma rarely work to help you make healthful changes.
We all have to start thinking more for ourselves around this stuff and take a bit of info and say, “How does this fit for me, my goals, my lifestyle, my sensitivities, my genetics, my family, etc.?”
Be curious instead of critical, be honest with yourself, and do more of what works for you.