The Holiday Health Conflict
As moms we approach the Holiday Season with a mix of excitement and dread. While we might be looking forward to the costumes, the lights and the Christmas music, there is always that looming conflict: either we need to really watch what we eat and exercise excessively, or just eat what we want, living with the dread that come January 1, we will be entering Boot Camp and never eat out again. It’s really a mixed bag for most of us moms.
While I’m sure you’ve thought about the effect that 3 months of holiday sugar can have on your body, it’s easy to dismiss its affects in your kids’ active, generally healthy bodies. Before we kick off the season, I want to give you a few helpful tips for keeping your kids healthy during the holidays.
Halloween (and the candy, of course!)
I personally am not the biggest fan of Halloween. I don’t know if it is only due to my deep inner conflict around my kids getting all that candy, or if it’s that I don’t particularly like to be scared, or that I prefer not to spend exorbitant amounts of money to look like a PanAm Stewardess. But I’ll admit, it certainly isn’t among my favorite holidays. So the fact that there ensues a negotiation every year as to how much, when and for how long my kids can save and consume their candy really chaps my hide. I am somewhat of a sugar Nazi, yes, but I also don’t want to raise rebellious deprived kids; so thus my deep inner conflict.
Myth 1: Brush your teeth before bed to prevent cavities.
While brushing your teeth is absolutely a good idea, it actually isn’t going to take care of all that sugar. Cavities (read more about them here) have as much to do with blood sugar levels as they do with sugar (and bacteria and acids) ON the teeth themselves. That’s right. Studies (sited here and here) done by a dentist named Ralph Steinman found that he could “feed the diet as food [the rats] ate, or feed the rats through a stomach tube so that food never touched their teeth. Results were the same either way. What they ingested controlled the amount of decay they generated.”
The cause is multifactorial and is addressed in other articles on my website. But for this article, I will tell you, the BIGGEST reason is sugar in the diet, resulting in elevated blood sugar levels.
Myth 2: My child is slim and active and burns off the sugar.
Exercise DOES help the body metabolize blood sugar more effectively. However, our bodies can only handle about the equivalent of a teaspoon of sugar at a time before the pancreas is taxed with making more insulin, fat cells have to step up and store the sugar as fat and our blood vessels suffer the abrasive, corrosive effects of too much sugar in the blood, even for a short period of time. All these effects, occurring on a regular basis, are playing a part in the exploding epidemics in our country of childhood onset type 2 diabetes, obesity, fatty liver, elevated cholesterol and behavioral problems. And let’s face it, Halloween is not an isolated incident.
Now Thanksgiving, I LOVE!
One month after Halloween, after the Harvest Festival, trip to the pumpkin patch, parties, (with cake, candy, caramel apples) etc., we have one of my favorites: Thanksgiving. I love this family-centered event! But we once again face an onslaught of junk food vying for our kids’ attention.
So we covered sugar’s affect on teeth and organs. Let’s take a peek at behavior. I’d say it’s common knowledge that sugar makes kids hyper. But I find that there is a disconnect when a child eats sugary foods all day long, is diagnosed with ADHD and the diet is never considered. We seem to think that the hyperactivity is a clearly evident, time-specific behavior revolving around the consumption of a cupcake or other large amount of sugar. What we seem to miss is that the chronic consumption of sugary cereal, sugary milk, crackers, goldfish, graham crackers, bread, sugary yogurt and sugary drinks produces behavior that is chronically ADHD-esque. Perhaps there are lulls when the child collapses with exhaustion or has a temper tantrum from a blood sugar drop, but don’t let this fool you. This is all behavior associated with blood sugar levels that are chronically out of control.
The Post-Thanksgiving Holiday Party, After Party, After Party
Christmas is truly my VERY favorite. I love the lights and the music brings back vivid memories of my childhood. And, as I said, I do not want to deny my kids these moments either. But we need to look at the big picture. It’s easy for occasional treats to add up, especially during this time of year.
So, what is the answer?
First and foremost, I encourage you to look at your child’s diet on a day to day basis. Be honest about the amount of processed “carb-age” (processed, sugary grain products and junk food made of crappy carbohydrates), sports drinks and “occasional treats” they are really getting.
Consider that kids’ tummies are not that big. However, the amount of nutrients they need every day is as much or more than adults, since they are growing so rapidly. So we need to make every meal count. If we are allowing the junky snacks and easy, fast food meals too often, their tummies are being filled with food not just devoid of cell-building essentials, but detrimental chemicals and cell-destroying fake foods.
If you shift your focus away from “oh, it’s just an easy snack, they’re hungry, I need to put some calories in them” and focus on “what has my child eaten today that is nourishing his mind, body and cells?” you will be pleasantly surprised: it’s not as overwhelming as you think and small changes make a huge difference in kids’ behavior, moods and vitality. You may have a bit of a battle on your hands at first, but if you encourage them to grab some veggies instead of the chips, if they are REALLY that starving 45 mins before dinner, you might be surprised: either they aren’t that hungry, or they might start making better choices.
If you know you have a party or dinner or Halloween function coming up later that day, focus on feeding your kids plenty of veggies, protein and healthy fats throughout the day. Discuss the sugar content in foods and encourage your kids to take part in the decision to choose a healthier snack now, so they can have something sweeter after dinner. Understand that all that processed “carb-age” is adding to the sugar load for the day.
It’s not just about waistlines and brushing our teeth after junk food. It’s about what our kids AREN’T getting (highly nutrient dense food that feeds their growing brains and bodies) when they are putting junk food first. The Holidays are a great time to practice focusing on nutrient dense, healthy foods so that they CAN enjoy the Holidays.
To Your Health,