As much as we may want to live in denial, we are about to enter what I like to call treat season, that time of year from Halloween through New Years when there are seemingly endless supplies of sweet treats. This is a time of year that used to stress me out both because of my own treat consumption and because I felt like I was in a constant state of negotiation with my kids. In the past two years, though, I have not found it nearly as stressful and I wanted to share with you the things that I have done that I think have been helpful, both for myself and for my kids.
My kids are getting super excited about the arrival of Halloween and the other day they pulled out their trick or treating pumpkins to discover this in the bottom of my 8-year-old’s pumpkin.
They were shocked and I was pleased. Why? Because that meant my plan had worked! Over the past few years I have tried to help my kids to learn how to negotiate the steady stream of “junk” foods with a simple rule that lasts all year long: one treat per day (with exceptions made on very special occasions). They know that each day they are allowed one treat and that they can have it whenever they want and can choose what it will be, based on what is available. I have done this for two reasons, 1) to put a stop to the constant begging for treats and 2) to help them to understand that treats are a normal part of life and don’t need to be gorged on when they are around. On Halloween we do it a little differently, here’s what we do:
- On Halloween night they are allowed to gorge on candy (within reason)
- For the next few days they can have 2-3 pieces a day
- After a few days I invite them to go through their piles and pick out what they want to keep and what they want to donate and for every 10 pieces that they donate they get a small thing (last year it was a dollar store pack of pokemon cards for every 10 pieces of candy)
- After that the candy is an option for their daily treats until it runs out or they forget about it
What we have found in the past two years of doing this is that as we get further into the treat season they just forget about the candy as they get excited about all the other treats that show up. And it all happens without negotiations or drama!
For years I found this season really stressful. I was constantly worried and thinking about what I was eating and whether I was going to gain weight. I would fixate on the rich and indulgent offering, making deals with myself about what to eat and when. I would feel deprived and frustrated and disappointed in myself. It sucked. But overtime I developed a new system that has worked much better.
- I wait to eat. In the old days I would often gravitate immediately to the drinks and food because I just felt more comfortable if I had something in my hands. Now I will go and get a glass of wine but I will hold off on the food until I have hit my social stride and feel more comfortable. I have found that once I am comfortable I am more likely to make better food choices.
- I make sure to eat the healthier stuff first. In other words, I focus first on the vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins that are offered. This helps me to make better choices about the treats because I am not hungry and I am well-nourished/my body feels in better balance.
- I make sure to stay hydrated. Drinking water helps my body to stay balanced so that I can getter gauge when I am hungry and what I actually want.
- I never deprive myself of the treat, if I want it. For years I would go into these situations telling myself that I would be “good” and not have any of the sweet offerings. I would then stand there thinking incessantly about what I wasn’t allowing myself to have. I would eventually break down and have some, even if it was something I didn’t normally enjoy, and then I would feel guilty. No more! Now I tell myself it is fine to have some of the treat, if I want it. So I will look and see if there is something that is appealing to me and, if there is I will have some. If not, then I know it isn’t worth it and there are always treat options later.
- I start with a small serving of the treat. Studies have found that that the first bite is always the best and that every bite after that doesn’t taste quite as good, but that we often keep eating because our brain is hoping for that first bite sensation again. When I learned this little piece of information it really resonated with me and since then I have found that if I start with a small serving first and take the time to really savor it I usually feel satisfied with the small portion.
- I allow myself seconds if it is something I truly love. This is key for me. I love getting seconds and always have. So starting with that first smaller portion makes it easier for me to go back and have a second helping, if it is something I truly enjoyed.
- If I don’t love it, I leave it. Have you ever taken a dessert at a holiday gathering, taken a bite and then realized it is not your cup of tea? When that happens do you keep eating it or do you put it aside? I used to keep eating it because I felt like I was locked into my choice. No longer! Now I will just discreetly put it aside and not take in those extra calories.
Do you have tricks for negotiating the treat season for yourself or your kids? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments!