Let’s face it there is a certain amount of dread parents have around the Halloween festivities. The cuteness of kids costumes wears off after they have ingested their weight in sugary sweets: tantrums, hording away snack-size candy bars, and sneaky behavior are bound to happen. Are you ready for the Halloween mania? Sugar rushes, hyperactive kids (maybe some adults too), not to mention exposure to dyes and allergens all impact your child’s brain chemistry.
Candy Can Be Scary
The scariest part of Halloween may seem like the costumes, but the truth is a “cheat day” or a sugar overload may come with a long-term cost to your child’s brain and health. I’ve worked with children who after eating pretty clean decided to give in to the taste of the rainbow, Skittles, Soft drinks, and sugary lollipops, oh my. For one client in particular, this binge caused him to have days of hysteria and the tics that had been gone for months came back with a bang. Other parents report stomach upset for days, lack in focus and mood shifts that stay for weeks at a time. Even if your child isn’t sensitive to sugar it’s scary to see how anyone’s brain changes when they are on a sugar high.
Last year we wrote a post about how to Avoid the Candy Coma, which can really hurt your child’s brain chemistry. Behavior and focus, not to mention all around health can really alter your child’s system for days and weeks after the festivities die down. The more you know about how sugar and additives affect the brain the more prepared you will be.
How Candy Impacts the Brain
Too much sugar activates our brain’s reward system (just like sex, alcohol, and nicotine do), causing pleasure-inducing dopamine to be released. The problem is, eating too many sugar-rich foods causes the spike in dopamine to remain at a high level—and you’ll continue to crave more sugary foods. When this drops it doesn’t just go back to normal, it can cause quite a deficit in your mood, almost like a hangover effect. Take a 50 pound kid and add in 5-10 snack size candies (you know they are munching on the sweets as they go house to house) and you’ve got a recipe for some serious mood swings.
If a child isn’t used to the additives, dyes, or has an allergy, and the symptoms could last for days. It disrupts their histamine levels leading to fogginess or feeling mildly manic, creates gastrointestinal problems, and if they really are gluten or dairy intolerant, research shows that it can take months to get the stomach back to normal. If you “cheat” on your diet, the damage will come back, even if you don’t feel sick right away.
How to Have a Healthy Halloween
- Our friends over at Headway Health have an awesome idea, Halloween Fairy, that will help you feel confident about your child’s trick or treating jackpot, rather than fearful of the weeks to come. I mean, just skimming the ingredients (when they were actually listed) on the backs of each wrapper is a nutritionist’s nightmare! It seemed we had two options: 1. let her eat the candy and feel tremendous amounts of guilt while our child ran around on a maniacal sugar high; or 2. throw it away and become the mean, strict parents who ruin every Halloween. Obviously neither option would do. Read more about the Halloween Fairy here.
- Watch out for additives. If your child is gluten-free or dairy-free have them trade in those candies for cash, a bigger prize (trip to their favorite activity, movie or game downloads). For example every 10 pieces earns them a download or something along those lines. Cheating the allergy isn’t possible. Antibodies of their allergy can disrupt your child’s system. The gut can be altered for up to 3 months by the antibodies so don’t risk it. Heres an extensive list of gluten-free candy.
- Trade the treats for cash. Dentists in our area advertise buying back Halloween candy from kids, what a great idea! They donate it to local shelters in exchange for buying your child’s candy by the pound. If no one in your area is doing this, you can buy it back from them, and have them earn money or turn it in for a prize.
Have a safe and healthy Halloween and share your ideas with us below.
Take Good Care,
Emily Roberts MA, LPC
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Emily Roberts MA, LPC is the clinical therapist for the Neurogistics Children’s Program. She has worked with Neurogistics for over a decade. Emily is also an award-winning author of Express Yourself: A Teen Girls Guide to Speaking Up and Becoming Who You Are, Psychotherapist, TV & Media Contributor, educational speaker and parenting consultant. Express Yourself is available at bookstores nationwide and on Amazon. To learn more about Emily click here.
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