Concern regarding Halloween candy for the parents of children in eating disorder recovery is understandable, but it is also manageable. Various techniques can help quell your anxiety and protect your child’s recovery.
Halloween can cause stress for even the most prepared parents, with costumes and candy and trick-or-treating schedules taking up a large portion of your parenting resources. Parents are also often very preoccupied with the amount of candy their children consume on Halloween. This is due to various factors, most notably the ever-present fear-mongering in the media about the so-called “obesity epidemic” and the apparent dangers of sugar. Though there are no current research studies that support and validate what many call “food addiction,” the term and concept have caught on quickly in our diet-culture world, making parents understandably anxious about the foods that their children eat.
This is even more pronounced for those children in eating disorder recovery. As a result, anxiety around food-focused holidays such as Halloween may arise. With all of this in mind, how can parents best support their children’s eating disorder recovery–or more generally, developmental eating habits–during food-focused holidays?
You will be tempted to try and control your child’s eating. Resist this at all costs.
Many parents might be tempted to remove candy from the premises, especially if their child is struggling with binge eating disorder or some other related disorder that lends itself to what the layman would likely call “overeating.” In reality, this parent-imposed restriction is detrimental to your child’s recovery, and any attempt to corral or control your child’s candy intake will likely lead to an intense desire to eat said candy to the point of extreme discomfort.
Avoid moralizing food and model an all-foods-fit approach.
It is crucial that children understand that candy, like any other food, has a place in a varied dietary pattern. Candy is not poisonous; it is not addictive; eating it is not going to give your child diabetes. If we as parents approach candy as a neutral food and model this perspective rather than perpetuate food fear and moralization of some foods over others, we begin to teach our children that no food is off-limits and that all foods have different roles in our lives.
In the case of candy, we can certainly say that this kind of food is not nutrient-dense. We would all agree if we were to posit that the nutritional quality of, for example, broccoli, is different than that of candy. They are clearly different kinds of foods that provide different micro and macronutrients, vitamins, minerals, and more. But neither broccoli nor candy is morally good or bad. In fact, including both kinds of foods—nutrient-dense versus highly palatable, fun foods—is an important factor in neutralizing all foods and supporting your child’s recovery.
Consider the role of food outside of fuel.
It is also essential to consider the other roles in which food can function. Eating is not only about fueling the body. The quality of a particular food is not only a matter of energy and nutrition. Rather, food can serve many functions that lie outside of nutrition. Does participating in the fun of trick-or-treating and collecting and trading Halloween candy serve a social function for your child? Does enjoying the Halloween candy satisfy a sweet craving that your child has? Perhaps certain candies remind your child of home or safety. Certainly, these are valid and relevant reasons to eat any food, including candy.
This stress is manageable; your child’s recovery is not in jeopardy.
As a parent to a child in recovery, holidays that revolve around food can feel daunting. It is understandable if you experience high levels of stress related to navigating these kinds of obstacles in your child’s recovery. That being said, holidays like Halloween don’t have to be a battle; they don’t have to be a cause of stress. By utilizing some of the approaches and reframes mentioned above, you will be better equipped to help guide them through whatever challenges they may come up against, now or in the future.
Enjoy this article? Here are some others you might like:
Ashley M. Seruya is a social work student, virtual assistant, and content creator specializing in eating disorder recovery, Health at Every Size, and weight stigma. Learn more about her work at ashleymseruya.com or on her Instagram at @cozibae.