What’s really scary about Halloween? Beware The Sugar.
(WARNING: This article is not for the weak of heart and may be offensive to many!)
The evil that is sugar is truly the most frightening thing about this time of year.
When my children were little, this time of year started to put a pit in my stomach, that I mostly tried to ignore, because, hey, I’m a positive, fun mom and I love holidays, rituals and costumes! Coming in as gently as a tornado, Halloween starts, what my brain used to call “candy and sweets season.” The socially accepted bombardment of sugar lasts for 4 months showcased by pumpkins pies, stockings stuffed with candy, decorated cookies made just for Santa, and ends in mid-February, where sweets can actually prove that you have or you are a sweetie!
As a mom facing Halloween and the treat-laden holiday monsoon, I felt neurotic: I knew I didn’t want my kids to bathe their mouths and bodies in all these sweet treats, and as a self-comforting sugar-addicted human myself, I knew I was going to get the Almond Joys nobody wanted.
But the truth is: Sugar is ubiquitous, insidious and addictive.
Sugar is literally woven into the fabric of our lives. I grew up in the 1970’s, a time when sugar dispensers sat on kitchen tables. My family would sprinkle it on perfectly good fruit and I remember even adding it to my Frosted Flakes!!! Today sugar is just infused into random things like condiments, dried and processed meats, breads, pasta, and spaghetti sauce for no good reason.
But, but…sugar also means we are loved. Comforting memories manifest as cookies, pies and cakes. Mom or dad or grandma may have baked THEIR special treats and we happily indulged! My dad was the baker and his sponge cake with butter icing was the cause for celebration! Food, especially addictive sweets, ARE our traditions, our ethnicities, and our very identities. To change our customs feels disrespectful and it can be hurtful to family members when we want to make healthier changes. Choosing not to partake in a treat made by a loved one can feel like rejection to them. The process is emotional, but so is our attachment to sugar. It’s such a difficult thing!
Sugar is addictive. We know sugar causes tooth decay and contributes to diabetes, but it is also a source of inflammation that is linked to cancer, high blood pressure and obesity. Fatty liver disease caused by sugar presents on a cellular level, almost exactly like the liver of an alcoholic.
I’m keenly aware that this article is no fun. Life is hard. Making the right choices is hard. Social pressures and social norms do not help. But Halloween IS fun! And it feels like I’m ruining it.
I haven’t mentioned that I am also a dentist. I’m also raising teenage boys and it’s tough. My oldest son, who hated pop most of his life, is suddenly Mountain Dew’s #1 fan. I’m not exactly winning…
So here I am, the no-fun dentist. And of course, I expect your kids are going to dress up this Halloween and amass a veritable truck load of candy this Halloween. I wouldn’t want it any other way. All I have is a suggestion that you are ready to hear or not.
What are you to do with all this candy now? Well, I suggest that you and your kids can eat a little bit and then…THROW IT AWAY. Seriously. ALL of it. Don’t give it to soldiers or other families that also do not need to have this in their bodies. If you can’t throw most of it away, how about ½ ? how about ¼? OK, give it away—Ugh!! This is not easy, I know.
When my kids were really little, my husband (who is a nurse) used to bring their candy to the nurse’s break room at work—the irony was not lost then or now—and I know I am NOT fun again, but really?! Just look at the candy on the table or in the bag that your family has collected. What I’m saying is that NONE of it is good for you, it’s not healthy and it has ZERO nutritional value. The cells in our bodies don’t recognize Skittles, Sour Patch Kids, Tootsie Rolls, or even most chocolates as food at all. It’s not wasting perfectly good food, because they are barely foods—more like waxy plastic stuff, chemicals, flavorings and sugar. SO, If you are ready: THIS IS THE PERMISSION YOU NEED TO THROW THE HALLOWEEN CANDY AWAY. Remember, it’s barely food.
As a dentist, I used to give away cookies, candies AND ice cream. I thought I was being fun and real. I just would never do that now. And I think I’m still fun, but without contributing to anyone’s addictions. I know the idea of changing your diet feels like it can be too much. Depending on where you are in life it really can be. But the harder it is to put that piece of candy down, the more likely you are addicted.
Giving sugar up can seem impossible. Most can’t do it cold turkey, but I know you can stop yourself from grabbing a candy bar at the checkout line this week, drink one less Frappuccino, or replace your sweet-tooth habit with something new like a honey crisp apple!
Most importantly, holiday traditions don’t have to revolve around food. Start new ones. Volunteer. Play card games. Read books out loud to your family. Go to the movies. Skinny Raven has a 5K run for almost every holiday. Sign up for the Turkey Trot this Thanksgiving. My son and I try to run the Shamrock Shuffle every St. Patrick’s Day! It’s a thing! Hike or walk every Christmas morning and decorate trees with ornaments. The pine trees on the ski trails behind Service High School are always decorated by some fun families. Skate with your family on Westchester Lagoon. Learn to Cross-country or downhill ski. There are so many traditions you can start!
Halloween is the just the beginning of the winter’s long, truly scary, sugar ride. Start by getting off the train now, before this holiday haunts you until Spring! Good Luck! You CAN do this!
Dr. Owen Mandanas is a holistic dentist who has practiced in Alaska for her entire, almost 20 year career! She has a special interest in plant-rich nutrition.
There are also many great books to help you break the addiction including Sugar Busters!, Dr. Neil Barnard’s Program for Reversing Diabetes and Starved to Obesity , by Emily Boller, a former sugar addict.