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Why we have to stop telling our kids that sugar is “bad”

Why we have to STOP telling our kids Sugar Is Bad.

Why we have to stop telling our kids that sugar is “bad”

I recently saw a video shared social media that praised a mother for strictly keeping her kids away from sugar. I won’t post it here, but it labelled her as the “Anti-Fat Mom” and the person that shared it suggested we should all try and be more like her.

Ok, this got me all fired up and I’ve got a LOT to say about this!

We need to end fat phobia. 

Bodies come in all shapes and sizes, largely determined by genetics. The research is pretty clear that diets don’t work, especially restrictive diets. Can we PLEASE stop putting children on diets? No good can come of this, and it indoctrinates them into diet culture from a young age, almost guaranteeing that the won’t have a healthy relationship with food.

{editor’s note: sometimes as Naturopathic Physicians we put families on an Elimination Diet to determine if food sensitivities are present.  This is different than restricting calories, or “dieting.” Even still, elimination diets should be reserved for children who have specific medical issues. We do not recommend limiting entire food groups for children who have no symptoms, unless there is some specific need.}

It’s not about the sugar!

Yes, we (as a society) eat too much sugar, mostly through processed foods. But blaming sugar for the obesity epidemic is misguided and doesn’t address our relationship with food. And the last thing you want to do is to teach your kids to feel guilty for enjoying something that tastes good!  That leads to feelings of guilt and shame, and sets them up for a lifetime of disordered eating.

Focus on ‘Eating Competence’ not ‘Food Rules’.

Eating Competence allows us to have a flexible and forgiving relationship with food. It acknowledges that we won’t always want or need the same foods! Competent eaters have:

  • positive attitudes about eating and about food
  • food acceptance skills that support eating an ever-increasing variety of the available food
  • internal regulation skills that allow intuitively consuming enough food to give energy and stamina and to support stable body weight, and
  • skills and resources for managing the food context and orchestrating family meals

How do we develop eating competence in ourselves and our kids?

  • Eat together as a family.
  • Eat regular meals that include a variety of foods in a variety of situations.
  • Teach them the difference between emotional and physical hunger.
  • Try not to use food as reward or punishment.
  • Instead of telling them how much they can have, ask them how much they need to feel satisfied!
  • Model eating competence!

Doesn’t that sound better than labeling foods as good or bad? Isn’t this what we really want for ourselves and our children?

Sugar is not “bad”

And so, I no longer tell my kids that sugar is “bad.”  Instead, we model treats and desserts as “sometimes foods.” They know that we cook most of our meals at home, eat together regularly, always have fruits and vegetables available, etc. And I’m confident that they will grow up knowing that it’s more important to be a competent eater than a perfect one.

Confused?

Trusting kids to self-regulate is a concept that many parents find confusing.  It requires an entire mindset shift.  Here are some other great articles:

How to Raise an Intuitive Eater from The First Bite

Parents of Picky Eaters Unite!

What is Beige Syndrome?

Editor’s note:

Note from Dr. Erika:

Apparently some of you think that Dr. Jenn is somehow saying “Sugar is GOOD.”  Please hear us correctly – there is a difference between educating your child about the negative effects of sugar and telling them straight out that sugar is “bad.” 

There’s actually very good evidence from nutritionists about this. Telling kids certain kinds of food is “forbidden” is actually MORE likely to cause disordered eating and produce exactly the opposite behavior in children.

Now in schools they are teaching “Go,” “Slow” and “Whoa” foods. “Whoa” foods are sugary, processed, “unhealthy” foods. This doesn’t shame kids for wanting these foods, it only tell them that these treats are saved for very special occasions. But straight up telling kids that sugar is “BAD” sends a wrong message and leads to disordered eating. 

For another way to speak with your kids about sugar I recommend the PBS show Sid The Science Kid – look up the episode about eating cake.  

What do YOU think about sugar?  How does your family practice healthy eating behaviors?

Avatar
Jennifer Salib Huber

Dr. Jenn, as she is known to her patients has been in practice since 2004 as a Naturopathic Doctor and Registered Dietitian. Her family-centered practice welcomes patients of all ages, and she especially enjoys working with women in all phases of their reproductive life, and children of all ages. With a strong emphasis on diet and nutrition, she guides her patients to their best health. She also enjoys writing about health and her blog can be found at <a href="http://www.pillarsofhealth.ca/author/dr-salibhuber/">Pillars of Health</a>

Comments:

  • Avatar
    Alex Moll
    May 16, 2019 at 10:03 pm

    Incorrect, as scientific evidence indicates across multiple documentaries (e.g., Fed Up), children and adults consuming excessive amounts of added sugar causes inconvertible biochemical cause-and-effect reactions inside the body. Insulin spikes causing the liver to produce extra fat. Excessive sugar enters the bloodstream and increases bad cholesterol. Then the increased fat cells produce more fat tissue and greater weight gain. Glucose decrease and their are cravings from the dopamine increases. A healthy relationship with food begins first by an acknowledgement of biological rules that the body operates by. When one breaks them, one becomes unhealthy. Children need to learn consequences of their actions from adults that are to learn the science and guide them accordingly. If a child consumes 60g of soda each day, regardless of an hour of exercise or not, it will naturally lead to excessive weight gain. The body cannot process that high amount of refined sugar—it’s very unnatural. The only reason it occurs is because refined sugar is addictive. It activates the same areas of the brain as heroin or cocaine.

    • Avatar
      Erika Krumbeck, ND
      May 24, 2019 at 12:06 pm

      Hi Alex,

      I don’t think any single naturopathic doctor would tell you “Sugar is Good.” Clearly – it isn’t! You are correct.

      The point of this article is to be careful with our language around diet, food, and food choices with children. There is a lot of research that shows that shaming kids for eating incorrectly, or rigidly controlling childhood eating completely backfires.

      Is sugar good? No.

      But we can discuss it with kids in a different way, in a way that doesn’t shame kids for thinking that sweet stuff tastes delicious.

  • Avatar
    Amy Thiessen
    December 6, 2017 at 7:11 pm

    Great reminder! While I don’t eat grains and try to stay away from sugar… I have to remember that my kids are their own person and need to decide for themselves! It is tricky, as my oldest is 3, so knowing when to trust him to decide that is tough.

  • Avatar
    Lydia
    October 30, 2017 at 3:08 pm

    I tell my daughter that sugar tastes really good but isn’t the best food to help our bodies grow and stay healthy. We eat treats sometimes and we enjoy it when we do but I do limit treats. We don’t have dessert even once a week. As often as possible I make healthier versions of things we like. Like chocolate muffins made with banana and nut butter and cocoa powder, a whole batch is sweetened just enough with 1 T of honey, or bars made with nuts and dates. For halloween I trade the candy my daughter gets for some options I’m more ok with. She will get some 85% dark chocolate ( which she loves!) and a few lollipops made with xylitol. I always want to educate her on the why we eat the way we do so she truly understands. She is know to turn down juice and candy because she knows it’s not the best for her body and it’s something we eat only sometimes.

    • Avatar
      Erika Krumbeck
      October 30, 2017 at 6:42 pm

      That’s great Lydia! It sounds like you are empowering her to make good decisions, which is exactly what this article is about. And most importantly – you are modeling good eating behavior at home.

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