Now that you’ve identified how much sugar is in your life, and how you plan on changing that fact, it’s time to focus on getting kids off sugar.
I know that some people might read this and say “well kids like sugar, kinda silly to deny them that” and I would agree, to an extent. Sugar is ubiquitous to childhood – birthday parties, Halloween, Easter, Christmas cookies, endearingly watching Willy Wonka’s near-murder of 4 random children – sugar is everywhere to a kid. But all of those things existed 30 or more years ago, so why is the childhood obesity rate nearly three times what it was in 1970?
It’s a complicated topic and there’s no clear one answer. Factors include:
- A trend towards a more sedentary lifestyle
- Less school time focused on play and exercise (many schools around the country have cut recess and PE in favor of spending more time devoted to passing standardized testing to improve grant funding)
- Less families are spending time cooking and eating together, two factors that absence of which leads to more fast-food eating, more overeating, and less attention to nutritional emphasis versus simply eating to have eaten
- More processed food consumption, which means more processed carbohydrate and sugar consumption
- Little-to-no nutritional education in schools at any level, and misguided or unclear governmental information on the nature of healthy eating (emphasizing grains over proteins and healthy fats, for instance)
- Massive funding put into advertising garbage food towards kids, as well as the part food lobbies play in what your kids eat at school. In particular, comparing the average American school lunch to that of a peer in another country provides a stark contrast in nutrition-density, variety of foods, and the amount of processing involved.
There’s more to it – studies indicate children with parents who example unhealthy behaviors will adopt unhealthy behaviors themselves, but it’s not good to get defensive or hard on yourself for anything you’ve done in the past. The whole point of this series is to change not only your life but that of those around you who look to you for guidance; wife, husband, children, parents, neighbor, dentist, that shady guy down the street who always seems to have candy. Er, maybe not the last two.
BUT as long as I’m on a tangent, I might as well keep going for a second and tell a story:
My Nickname Was Fat Tony (Because I was Italian, A Tony, But Yeah, Also Fat)
I was a fat kid from about 4th grade until now-ish. I didn’t have a lot of nutritional guidance and what I did have was terrible, aiming me towards plain carbs because fat is evil. My mom and grandma were convinced that I needed to exercise more, so I did and I never lost weight. In Health class we were made to believe that eating too much fatty food was the problem, so it was dry turkey sandwiches on wheat bread for lunch and cereal for breakfast, complete with the spit-in-God’s-eye that is skim milk. Nope, still fat (and angry).
Finally my senior year of high school, I got a car, a gym membership, and just kind of stopped eating breakfast, cut down my lunches, and I don’t know what I did for dinner. Regardless, the combination of weight lifting, fasting, and just fewer calories in general helped me go from 300lbs down to 265 when I graduated high school. I wasn’t quite sure what it was that worked, so I kept it all up until a depressive period saw my weight SOAR to 450. But when I finally discovered Atkins and keto 10 years after high school and really started to analyze my eating (and losing weight), I looked back and realized why I was likely fat:
There was sugar in EVERYTHING, every day. My mom and grandma never wanted me to drink soda, but I drank probably 50+ ounces of fruit juice daily. I had skim milk – usually several glasses – with every meal at home. I had a binge-eating disorder that caused me to cram cookies and candy down my gullet whenever I was by myself, but even aside from those events, I still had peanut butter bars, cookies, whatever at my disposal all the time. Pop tarts or cereal for breakfast (because I couldn’t eat more than 2 eggs a week due to cholesterol!) When I was in high school, I worked at a fast food Italian place local to my town, and I remember subbing their plain, sweet, white bread for garlic bread when I ate my MASSIVE bowls of rigatoni with marinara because the meat sauce had a lot of fat in it and WHY WASN’T I LOSING WEIGHT GOSH.
Point is, carbs were everywhere. I was drinking them, I was eating more of them so that I could “eat healthy”, and at a certain point, I’m sure they were scurrying into my mouth as I slept. It’s no wonder I wasn’t losing weight.
This is a good time to mention that childhood diabetes rates are at an all-time high. In a journal published in Diabetes Care in 2011, it’s stated before 2001, only 3% of new childhood diabetes cases were type 2. For the record, type 2 diabetes is insulin resistance – your body stops reacting to insulin, causing chronic high blood sugar levels. This is opposed to type 1 diabetes, which is from a damaged pancreas and a non-production of insulin. For what it’s worth, type 2 diabetes used to be called “adult-onset” but that term has lost its meaning. Now over 45% of new childhood diabetes cases are type 2, and that number is growing. It’s projected that as many as 1/3 or even 2/3 children born in America will suffer from diabetes at this rate, and that’s pretty insane. For the record, diabetes is (type 2 anyway) completely preventable. There’s not much out there about getting kids off sugar, because the understanding that sugar is the leading problem here isn’t widespread yet, but it needs to be.
If you’re not frightened at the prospect of the social impact of being obese for your child, consider the very real health ramifications of being obese, such as:
- Significantly increased risk of lifelong obesity
- Significantly increased risk of heart disease when diabetes occurs before the age of 20
- Significantly increased risk of fatty liver disease, kidney disease, dislypidemia, polycystic ovarian syndrome, several types of cancer, stroke, diabetes-related amputation, etc.
- Attention-related disorders
- Mood swings, depression, tooth decay
- I could keep going but I feel like the only thing worse than this stuff would be it literally turning your child into a bunch of snakes or pudding or something
Point is, you should be scared of these things. They’re very real – doctors are seeing cardiac patients in their twenties or teens for high blood pressure who have no family history or genetic component.
Make A Change
I am not 100% advocating a keto lifestyle for your kids. It’s pretty hard and I’d no more recommend a nearly dogmatic approach to your children’s nutrition in keto than I would veganism or something. The main thing is assessing your kids’ diet – is it mostly processed? Is there just an insane amount of sugar? Do your kids have behavioral problems that aren’t quite clinical but are enough that you notice them?
- Do a journal – log your kids’ foods, at least what you can. Obviously, older kids will be harder to pay attention to but the best bet would be to make this change while they’re young. Making notes about mood, activity, personality, etc will help you track changes that food makes in your kid.
- Introduce healthy food slowly – make swaps. For our kids, we started small with swapping out their peanut butter (a go-to favorite snack) with plain, “natural” types that had literally nothing but peanuts and salt. They took to it just fine. Fruit replaced some candy and while fruit is pretty sugary, it’s 100% better than candy (in most cases).
- Dilute fruit juices or try to phase them out altogether. Drinking calories is never productive. The same goes with pre-packaged “smoothies” – toss em.
- Keep treats as treats. When your kids have candy every day, or cookies, or ice cream, it takes away from their special nature.
- If you want some more tips, sign up for my email list and I’ll send you my “Breaking Kids’ Sugar Habit” download for free. It’s full of tips, tricks, and swaps to get your kids off their sugar addiction (and it might help you, too).
It’s no small feat getting kids off sugar, but every little bit you cut is a step towards better health for you and your family. Make the effort, get help, and change your life for good.