Will It Be The Holidays, or the Holi-daze?

I love the Holidays but not the Holidaze that we seem to be in from Halloween on.  After seeing a really excellent documentary called ‘Fed Up’, (which can be found online for free) I finally understood the impact that the high sugar diet I had growing up had on my health and why so many other children, families and individuals that I worked with struggled with behavioral, emotional and physical challenges.  It inspired me to teach classes and write more about it.  While one thing cannot usually be the cause of everything, it can be a significant contributing factor to a whole host of reactions and create a downward spiral in our society. 

In short, the research is really clear that sugar consumption can cause people to be ‘fat, sick, addicted and stupid.’  A prior study showed sugar is 8 times more addictive than cocaine and now a new study is showing that adolescents who consume sugar have learning and memory problems as adults, at the very least, because of gut microbiome changes (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41398-021-01309-7).  Even the American Dietetic and Diabetes Associations agree that increased sugar consumption is the leading cause of degenerative disease.

Many of our chronic diseases, including cancer, diabetes, heart disease, obesity and degenerative disease are now known to be connected to an inflammatory state in the body.  Nothing causes inflammation faster than eating some of the myriad forms of sugar.  You may not even realize how much sugar you are consuming because it is hidden in so many processed foods like salty chips, hotdogs, pizza, sauces, condiments and many canned foods.  The average adult consumes more than 25 teaspoons of sugar a day and the average child gets a whopping 32 teaspoons a day.  Remember this is only average.  Some consume less so others are consuming a lot MORE.  This data is based on the huge growth in sales of sugar that Americans eat which went from 17.5 pounds per person a year in 1915 to 150 pounds per person per year in 2000 and that was before all the sugar laden ‘energy drinks’ were so available which are now marketed mostly to adolescents.   

You are not wrong if you think there’s more processed fast food out there.  The number of fast food restaurants has doubled between 1970 to 2010. (US Department of Agriculture) and all of those foods have some form of added sugar and bad fats.  Americans consume more sugar than anyone else on the planet and we are sending our diet abroad where the health and environmental impacts are immediately noticeable.

Many people are in a chronically inflamed state because 80% of our food supply has added sugar—not just the actual candy and sodas we are marketed to eat year round.  The food producers KNOW that sugar is addictive and initially raises a feel-good chemical in your brain so that you associate eating their sugar-added food with feeling good so you will buy it again.  In actuality, you are stripping your body of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients as well as lowering your immune function, wreaking havoc with your blood sugar, pancreas, endocrine system and impairing digestion.  In addition, depression is now known to be caused by brain inflammation which can be caused by diet and a disrupted gut function.

The old saying ‘everything in moderation’ cannot apply in the case of sugar because research has found that in children, even ONE sugary treat a day causes metabolic dysfunction.  Think you can dole out just that ‘one Halloween treat a day’ to your kids—wrong!  It’s not too late to invite the Great Pumpkin this year and every year, to turn that sack of candy into toys, games or other desirable things overnight!  Heck, if the tooth fairy can turn teeth into money, imagine what the Easter Bunny and the Valentine’s Day Fairy can do with that candy!  The Christmas Elves can do all kinds of magic and Santa is already fat so leaving him some lovely clementines would help him out. Any holiday tradition can make up new rituals for true well being. 

We can and need to stop training our kids (and ourselves) to expect a sugary treat as a reward or expectation for every holiday or celebration or even worse, for just doing what they are supposed to do.  One of my clients objected to his child being given a sugary treat just for turning in his work in class because he saw behavioral changes at home connected to this sugar consumption.  I shared with him the danger of bribing kids to accomplish things just for an external reward because they will not develop an essential emotional intelligence skill of intrinsic reward or satisfaction of a job or task done by their own efforts, not to mention the negative impact on their health.  We discussed how to speak to his child’s teacher and he easily got her to stop giving his child candy and will tackle the issue of intrinsic rewards next!  It’s like smoking—everyone knows we shouldn’t be doing it but it’s too easy to slide down that slippery slope once you start. 

The massive candy deluge seems to start by Halloween and runs nearly to the end of the school year.  In addition to all the holidays, there are birthdays and other reasons for celebrations.  We must ask that our institutions who KNOW these things, get more creative and stop diminishing the lives of our children and our society as a whole.  We are all paying for the added health care costs of these regressive and short sighted policies.  

Public health authorities consider sugar a toxin but because it’s defined as a ‘chronic toxin’ it isn’t regulated like an acute toxin because of a loophole in the law that allows this.  We and our children deserve better from our leaders, our schools, and ourselves and we can demand more.  Talk to your school administrators and teachers to start.  You can encourage these healthier habits throughout the school so your child doesn’t feel left out or get peer or teacher pressured into unhealthy behaviors that go against your family health values.

Because one of our main tastes for sugar is a built-in evolutionary drive for survival that has of course gotten completely out of hand, most of us will need to have some sweetness for our taste buds at times.  Whole fruit is the obvious choice, but because holidays are times of special celebrations, I say that ‘life without sweets is not worth living, BUT they shouldn’t kill you,’ so I teach people how to make those treats without the kinds of sugar that will hurt you.  Truly, with the right ingredients you still CAN have treats in moderation.  You can re-train your and your child’s palette away from craving those teaspoons of sugar, lose weight, get un-addicted, raise your energy and immune function and think and remember more clearly.  A professional in holistic nutrition or some food addiction professionals can help.  There are hundreds of safe recipes online too.  It is on us adults to change it for our kids but first we must address our own addiction. 

Make these holidays truly happy by committing to your mental and physical health (always the same thing!).  If you need help (and most of us do because I know how hard it is to change ingrained patterns from childhood and addiction!), reach out for your sake as well as young people around us.  They deserve better and so do you!  Happy Holidays (not Holidaze) and Happy New Year!

As always, feel free to contact me at jteleia@gmail.com


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