How to Teach Kids to Control Sugar Cravings


I have two kids – one who avoids sugar and one who can’t get enough.

I remember picking my son Izak up from kindergarten once when they had just had chocolate cupcakes. He was WIRED. I calmly pointed out the change in his behavior. Without judgment, I asked if he could feel it. He most definitely did and decided he did not like it.

Some time later he got in trouble for a bad decision he’d made, and he decided it was because he’d just eaten cake. I didn’t tell him sugar was bad for him — he figured that out on his own. Now, at 14, he eats mostly whole food and avoids processed foods and sugar.

I raised my 10-year-old daughter the same way, and yet, she’s obsessed with sugar. She’d eat ice cream, cookies and ravioli for every meal if I let her. 

I’m honestly considering letting her.  

My four siblings and I lived mostly on the fruits and vegetables grown in our massive garden and orchard, deer, elk and sometimes fish we’d catch. Mom would make homemade bread and pies, so it’s not like I didn’t have unhealthy food. I remember making graham cracker and marshmallow sandwiches after school before mom would get home and put an end to the mischief. 

The problem is, when I did have access to what we didn’t have at home, I would binge on whatever I could get my hands on. I look back on babysitting for people and want to call them up now to apologize for all the cupboards I emptied. (How embarrassing!) I would stop at the Hallmark store and buy as many jellybeans as I could afford.

My sister had kids before I did. Once when her daughter was maybe 3 or 4, she approached her mom as we were visiting and shyly asked if she could have some candy. My sister said, “Yes!” My sweet, adorable niece asked for clarification. “How many can I have?” Her mom replied, without hesitation, “As many as your little heart desires.” 

My jaw must dropped open in surprise. She turned to me and explained her reasoning. “I think we tend to want more of what’s forbidden.” 

This is my younger sister. She always has been more wise than me in many ways. This moment happened years before I ever had kids. Her words made such sense to me! And yet, I never did let go of the reins enough to allow such freedom in my home. 

Nadia sneaks to find the treats, and we have had many conversations about the shame associated with it. I remember explaining to her at age 9 that her self-discipline is not fully formed. “Just like your lungs, and your feet are still growing, so too will your will-power.” I also confessed to her that at 48, I STILL don’t have enough self-discipline to avoid temptations all the time. 

I thought the answer might be to get rid of all temptations in the house. But, I remember asking my mom when I was younger,“If salt is bad for you, is pepper?” My mom, in all of her infinite wisdom, responded thoughtfully, “Ohh, I think everything in moderation.” 

My mom, despite having no nutritional education, is smart. 

Our rule has always been to eat their meat and vegetables first, then whatever else is offered. The problem with Nadia’s sneaking sugar is she comes in to the next meal not hungry.

We have also seen a difference in how her brain works based on sugar consumption. She struggles with concentration and focus. Last year, we let her have her way with desserts in San Diego, and we lost her. We literally could not find her on the beach for long enough that my husband was in a lifeguard truck headed in one direction and I was collapsed on the beach in the opposite direction thinking she was gone forever. She even admitted through distraught sobs after we were reunited, “I don’t know what’s wrong with my brain!” 

So why would I consider letting her have sugar again?  

Because she was born perfect. Influences, including her well-meaning mother, have separated her from her natural, inherent state of perfection.  

When a baby is born, when YOU were born, you cried when you were hungry. You stopped eating when you were not hungry anymore. We’ve all seen a kid walk away from a half-eaten cookie or dessert. (Blows my mind every time.) When does that stop? When does it become normalized to finish the cookie? How old are we when we stop listening to our stomachs?

I wonder if I gave her back full command of her body, if she would binge on sugar for a few days or even weeks, but then recognize how it made her feel. Once she truly believed I was not going to take sugar away again, would she start craving more vegetables? 

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Jill Barghelame
Jill lives in Denver, CO with her husband Ali and 2 kids Izak (13) and Nadia (9). She is a fitness enthusiast, teaching workout classes on line from her basement. She enjoys anything outdoors including tennis, skiing, mountain biking, hiking, and riding horses when she gets back to her roots in Idaho. Jill is the creator of Arete Warriors, a kids program designed to teach self-awareness, discipline and confidence through a curriculum including workouts and journaling. Jill loves people, learning and improving. She is passionate about growth, gratitude and continually finding joy.


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