The Big Deal About Holiday Sugar

Scroll down a bit and you’ll see my last post was a nostalgic celebration of my Grandma’s sugar cookie recipe.  Now, three days and 20 toddler tantrums later, I, for the first time, I’m choosing to really reflect on sugar and its impact on our family’s emotional and physical well-being, and how I might do things differently in the future.

I think I’m like most Moms when it comes to refined sugar.  I know that it isn’t good for you. Too much equals bad things like cavities, obesity, and mood swings.  And, I choose to allow it for birthdays and holidays. But really – it’s more than just allowing. I enable it, foster it, and encourage it by modeling eating sugar myself. There’s always an occasion that merits sugar.

What’s a birthday without cake or cupcakes?  What’s Halloween without candy?  What’s Christmas without a million sugary things?

Sugar is an enormous part of our culture, our family traditions, and our holidays.  So, what’s the big deal? I’ve generally answered this question like most people do:  “Everything in moderation.  A little celebratory sugar here and there is fine.”

And who wants to be the lame-ass mother that doesn’t let her child eat what the rest of the kids are eating at any given party?  I’ll never forget the Jehovah’s Witness kid growing up who could not participate in any of the holiday celebrations at school.  I remember him sitting alone at his empty desk watching the rest of us joyfully get jacked up on the sugar du jour.

I really want my girls to fully enjoy their childhood, their time with friends and classmates, and never feel like a social outcast because their Mom was a freak about food.

But here’s the thing. As I write this, I’ve just finished eating my second Santa cookie.  And my body feels like I just had a shot of espresso, but worse.  And as I reflect on the last few days of cookie-making with my 3-year old, which was my full attempt to infuse the house with Christmas spirit and carry on a holiday tradition from my Mom and Grandma, I have to come to terms with the serious not-so-fun mood impact that a sugar influx has on me and my toddler.

For me, I get an instant high. This is followed by some kind of energy surge, and then tension, edginess and a crash. What I witness in my eldest seems to mirror that.

Here’s a scene from our house during our special mommy-daughter cookie time on Christmas Eve day:

“Mommy I want to help!  Mommy I want to help!  Mommy I want to help!  Mommy I want to help!”

“Sadie – you ARE helping! That’s what we’re doing. We’re making cookies together and you’re helping.”

“NO! I want to do THAT!”



“What is that?”


Major tears. Flailing arms. Total melt down.

“OK OK OK…I’m trying to figure this out. Are you wanting to roll the dough?”

Sniff, sniff.  “Yeah.”

“OH…I see. Well, rolling dough is kinda tricky — I would love it if you would be in charge of dipping the cutters in the flour and then pressing them into the dough after I roll it out.  OK?”

Gigantic smile. “OK Mommy!”

“Excellent. Let’s start with the Christmas tree cutter.”

She then proceeds to grab the cutter, shove it into our flour canister and yank it out with a half a cup or more flour in it, spraying flour all over the counter, herself and the floor.

As I watch this happening I say, “Whoa-Whoa-Whoa! Okay. Big mess. Let me help you.”

“NO!! I can do it! I can do it! I can do it! I can do it! I can do it!!”  (Repeat 10 more times).  And in wanting to clean it up herself, she wipes the rest of the spilled flour from the counter onto the flour.

SADIE!! WHY are you doing that??!  Come on! We don’t wipe food onto the floor. You know that!”

She looks at me and shakes more off onto the floor.

I then throw my own mini-tantrum and slam the ball of cookie dough onto the counter.


Sadie looked at me perplexed as I did this.

“When you’re really frustrated and you want to hit something, it’s OK to punch cookie dough.”

“But I’m not frustrated Mommy.”

“You’re right. I used the wrong pronoun. I’m really frustrated. Not you.”

This scene was one of a few over the last three days that led me to push myself to come to terms with the fact that sugar impacts our family negatively. Had I not eaten the sizable amount of butter, sugar and white flour that I did, I’m fairly certain I would have had a lot more patience available for the baking experience with my 3 year-old.

I decided to do a little digging and learn what the latest research has to say about sugar and its impact on our health — emotional and physical.

I came across a book that could be a life changer for us called Lick the Sugar Habit, by Nancy Appleton, Ph.D.  After reading the first chapter, I was surprised at how little I really knew about the health risks of sugar.  I have always rationalized throwing down a bit of it if I ate well the rest of the day. Here’s the catch. According to Appleton, “sugar so upsets the body chemistry that it doesn’t matter what else you put in your mouth; neither healthful food nor junk food will digest properly” (22).

She also wrote: “When the body is in homeostasis, it is in healing. When it is out of homeostasis, through life’s indescretions, it is on the degenerative path. Disease is simple….Sugar (even as little as two teaspoons) can cause the body’s micronutrients to change radically, throwing the blood chemistry out of homeostasis.”

Check out her list of “146 Reasons Why Sugar is Ruining Your Health“.  I pulled out the ones that appeared the most related to babies and children to me — but really, they all relate to children because the addiction to sugar starts early — as soon as we enable it — and can continue throughout life until major health problems occur. Here’s my sub-list from hers:

  • Sugar can suppress the immune system.
  • Sugar ingestion by pregnant women increases neural tube defects in embryos.
  • Sugar can cause low-birth weight babies.
  • Sugar given to premature babies can affect the amount of carbon dioxide they produce.
  • Exposing a newborn to sugar results in a heightened preference for sucrose relative to water at 6 months and 2 years of age.
  • Sugar dehydrates newborns.
  • Sugar is an addictive substance.
  • Sugar can cause hyperactivity, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and crankiness in children.
  • Sugar can adversely affect school children’s grades and cause learning disorders.
  • Sugar can worsen the symptoms of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • Sugar saps school performance in children.
  • Sugar can cause fatigue, moodiness, nervousness and depression.
  • Sugar upsets the mineral relationships in the body.
  • Sugar interferes with absorption of calcium and magnesium.
  • Sugar can cause tooth decay.
  • Sugar contributes to obesity.
  • Decrease in sugar intake can increase emotional stability.

Soooooooo.  Now that I know more about this not-so-innocuous way we celebrate just about everything, what am I going to do about it? First, I have to acknowledge that I am fully addicted to sugar. Second, I have to contend with the fact that we’ve got at least one birthday party a month replete with cupcakes, plus all the major holidays. I honestly don’t know what’s realistic.

But for starters, I’m going to be researching the hell out of this subject and coming up with ideas to at least curb our current intake.  And any food article I post on Attachment Mama from now on will share healthy food resources that I discover and endorse sugar-free treats that are just as enjoyable as Grandma’s cookies.

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7 Responses to “The Big Deal About Holiday Sugar”

  1. Lis says:


    I did some research when Cate’s b-day was approaching and found the following helpful sites for substituting the evil of all evils… refined sugar.

    which alternative (natural) sweetener to use where –

    recipes using alternative (natural) sweeteners –

  2. Sonya says:

    I have known for awhile that I had a problem with sugar, but the holidays really brought it home. In thinking about how to celebrate my birthday, I thought about making Christmas cookies in the morning and what kind of cake or ice cream I might want to have that night. Realizing that my main thoughts about how to commemorate my birthday involved food, mostly sugary food, I decided to refocus so I invited a group of friends to go to the Knitting Nest with me to sit around and craft. I told them I wouldn’t be bringing sugar or alcohol. Instead I brought hummus and veggies. I also realized that I could change the tradition of Christmas cookies to salt dough ornaments. We can still make dough, roll it out, use cutters, and decorate it, but we don’t have to ingest a it of sugar to do so and we have nice homemade gifts for others or decorations for our home. I look forward to reading your research as I’m looking to significantly cut back my own sugar intake so I can model healthier eating for my son. I’ll let you know what we attempt annd what succeeds.

  3. Happy Belated Birthday Sonya! I like how you planned your celebration. There’s always another choice that can be made. For a long while I was successful at getting Sadie psyched for dates or figs or strawberries for dessert. A year and fifteen birthday parties with cake and ice cream later, she has a refined vocabulary now for what defines dessert. But I still think it’s possible to at least refine what we do for our own holidays/birthdays. Look forward to swapping ideas with you!

  4. Monica – fantastic post! Really enjoying your blog. I meant to reply to this a few days ago when we were up north at the family cottage (well, the in-laws cottage!) but I wrote the entire reply on my BlackBerry and hit “submit” … and somehow lost it. Arggh.

    Anyway, I have long agreed with this philosophy on eliminating sugar from the diet. But, I did not know about many of the bullet points you brought forth. The one about healing while in a state of homeostasis really makes sense to me. How can you heal if your body is trying to constantly adjust to wild swings in blood sugar!

    I have one small tip for everyone that comes from my experience in studying language, communication, etc. When your child is starting to throw a tantrum because they are asking for “that” and you have no idea what “that” is … here’s what you do. First, calibrate to their level of irritation. If you see they are calm, no need to do much. But, if they are showing signs that they are about to have a fit, just go over, pick up your child and say “I am not sure what you want … can you show me? Point to what it is you want and give it a name. Just use your words, and I’ll help you.”

    This kind of action helps you to enter you child’s world and solves the problem nearly instantly. I actually put together a whole course on this stuff. Feel free to click on my name to learn more.

    Happy new year to all! We did something literally “cool” to ring in the new year. After the kids were asleep we had a campfire in -5 degree Celcius weather (about 23F) wearing our mitts, hats, snow pants, coats, and of course we had some cold drinks. We made benches around the fire pit by compacting the 3 feet of snow that had fallen up north. Truly amazing fun.


  5. Oh… after I hit submit I just thought of something really great that I started making for the kids. All natural, healthy and tasty.

    I got the idea from eating Larabars. We call these “Pop mmms”

    Here’s what you need:
    – pitted dates
    – coconut flakes
    – cocoa

    Put it all into a cuisinart or use some sort of blending tool. I can’t remember the exact mix of ingredients, but start with the dates, then add coconut until you get a nice consistency. When you get the right consistency, add in some cocoa until they have a nice chocolaty taste.

    Consistency: You want to role these things into mini-balls with your hands. They should be a bit sticky but not overly sticky.

    The result: natural sugar, healthy coconut oils (healthy fats) and cocoa (great anti-oxidant).

    Important point: Sugar from fruit is STILL sugar, so you want to limit the consumption of it. But if you make these and give one for dessert, it’s quite healthy. Keep it in moderation. Don’t over-feed your child!

    (You can mix in other dried fruit as you desire. Cranberries, cherries, raisins, etc)

    • Hi Chris!
      Thanks so much for your notes on my Sugar post. I love the healthy snack suggestion you had!! It sounds similar to another snack that I used to make a lot for my toddler and had forgotten about it. I would grind up coconut and oats and roll cashew butter into the flour like mixture to make what we called cashew butter balls. Super yummy! Also, we love to make raw pie. Have you tried that? Throw dates and your nut of choice into the Cuisinart with a little bit of vanilla to make your crust. Then grind up some strawberries to create a layer of sauce, followed by sliced bananas and berries of choice on top. We love it!

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