My Kid is Addicted to Sugar (and So Am I)

My daughter has always been a picky eater. It is far easier for me to list off every single type of food she will consume, rather than the endless list of things she will not touch. But one thing is for certain – if it is laden with sugar, chances are it’s on her “yes” list. I think my kid is addicted to sugar, and I’m just now figuring it out.

I always knew she was very particular about which foods she would and would not eat – and it didn’t take a genius to figure out she had a serious sweet tooth, but I shrugged it off as a kid thing. ALL kids like sugary things. ALL kids go through picky phases. But my daughter is one of three kids, and it soon became amply clear that there was a distinct difference between the way she was picky and the way my other two were picky.

My other two would go in and out of picky phases, becoming obsessed with certain foods but always opening up their options again from time to time. They would find new foods they liked. Their diets varied. Hers did not. She loved oatmeal and cereal and most sweet breakfast options, fruits and smoothies, yogurt, a very particular brand of shell macaroni and cheese, processed white bread (preferably slathered with jam), and every so occasionally, processed lunch meat or bacon.

As most people who have dealt with picky eaters would tell me, this is a varied diet. There’s fruit! There’s meat! There’s yogurt! Whole grains! What on earth was I complaining about?

Well, for a long time, I wasn’t complaining about anything. I felt like I had enough options to work with that I could give her a decent diet that kept her healthy and growing. Honestly, that’s still true. I’m thankful that I can feed her oatmeal once a day, get her to eat plenty of fruit, and that I finally discovered a couple sources of protein she’ll eat.

However, her seemingly “balanced” selective diet wasn’t all I had cracked it up to be.

I began to realize that the food she chose had a common thread: sugar. Any food that she would dare to eat had to have sugar in it, even if she didn’t know it was there. She ate fruit, but not vegetables with the occasional exception of sweet and starchy peas. She thrived at breakfast, but come dinner I would often cave and give her a second breakfast meal, knowing that she would eat if I put a bowl of cereal in front of her. The macaroni and cheese had sugar. The oatmeal had to be topped with sugar. The bread had added sugar. The yogurt? Exploding with added sugar. Then when and if she actually ate a meal? She would immediately ask for a more blatantly sugary treat for eating her sugary meal. She lives for treats, she’s obsessed with them.

My daughter is fast approaching four, but the sugar problem should have been obvious for a while, so why didn’t I realize it (and change course) sooner? The truth is, I think I’m addicted to sugar too. I start the day with sugar in my tea, but balk at my daugher asking for a chocolate rice cake like it’s oh so different. I constantly sneak bits of chocolate and spoonfuls of ice-cream throughout the day, while bemoaning my daughter’s ardent sweet tooth. If I want to know why my kid is addicted to sugar, all I need to do is take a look in the mirror.

I sometimes wonder if I set her up for failure in the womb as she was my “sweet craving” baby. I indulged in doughnuts and ice-cream and fruit all day every day when I was pregnant with her. I wouldn’t be surprised if she born with sugar coursing through her veins.

But the question remains, what now? What do I do with this information that sugar has taken over both our lives? I didn’t make it a whole week into trying Whole30 before self-destructing with a bar of dark chocolate. My kid literally couldn’t make it through the day without sugar, because she would literally be starving. Sugar is so pervasive in the food we don’t even think of as sugar. How are we supposed to kick the habit?

Perhaps I need to rethink what it means to have a balanced diet. I may never be able to get myself or my kid off sugar for good, but I can be more mindful about the types of sugar we intake. I can be on board with the fruit and the oatmeal topped with a sprinkle of brown sugar, and maybe try to serve a non-sugar meal a day, maybe someday turn that into two. Maybe I can place better boundaries around when treats are appropriate (instead of *ahem* using them as bribes for her or sneaking them into the bathroom with me to eat in secret). And maybe, just maybe, we’ll rule over our sugar habit and not the other way around.