Nutritionist Jess Sherman brings back simplicity to the sometimes very complicated world of dietary interventions for “picky” eaters.
She asks us as parents to:
Get Curious and Ask What is going on in the body with her 3-pillar framework:
1 Address Nutrient Deficiencies
2 Resolve Stress / Digestion
3 Deep dive into Digestive imbalance and dysbiosis.
Welcome to functional nutrition and learning for kids. I’m your host, Vaish. And my passion is to see kids have equal access to sound nutrition and quality education. And I live to explore the gut-brain access with parents to help their children thrive, and have more focus, energy, and stability. I also love to teach science to kids of all abilities. By the way, I now have a YouTube channel that I’ve been talking about for a very long time, I think I don’t have a custom link yet. And you do need to go to YouTube and search for my name, which is Vaish Sarathy, Sarathy and you will find it today is all about restricted eating. As you listen to this podcast to this discussion with my guest.
If you are the parent of a self-restricted, or within quotes picky eater, I recommend that you check out episodes 53,37,18, and 19. If this puts you in the mood for a deep dive into this area, then you might also check out my free ebook at functionalnutritionforkids.com/eatwell, again, that’s functionalnutritionforkids.com/eatwell, so eat well. And there, you can get a free ebook with five strategies to support and reverse self-restricted eating in a child. Today, my guest and I talk about simplicity, digestion, and trust in the world of restricted eating.
Welcome. My guest today is award-winning nutritionist Jeff Sherman, just as a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner and board-certified in practical holistic nutrition. Justice helps parents and professionals in at least 44 countries implement safe natural and effective strategies to improve the lives of children with learning differences and school struggles, anxiety, ADHD, autism, and mood disorders.
With nourishment connection and simplicity as guiding principles, she offers a bold new approach to children’s health that uses a combination of attachment principles, and deep nutrition to support growth, learning behavior, and the ability to cope with stress.
Welcome, welcome, Jess, I’m so happy that you’re here. And I actually love the words that you used in her bio. First of all, thank you for being here.
Yeah. Thank you. Thank you.
And I want to talk about those three things that you said. You said your guiding principles are nourishment connection and simplicity. And I really liked that. So can you talk a little bit more about that?
Yeah, you know, I think I’m a busy mom, too, right? Like, I’ve got three kids. And I remember I had my first child right after finishing nutrition school. So I was a school teacher who taught high to high school for a lot of years. And then I stopped and I got pregnant, and I had a baby. And I remember and I went back to nutrition school because I was like, I’m really kind of curious about, you know, nutrition and the factors like a lot of my students were struggling in school and I just I knew we were being super creative.
I mean, I work with an amazing team of teachers and we’re being super creative with our learning strategies and all ours, you know, psychological stuff, and, and I was like, there’s something else going on, because there are so many kids who are struggling, diagnosed or not diagnosed, you know, anxiety, like, anxiety, depression, we’re on the rise all of the things right.
I went back to study nutrition. Anyway, long story short, I had my first baby right after I finished nutrition school. And I was like, I thought I had the answers. I was like, oh, nutrition matters. Nutrition is like, everyone needs to know, I was like, gonna shout from the rooftops. And then and then I had this baby. I was like, Holy crap, I got to keep this thing healthy. Like, I’ve got to learn how to like, what is a baby eat?
It was like it blindsided me, even though I was you know, I felt like I was you know, well educated in the ways of nutrition, the practical aspects, which just threw me. And so I started thinking like, Okay, we need a strategy. We need structure, parents are busy. They need simplicity. They need simple concepts.
I’ve basically spent money on my oldest child who’s got three kids now My oldest is 13. And I spent the last 13 years really trying to find that simplicity. And it and then I realized, like, okay, the concepts are that aren’t that complicated. what a child needs to thrive is not that complicated.
It’s, it’s busyness and it’s our, you know, it’s our day-to-day lives that are getting in the way of getting them that nourishment, that connection, that space that they need to be kids. So that’s where those come from. It just sort of comes from trying to distill the need to nose for busy, busy stressed-out people.
Parent, I think that’s a really nice way to put it because it feeding itself is not a complex thing. I really liked what you said. And I think that that brought me to a variation of our theme I was, you know, one of the things I wanted to talk to you about was how do you approach picky or restricted eating? But now that you said and how do we bring simplicity to the world of picky eating might be a better topic.
I feel like is there anything more complicated than the way restricted eating, you know, this whole spectrum of restricted eating is approached in, in diet culture, you have feeding therapists, you have among them, you have Speech, Language Therapists, you have occupational therapists, and then you have people that are working from the nutrition side, you have doctors, it’s just this complex mess. That is simplicity.
Yeah, it’s so true. It’s so true. It’s it gets really complicated and really emotional to write because I think, you know, as parents when we become parents, the I didn’t know this at the time, but I became really primed to nourish, like, that became my job, instinctively. And I know some people have to sort of work to get there. And for some people, it’s just all of the all of a sudden, intuitive, you know, baby’s crying out for the breast, and you’re just like, Oh, my God, and I actually had breastfeeding problems with my first kid.
It it like that, like, oh, my gosh, you know, like, I’m supposed to be able to nourish this kid, I’m supposed to be able to produce breast milk. And then what do you mean, my body’s not doing that? So that was, that’s a whole nother story. But the point is that we’re primed to nourish our kids, we know, that’s our job intuitively. And then when it becomes problematic, and they like, close their mouth, and they start throwing a tantrum, and they start throwing up, or they, you know, they start having feeding problems gets super emotional for us, because we’re like, what am I doing wrong?
Right. Something that is supposed to be so natural and intuitive is suddenly shut down to you. And, yeah, and, and we’re not ready for that.
No, not emotionally, at all. And part of it, you know, part of why I do, what I do is part of why we’re not ready for it is because we don’t understand our bodies. We don’t understand biology, other than, you know, those of us who maybe took it in high school. But you know, there are some really fundamental biological reasons why a child could be reacting poorly to their food. And I think, more often than not, we turn to the psychological stuff when it comes to a picky eater. You know, it’s a power trip, that there are power dynamics, they’re just trying to push your buttons or return to a medical diagnosis of like trying to thrive or something like that
because that’s all we know, we know that if a child is acting up within quotes, that must be behavioral, which and I think we totally missed the point often in that situation.
Well, there’s a big, I mean, it very much, very much could be right. And that’s why I you know, that attachment piece that you mentioned, is become really, really important to me that you know, kids need this attachment. And, and, you know, there are power dynamics involved in feeding, because it’s one of the few places where they do have control, they can just close their mouth, and you go into a tailspin. And they are like, Wow, I did that.
You know, so it is there is that, but there’s this middle ground, there’s this gray zone area of what if a child is just reacting and responding the way their body tells them to? You know, what if they for I’ll give you just one quick example, what if they have a meat aversion, which is something that I see, sometimes, they just don’t want to eat? Like, or like protein, like, eggs, or, or meat or things like that they just don’t like, and no, I just don’t they just say no. what if they’re doing that? Because they aren’t digesting protein very well.
Right? Right. Because there’s, there’s some part of their digestive system isn’t receiving that protein while and so it makes them nauseous, and it makes them, you know, take their tummy feel terrible, and they don’t necessarily, maybe have the language to explain how they’re feeling. And so their response is just like, No, I’m not going to put it in my mouth.
What if that’s going on? And if we’re still as parents thinking, Oh, they’re just, they’re just pulling another power trapper, that sort of thing. And we sit there and we, we say, you know, finish your plate. And now our child is caught in this really tricky spot, because they’re like, you know, without being able to articulate it, because their body doesn’t feel good, but their parents want them to eat. And so they throw a tantrum because that’s all they know.
You know, so there’s this, that’s, that’s just an example of like, this gray zone in the middle of, you know, kids are intuitive and really, biologically intelligent, you know, and so it could be that they’re just responding to something appropriately.
So it’s just one of the things I would gather from that is just the trust and the intelligence of your child, right? So it says that it could be I hate saying behavioral issues, because oftentimes what I see is that most of the things are not because it’s very easy to clump them and make it psychiatry or a psychological issue and oftentimes, almost everything either In psychological issues are really biochemical issues, right? So. So however it could, as you said, it could well be, but if you had to, if you had to distill down to a few root causes of why a child may be self-restricting their food intake, what do you commonly see in your practice?
I come back to the same three pillars over and over and over. And it’s what I structure all my workaround. Because I think, I think if there was sort of one takeaway of what we just the what you just said, it’s that what we should be doing as parents what help what’s helpful as parents is to just get curious, just get curious and open rather than saying, Oh, it’s a power trip, and just being like, that’s it closed the door kind of thing.
Get curious and ask the question, why is my child reacting that way? With anything, whether it’s food, or it’s their shoelaces, or their it’s their tag on their clothes, or, you know, whatever it is, what what, what is it and, and I really focus on the biological things, what could be going on in their body that’s triggering this, there’s a whole world of psychological stuff that I won’t get into, but so not really my area, but the biological piece,
I come back to the three things over and over nutrient deficiencies that are throwing hormones out of whack, or digestion out of whack and, and a good example of this would be, would be zinc, is very, very commonly deficient in picky eaters, and they’re stuck in this vicious cycle, because they don’t want to eat, it’s like rich foods, and they get become deficient in zinc. And zinc is involved in every single one of our digestive enzymes.
It’s involved in our stomach acid, it’s involved in the creation of our neurotransmitters and our hormones, which all regulate appetite and satiety, like all of that is very hormonal. So with a zinc deficiency, often you’ll see picky eating. So that so that’s one
that’s also very picky eating, you’re automatically restricting foods and creating perhaps the highest paying deficiency, right?
Yeah, and so they’re, they’re caught in a super vicious cycle. So that so so nutrient deficiencies is one of the pillars that I look at that could be causing picky eating, or contributing anyway, the second one is, is irritation, it’s just a food that’s not sitting well with them.
If they’re not, usually that’s digestive related, like, or they’re stressed, when a child is super stressed, their digestion will slow down. Because that’s what our stress hormones, do our stress hormones, get us ready to go, go, go, go-go. And we can’t digest our food when we’re in that state. So if a child’s super stressed, or they’re eating something that is causing them discomfort, that could look like restrictive eating, right. So the irritation is that is the second one irritation and stress. And then the third one is just a deep dive into digestion.
You know, and I see this a lot with like, kids who crave sugar, for example, maybe there’s some, you know, pathogenic yeast or, or, you know, gut bugs going on in there that are actually craving, craving the sugar. And on the flip side, you know, maybe you’re getting really good food in there. But there’s all this dysbiosis we call it an imbalance in the gut ecosystem. And so it’s not being digested well, and it’s fermenting, and it’s causing irritability, and gas, and constipation. And so a child is like, I’m not going to put those foods in my mouth.
I’ll many different reasons. And this is why I say just get curious, open the door to all kinds of possibilities because on the symptom, side, restrictive eating a child saying no, a child throwing their plate on the floor, it might all look the same. But from a biological perspective, it could be some very different root causes.
That’s interesting for the sake of the theme of simplicity, if you can tell me if I’m correct, and I’m gonna round up your three principles into three words or phrases and think, Well, you just said you said nutrient deficiency. The second one might be inflammation or food sensitivities. And the third one would be infection, perhaps.
Yeah, or just imbalances in the gut ecosystem.
Maybe the first one would be something that a parent could be able to intuitively find. But for the other two, they would probably need the help of a function practitioner, would you say? So? Yeah, yeah, I would say so.
I think the first thing to do is open yourself up to that possibility. Because one of the things that we know doesn’t work is when you get all frustrated and freak out, right? I mean, the more calm and collected we can be as parents, the more that attachment remains really strong and the calmer our child is likely to be, and like we said, like when they’re stressed out when you’re stressed out They’re stressed out when they’re stressed out, their digestive system isn’t working, and it’s just going to make things worse, right?
So that’s something that you can do on your own, just, it helps is just be like, Oh, something is, is triggering this, that’s gonna allow you right away to calm down, take a breath, you know, leave the room if you have to, and come back to the table as calm.
That’s the first thing to do. But yeah, to look and dig into these things, you know, there’s some functional testing that that can be really helpful, just to kind of pull back the veil and say, what is actually going on in there?
And that was a question I wanted to ask you, maybe at the end we can come back to it is, is who are the types of practitioners that you would recommend a parent to, to build a team with, or that you would think as nonnegotiables. But, before that, I was going to ask you, you were talking about the stress piece and about how important to stay calm.
Often, we see that parents that are the most, most stress that is the most, you know, kind of thrown off by this have kids that are eating three to four foods, because that’s where you know, the panic starts setting and they’re eating crackers, and, you know, and juice and maybe one more, it’s kind of it’s almost a situation where you don’t even know where to start. So where would a parent start in such a case when you have four foods? And then there seems to be zero flexibility in that? Yeah.
Oh, fifth question. I think the first thing is to acknowledge that this is not okay. Right, there is we need fuel. Right, we need fuel to function. And sometimes that sort of pickiness is chalked up to well, it’s just part of their diagnosis. It’s just a way kids with this diagnosis. Behave.
And whatever the diagnosis may be, but that’s less important than the fact that it’s not, it can’t just be swept under a diagnosis.
Yeah, yeah, I see that more often than I would like, of just parents, like, well, it’s, it’s because of the medication or it’s because of the diagnosis. And and and my thought is like that is just not okay. It’s not okay, especially with medication, you know, medications that decrease appetite, I get really, like, I understand why a parent would resort to medication, but when it’s interfering with their appetite.
I feel like it’s like, I don’t know, it’s really doing some potential harm there. Because we need fuel, we need to bring food. And so I think the first the first thing is really just a mindset thing to say that, you know, it’s not okay that my kid is eating for foods. And I can no longer cater to that I need to figure out what’s going on here. So that’s the first thing.
The second thing is that nutritional supplements can be really helpful in this scenario, like, I definitely want kids to eat food first kind of person. But when you have a super-selective eater, they might be stuck in that, you know, that perfect storm, or that that vicious cycle that we’ve talked about earlier, and getting some nutritional supplements in there does a couple of things.
One, it eases your mind as a parent, because you’re like, okay, they’re getting, they’re getting some nutritional bases covered. And secondly, it might interrupt the vicious cycle that they’re in because it might get their hormones working better, and it might get their hunger and their satiety and their digestion, working a little bit better. So I think those would be the places to start.
Okay, so basically to understand that this is not just a side effect. And it could be a side effect of a medication that could be part of a diagnosis. But it definitely cannot be swept under the rug and something needs to be done. While you’re doing that get your supplementation in. And maybe this is a good way to talk about this.
We know that there’s a spectrum of restricted eaters, there are people that are just people and kids that are just mildly restrictive and all the way to a diagnosis of ARFID. Perhaps many of them need the same tools, however, I mean, we’re we may be dealing with digestive dysfunction, and most of them I think all of us are dealing with digestive dysfunction to very spectrum. So we can maybe make that generalization. What is the team that you would say is a non-negotiable for a parent anywhere on that scale?
Okay, changes but yeah, it does change. I think the most important thing is that you establish yourself as a parent as like the care coordinator, right? Like we have we’ve moved into a different structure, a different paradigm of healthcare now, and not everybody has seen that happen, but I’ve watched this shift happen, where you no parent, especially with this kind of thing with parenting, I think of the parent as the CEO, like you are the, you’re the coordinator.
Anybody who you have on your team needs to resonate with, you need to resonate with them, you need to feel good about them, you know, and you need to have the same kind of approach of being curious and asking questions. And just feel confident in there, in their approach and in there, in their ability, right. So. So that’s, that’s one thing is like, you have the power to pick and choose, I guess it depends on where you are, and what your resources are. But there’s a lot available now. So that’s one thing.
I think an integrative approach is always amazing if you can, can find it. So have people have different did with different trained backgrounds, I work in the world of Functional Diagnostic Nutrition, which is an amazing field, because you can access some of the functional tests that is is hard to hard to access, and naturopathic doctors can offer the same kind of testing, it’s, it’s great to go to your conventional doctors and rule things out.
Like they’re amazing at just, you know, the conventional doctors will, they’ll look for their, their tests, our diagnostic, our tests are not diagnostic, they function, they’re looking at function, right? But a diagnostic test could rule out things like celiac disease, or, you know, intestinal damage things, you know, things like that. So those are great too.
And, going to a naturopath or a functional nutrition practitioner may help you get to the root causes of your digestive function and how that may be affecting you. when you’re actually digging a little deeper. So are other other other practitioners? Like? I think we did mention feeding therapists, but are they? Are they always a part of the picture? Sometimes? Yeah,
Sometimes. So feeding therapists, occupational therapists, are great speech-language pathologists who can sometimes be really helpful to see if there’s, you know, structural stuff, maybe there’s some structural stuff going on in the mouth. But again, I would just say, you know, there’s a broad spectrum of approaches, even within those fields, right?
You need to know, as a parent, like, you know, what is your approach and does it fit with the approach that you want to take as a parent, because, you know, I feel really strongly that the attachment needs to stay intact, that’s just kind of my thing, and you explain what you mean by attachment is that you know, we are biologically attached to our children, the wood there are on scene, you know, threads that tie us, our nervous systems respond to each other, especially mothers, because our, you know, babies were in us and, you know, right next to our nervous system the whole time for nine months, as they were growing, we really train our children’s nervous system when they’re in utero.
Then they come out and they maintain that connection, even though they’re not physically connected. And I think that any, any changes that we make, whether it’s, you know, around discipline, or it’s around how we feed our kids, or it’s a new sleep routine, all that stuff, we need to keep this attachment.
Strong. Because that’s where the trust that, you know, that’s, that’s the foundation of their trust, and their security, and a child will feel very tense and anxious if they don’t feel strong in that attachment. So this is why, you know, when I work with parents around making food changes, I over the last couple of years have kind of become a little bit of a zealot when it comes to nourishment. Because I think very often we skip the nourishment piece and we go right to food restrictions, which does you know, in this in this case, even will even in this pic with picky eating, let’s say a child, you know, eats crackers, bread, pasta, and carrots.
Right. And sometimes that parent might be told, Well, you got to take out gluten because gluten is really inflammatory. And it’s driving the picky eating, which very much may be the case. And it is something to explore. But four out of the five things that your child eats is gluten-based, right, which is a problem. I’m not saying it’s not a problem. It could be a problem.
It needs to but instead of taking those out and having your child be like Oh, well I can use carrots now. That’s a super stressful dynamic to set up in the family, right? You’re like, Oh, honey, we can’t eat gluten anymore. So, right. So instead, what I suggest is, is just push those gluten foods out by introducing some others, right? With the picky eaters, we’re going to have texture issues, we’re going to have to get creative. Right? But we’re just going to start replacing and moving towards a more nutrient-dense diet.
It’s a different conversation to have with a child to say, we’re not going to eat this stuff right now because not nourishing for our bodies, versus we’re not going to eat this because it’s gluten and gluten is bad for us. Right? Right. So that’s sort of what I mean about like, the first one is very much rooted in attachment and nourishment. The second approach, might feel like semantics or sound like semantics, but words really, really matter. With everyone,
I think it’s a lot of mindsets is what you’re saying. Because then mindset is at the root of all, all, any sort of healing that we’re working with. And doing the same thing with two different mindsets can really result in different things. I really like what you said, you’re coming. I think everything that you said if we had to, and I keep trying to, like bring a single thread, because you so beautifully talked about simplicity at the beginning, is that and I think it all comes down to what you’re talking about is attachment and nourishment, right?
So and from attachment comes the feeling of the primary parent being the CEO of their child’s care, being in that intuitive space, being educated, therefore having to be educated and having to know that this is what these are the options that are available. And this is what is going to work for my child or not, regardless of whatever is said on XYZ forums, podcasts, and blogs.
Yeah, there’s no one-size-fits-all with this stuff. There is no one reason why kids are picky. But you know, what it comes down to is this. It’s picky eating as a behavior. Right? And, and like any behavior, there’s a root, there’s something causing the behavior. Our kids are wonderful reflectors, they’re wonderful reactors, they’re reacting to something. So we have to get curious.
Yes, it could be a power dynamic, it could be a power struggle, maybe there are some cracks in that attachment, and they’re not feeling safe. And they’re feeling like I need to exert some control. Yes, that’s a thing. Or maybe it’s biological. And they’re just reacting and responding to their body, their bodies in a really super appropriate way. And I don’t know, and with my clients, they kind of seem to breathe a bit of a sigh of relief to be like, Okay, it’s not my fault.
It’s not my fault. My job is to offer their job is to eat. But something is interfering with them, being able to put it in their mouth and enjoying it, like our bodies are biologically designed to do. So what is that thing? And that’s where three, the three pillars come in, explore each one of them.
So if you have to leave our audiences, our mothers and fathers or caregivers, with one piece of advice that they could hold for their child that is, in some version of restricted eating, what would that be?
It’s that your child is okay. I mean, your child is we are remarkable. Creatures, like our bodies, are, they’re complicated, but what they actually need is actually pretty simple. We need good food, we need hydration, we need to move, we need sleep, we need a sense of connection and safety. It’s not rocket science. Right. But getting our kids those things has become more complicated than it should be. Right? Yeah. Because things are roadblocks are thrown in, you’re thrown in your way, right? So I think the first thing is just taking a breath and just know that you know, your child is designed to take those things and, and grow with them.
If that’s not happening, because something is something has there’s a roadblock in their way, we got to figure out what that is, and pull it out so that they can do what they’re designed to do, which is to grow and to thrive, and to develop. So I think, you know, I really want to bring these pillars of biological resilience, I call them into the conversation about child development. And just to say, you know, as soon as a child starts to struggle, let’s explore these areas and make sure that there’s nothing in their way, keeping them from moving forward. Because yeah, too many kids are struggling. Yeah, yeah.
Thank you, Jess, that was a really awesome conversation. Thank you for your gems. Where can parents reach you if they want to work with you?
Yeah, everything is on my website at just Sherman comm. So there are three S’s there, which sometimes throws people that’s true. We’ve got a there are some specific blog posts on picky eating. If you search my blog for picky eating, you’ll find those.
There are some infographics on the root causes of picky eating. And there’s information on our resilience roadmap and our common clear kids, which is our coaching programs if people really want to be walked through these pillars to explore what’s going on in their kids.
Yeah. Okay. Thank you, Jess, thanks for your time. And I look forward to chatting with you in the future also.
Yeah, thank you for having me. Thank you for doing all the work that you’re doing.
What particular points stood out most for you from this podcast? I would love to hear from you via should functionalnutritionforkids.com. The cycle of restricted eating is vast and sometimes can be a vicious cycle. So please visit functionalnutritionforkids.com/eatwell, for three strategies to jumpstart I’m sorry, five strategies to jumpstart your child’s education journey by seeing you in a couple of weeks.