Jo Atkinson is a nutrition medicine practitioner, and passionate about seeing families and communities learn more about what our bodies need to thrive. She saw a huge transformation in the overall wellness of her own children when she started moving away from packaged, processed food – and now guides other people through that same journey.
You can book a free 20 minute consult with Jo here.
Download the food and symptom journal here.
And connect with her online here:
Prefer to read? Here’s the transcript:
Lisa: Hey everyone, welcome to another episode of the podcast. Today a super special treat for you. Prepare to have your minds blown. I have been lucky enough to get to know Jo Atkinson over the last, what? Two years, 18 months? I don’t know how long it’s been. She was an amazing resource for Small Steppers in the Small Steps to Whole Foods course. But now she’s a fully qualified, bonafide, nutritional medicine practitioner. That sounds fancy, and it is. She’s worked her ass off for that qualification and today we are going to be talking all things kids, foods sensitivities and maybe allergies and stuff. It’s going to be a great conversation. Jo, welcome to the podcast.
Jo: : Thanks Lisa. Thanks for having me.
Lisa: Thank you for coming, because this information, I tell you, I get asked all the time I guess because people come to the Small Steps world they often come because they have issues with their children. They’ve just found out that their kid’s intolerant to something, or maybe they’re intolerant to something or they’re wondering why they’re having meltdowns or this and that. Something might have gone off that food has a part to play in this. But, then, it just feels like there’s this huge gap in our knowledge of how food is actually affecting children. We’ve gone so far down the path of what is normal to eat and now our kid’s bodies are confused, maybe our pregnant bodies are confused. I mean, what is going on with kids and their gut health and their food sensitivities? I’m just going to ask you the biggest question from the start. Sorry.
Jo: : No, that’s fine. I think there’s a range of things going on. I think there’s, we’re learning more and more about gut health and the importance of gut health and our different microbes that live in our gut and stuff, all the time. But I think there’s a lot of reasons for the massive increase in food intolerances and allergies that we see now. Part of which is due to the mom’s gut health. When we’re carrying a baby the baby can inherit some of the mom’s gut bacteria. It doesn’t just happen at birth, it can happen in utero as well. If mom’s diet up until the point of pregnancy and into pregnancy hasn’t been great, or she’s had multiple courses of antibiotics, or she’s been unwell, then the baby is going to inherit her gut bacteria. Sometimes if that’s not a very diverse range of gut bacteria, then the baby’s going to inherit that as well. That’s one reason. Health of the mom is so, so important even before pregnancy.
Secondly, a lot of our babies are being born by caesarean, so then when they are being born they’re not getting that inoculation straight away from the gut bacteria, as they’re being born, as they would if they were born vaginally. They’re lacking that diversity and that amount of gut bacteria from birth. That’s another huge issue. The other issue … In that sense, our babies are being born already at a, behind the eight ball, I guess. Their immune systems are underdeveloped. The gut bacteria is not very well developed either, so that they’re already struggling to deal with the outside world and all that it throws at them.
Then, you put on top of that the amount of antibiotics that kids get. Usually before the age of two most kids have had at least one or two courses of antibiotics for ear infections or tonsillitis and as you know, antibiotics wipe out all the bacteria, not just the bad ones. They wipe out good ones as well. Without doing anything to put that, the good bacteria back in, that never recovers and we now know that. If they’ve had antibiotics before the age of two, they are at a much higher risk of developing things like allergies, food allergies, food allergies and asthma.
Then, the third thing, or fourth thing, I don’t know what number I was up to. Another big thing is our environment. Our environment is far more, I don’t really want to say toxic, but it is. There are more chemicals in it now. Food sources. There’s more chemicals floating around in our air, our water. We’re being bombarded from when we take our first breath, we’re being bombarded with all these different chemicals and toxins. For a baby or a child with an underdeveloped immune system, that’s a lot to deal with. Yeah. I think that our environment, our world is changing so quickly and we, our bodies haven’t caught up to be able to adapt to that. I think that that’s probably the main reason that we’re seeing so many of these. There’s a whole bunch of other factors that would come into it, but they’re the ones that I look at because as a nutritionist, that’s where I start.
Lisa: As you were going through that list, I was thinking about my son and I’m like, “Yup.” I mean, I had pretty standard diet heading into pregnancy. Got pretty addicted to McChickens in my first trimester and then he was a transverse lie baby, and I had a caesarean. And then he got, because I wanted something fun to do with him, I took him to swimming lessons in winter, as soon as I could. And, he got these ear infections, so he had two courses of antibiotics before he was one. And, I didn’t know anything about anything. He now has asthma, viral asthma and all these sorts of things.
I’m saying this because I think, I wonder how many women, how many moms as we were listening to that were going, “Sheesh. Oh my gosh.” I’m even thinking of myself. When I was little, I mean, a lot of that stuff probably wouldn’t have been the same, but still, we’ve grown up in this world of lathering ourselves with cosmetics and all sorts of things. We just, we’ve had no idea. But, I guess the question is, is that this whole gut health, I wanted to just go back and make sure that people understood when we’re talking about gut health what that actually means. Because it is thrown around a lot and for the people who are in the world of food and health, it’s very difficult now not to come across gut health, its importance in overall health. But there might be some people who are still like, “What’s she talking about?” Could you just explain, super quickly, why it’s so important and what it means? I know, super quick. Big ask.
Jo: : I’ll try to do it super
quickly, because, you know, this is my favourite thing to talk about. When I’m talking about gut health I’m talking about three different things. I’m talking about our stomach, because that’s where our food gets broken down. We need to have an adequate stomach acid in there and getting enzymes in there to help break down our food because if we can’t do that, we can’t absorb the nutrients out of our food, which happens in the small intestine. The second thing I’m talking about is the lining of our gut. That’s the mucus membranes that line our gut from our mouth to the absolute end. That’s really important because that acts as a protective barrier from things getting through, and that can be viruses, and pathogens and food that hasn’t been broken down properly, food proteins.
Then the third thing I’m talking about is our microbiome. That is the bacteria, and viruses, and fungi and parasites and all those things that live in our, mostly in our large intestine that have all sorts of roles in the body. I can’t even go into that because that will be … That’s a whole other podcast, but, that have a whole range of different roles that they have to do in that small intestine to keep us healthy and functioning and doing the things that we need to do. When I’m talking about gut health, I’m talking about those three things.
Lisa: What would be the main things, then, that would destroy our good gut health?
Jo: : Yup. For kids the main things are things like antibiotics. Like I said already, antibiotics kill our bacteria because that’s what they’re there for and they’re necessary sometimes. But using, the overuse of antibiotics can damage that. Other things that can damage it are things like antibacterial products. If you’re using an antibacterial hand wash or cleaning products on, say, the table, the tray of your high chair to clean it. I mean, you’re putting food on that and the baby’s ingesting those things. Again, they’re antibacterial. They’re there to kill bacteria. If we’re ingesting those we’re damaging the bacteria in our gut.
Medications. Asthma puffers and anti-inflammatory type medications can damage the lining of the gut and also have an impact on our gut bacteria, our gut microbe [biota 00:10:25]. But, not to say not to use those. Obviously we have to use them, but they do have an impact on the gut. Also, poor diet. If you’re not getting the right amount of nutrients, or the right sorts of nutrients in the diet, then that can affect, say, your levels of stomach acid. Then you’re not able to produce enough stomach acid, which means you can’t break our food down.
One of the big things that I see in kids, and this happened to my son as well, because when I had him I was eating, I had an appalling diet, and then he had reflux. He was on reflux medication and that used a, it’s called a proton pump inhibitor and that actually stops the production of stomach acid so that they don’t vomit it up. He was on that until he was 18 months old. If you think about a kid that, doctors give that out really quickly. They’re reducing the amount of stomach acid they have, they’ve got no chance of breaking down their food and then that just leads to a whole other range of problems. I see kids on them all the time. And, they’re supposed to be a short term solution. They’re supposed to be no more than, I think, four to six weeks on those and he was on for a year and a half.
Lisa: I just, I can hear people going, while they’re listing. Can you please talk a little bit more about your story so people can also feel hopeful sometimes instead of overwhelmed about how, what change and what improving and focusing on gut health can actually do to the health overall of a family?
Jo : Yeah, sure. My story, I would love to say I think that I have a really healthy story and I’ve always been healthy and came from this healthy family, but that is totally about as far from the truth as possible. But then if I didn’t do what I did, then I wouldn’t be where I am. That’s how it is. Basically I grew up on a farm. My mom was an amazing cook, but she was also very, very busy. She never taught us how to cook. I’ve got three sisters and we grew up on … When we were little we grew up eating very wholesome, homemade food. But then we moved into town off the farm, my mom was working full time, we ate whatever packet food we could our hands on because we hadn’t had it before. As a teenager I remember driving, riding home from school with my little sister and we’d stop at this little pink shop and just buy lollies. Just the amount of rubbish we ate was appalling.
That carried through. I never learned how to cook. All my cooking came from a packet. When I started having my kids I just didn’t even think about it. I never, ever associated food … I didn’t think of food as nutrients at all. I was obsessed with my weight. I’d been dieting since I was about 14. My whole family has weight problems, so I was constantly on a diet, constantly eating packet food that were low fat and all that kind of stuff. When I had my kids I just kept doing the same thing.
By the time I had my first child, she’s nearly 17 now, I was very overweight, I was depressed, I had post natal depression, I had anxiety, I was medicated for that. I was on antiinflammatory medications because I had chronic back issues. I was pretty … I was a mess, basically. But I just thought that was normal, so I just kept going with that. My whole life was, for years and years and years just going on this cycle of dieting and taking medications and not even thinking about the food I was putting in my mouth other than, “Is it was going to help me lose weight?”
When I had my son who’s now 10, again, my diet was horrific. I think I lived on sugar. While the kids never really had any massive health issues, there was lots of little things. There was lots of little things that, when I look back now, were really affecting our lives. My daughter Jasmine had non-allergic rhinitis. She just seemed to be allergic to everything. She just seemed to react to everything. She was always sniffing, red eyes, puffy. From the minute she’d wake up she’d start sneezing. She couldn’t … It was like she had to miss school a lot of days because her eyes were so puffy and red. She was on antihistamines every day and she was, that was between the age of nine and 11. For two years she was on daily antihistamines because that’s all the doctor could give us. We had allergy testing, she wasn’t allergic to anything. Stuff like that which we just went, “Okay. That’s just her thing.”
We had not so much behavioural issues. Well, there were definitely tantrums, but my son and Jasmine as well both really struggle with anxiety. Nicholas to the point where he just, he really struggled to go to school. Chloe, my oldest, was really struggling to concentrate. She got labelled, like they wanted to have her tested for ADHD and I kept refusing to do it. She just couldn’t sit still, and she’s really, really smart, but she couldn’t focus on anything. And she was really struggling to learn more in the way that school needed her to learn. It was stuff like that and then obviously me and my weight and anxiety. When I say nothing major, I guess they’re pretty major [crosstalk 00:16:09]. I’m saying, there was no real breakthrough thing.
I moved. We were living in Queensland at the time. We moved back to Perth and I had the opportunity to have a fresh start in terms of food. My husband picked up the book one day at my sister’s house, Sweet Poison, by David Gillespie and we started reading that. He said, “You have to read this.” This was in 2011. I said, “All right.” I started reading it and I just got so angry. I got so angry that all the foods that we’d been eating were so full of sugar and I was so addicted to sugar. I feel sick now when I think about how much sugar I ate. I’m amazed I didn’t have gestational diabetes with Nick.
But, yeah, I just got really mad. We decided that we were going to cut out sugar and we really strictly cut out sugar which was really challenging because everything has sugar in it. Once I started looking at sugar I started looking at food additives and thinking, “What the hell is this in our food? How is this allowed to happen?” So many of the moms that I speak to say that they feel the same way, I think, looking at a packet on the supermarket shelf thinking it would be safe. They wouldn’t let us eat it if it wasn’t safe, surely. That’s what I always thought. I think I was just very naive and very ignorant and just trusted that they, the authorities, knew what they were doing.
Anyway, we started a new pantry from scratch and I had to learn how to cook from scratch. Once we started to come off these sorts of foods, I started to notice really major changes in the kids. Jasmine’s sniffing went away. Literally overnight it was gone. Chloe’s reading age went from 11 to 15 in testing that she had done at school. She was at an adult reading level now at age 11. Nicholas slept. Oh my goodness. He was a terrible sleeper, has always been a terrible sleeper but he started sleeping through the night. He was four at the time. And he stopped having these massive melt downs that he was having. He just started … He was always quite sick, actually. He would always get colds and tummy bugs and headaches. He always had something going on with him and that just went away. I was like, “That’s amazing.”
Then I came off antidepressants and I lost 20 kilos without even thinking about it. I just started eating proper food and it went away. I could sleep through the night. I stopped taking pills, anti inflammatories for my back. It was amazing. I was like, “This is just the power of eating actual proper food that doesn’t come out of a packet.” Then I thought, “I need … People need to know this. Everyone needs to know this.” I thought I can’t really go on … I did preach early on, absolutely, my family will attest to that. I was quite annoying about this because I just thought, “Everyone has to know this.” But then I thought, “Nope, if I want to really help people I need to stop preaching and start educating and supporting.” And I thought for me the way to do that was to go and get a degree in nutritional medicine, so that’s what I did.
Lisa: It’s just the most amazing story. But also that you had the guts to really do it, and that you followed through. But then I guess maybe it was just addictive to see the changes in your family and to feel the changes in yourself. There is just actually no better crack than your family thriving or the feeling that you have. I know when I’m eating badly, or I’m just not, like I’m having a bit too much sugar or something I’ll just be like, “I know I don’t have to have this brain fog. I know I don’t have to have and I know I don’t have to feel this dip at 3 p.m.. Just do the things, Lisa. Just do the things and you’ll feel great.” Then it’s like we have this ability to control how our bodies are in the world. But, tell me, because you’ve decided to specialise in which area?
Jo : Children’s health is my absolute passion.
Lisa: Kids and this fascinates, and because I guess through my work and as you know in Small Steps communities a lot of the women are coming in to learn how to cook and are learning how to go back to basic food because of their children. Because some light bulb has just gone off. But then we don’t necessarily have the skills to do it. And it can all feel a little bit overwhelming. I would love to know, as a practitioner now, what are you seeing when people present to you? What are they seeking out at the moment? What are the common issues that people are having with their kids?
Jo : Yeah. Probably the main ones that I see are eczema is huge. Every second kid seems to have eczema, which technically one in four children in Australia has eczema. I see a lot of eczema. I see a lot of sleeping problems. Behaviour is a huge one. I have a lot of parents coming to me saying, “My kid just tantrums all the time.” I see kids from birth, newborns to teenagers. The different things tend to come out at different ages. Newborn babies it’s breast feeding and mom’s diet while she’s breast feeding. Things like reflux and colic, sleep problems.
Primary school, so I’ve got toddler age kids going up there. We see a lot of eczema, a lot of recurring infections. A lot of tonsillitis, ear infections where they’ve had a heap of antibiotics but they just keep getting sick over and over again. I see a lot of that. Obviously once they start school it’s when their teacher starts going, “Hey, your kid can’t sit still.” Or, there’s behavioural issues or they have social issues because they’re not making friends very well and then obviously lunch box issues start at that age as well, because they’re comparing their lunch box to other kids and I see a lot of moms going, “I don’t know what to put in my kid’s lunch box.”
The other main ones, I mean, as they get older I see lots of anxiety and in teenagers skin problems, especially girls who want to have nice … Well, all kids want to have nice skin, but a lot of girls that have skin problems. And also girls with their period, getting heavy periods. Yeah, that’s the, they’re the areas. Oh, and autoimmune diseases I see a lot of as well.
Lisa: How do they know to come to a nutritional medicine practitioner? Because this is what I feel like our son has probably a little bit of anxiety issues and I spoke to the GP about it and she has recommended to go and see a psychologist. Absolutely no talk of the food he eats, whether he’s been on courses of antibiotics. Gut health not even on the radar. Whereas because I’m like, “But is it something he’s reacting to? Is it … ” She can’t even have the conversation with me. How do people find you? What do parents do if they’re noticing, because I’m sure there’s going to be some parents listening going, “Yeah, I’m dealing with tantrums from daytime to night time.” Or, “My kids don’t sleep. What are you saying, it’s got something to do with the food they eat?” How do people make the link from, and I guess a lot of people wouldn’t, to seek out, to know that it’s to do with this?
Jo : Yeah, I think for me particularly with being a nutritional medicine practitioner as opposed to a naturopath, a lot of people might think naturopath for natural medicine or to do with food or herbs or things like that. I learnt naturopathic principles in my education. I went to a natural health college to my degree. My nutrition background is naturopathic based. I don’t do herbs, but I focus on food as medicine. I think a lot of the misconception comes, when people think of nutritionists they probably think more around dietician and they think about diet. This is how I used to think, I would only think about that if I needed to lose weight. Not so much any of the other things that I just talked about. Nothing that I spend my time doing. Gut health, I didn’t even know what that was six years ago.
I think that it’s … I think more people are beginning to know it now because there’s, with the internet, there’s more information out there. But, every practitioner works slightly differently and every practitioner has different modalities that they use within their practise as well. It’s about finding the right person for you. I think for me it’s about educating people, educating moms on what I do and how I can help them and help their kids so that they know when they’ve got these problems when they come up, they go, “That’s what I need to do. I need to look at their food.” I think there’s a lot more information now around food and how food’s affecting our kids and starting to work that out. But, I mean, you see it all the time in these different groups and chat, what are the chat groups? They’re not chat groups.
Lisa: Facebook groups.
Jo : Now where people will put pictures up going, “My kid’s got this.” Or, “My kid has that.” Then you get all these millions of responses and people look to those groups for advice, but they’re getting advice from other moms. Rather than saying, “Go and see a medical practitioner.” Or, “Go and see a nutritionist.” Or whatever. They say, “You should try this.” I think that that’s where some moms go down. I mean, I see a lot of moms who have gone down those tracks and then come to me because either they’ve made it worse or it’s not working. We have to get to the root cause of these things. Now, I’ve completely gone off track and forgot what the original question was.
Lisa: It was how do people, because our first port of call, say, okay, let’s use the example of eczema. You would go to your GP and then you would be given a cream, probably, like a steroid cream. Then, that’s it. Then, hopefully the steroid cream gets it under control. I’ve heard of people who are having chlorine baths for their, popping their kids in chlorine baths to manage it. But how … Where is the point at which they start looking for more information or they make that connection? Because I think it’s so hard if you’re not in those Facebook groups, if you’re not into food, then how are you going to get … Because from your experience what is eczema caused by?
Jo : It’s actually classed as an autoimmune disease now. It’s caused by an overreaction of the immune system, which then attacks our skin. Usually it is triggered by food. It could be triggered by viruses and things like that as well, but generally it’s food and food can make it flare as well. Certain foods can make it flare. But yeah, it’s an autoimmune condition so it’s to do with your immune system. If you don’t have a health immune system, then this is where that can, it can manifest as eczema.
Lisa: Gut health, like 70% of our immune cells are in our gut or something? Is that the right number?
Jo : Yeah. Between 70 and 90 depending on where you read, but yeah, a lot. A lot is in there.
Lisa: A lot. A lot relies on us having the bacteria doing all its things, the stomach acid doing all its things. If someone is told … How would you know what food your child is reacting to?
Jo : Okay, so there’s a lot of different things you can do and a lot of, I see a lot of parents who have had different types of testing. Will have testing by kinesiology or hair testing or blood testing done. But still the gold standard for testing for food intolerances is an elimination diet and it’s the cheapest as well because those food, the testing the hair, mineral, the hair testing and the other IGG testing can be up to $700 dollars. It’s quite expensive. But still, and I’ve used, I don’t do any of that testing. I do for intolerances I do elimination diet and food and symptom journal.
Lisa: Yes, right. But I’m like, I prefer the test. I’ll save up some coin and just do the test. But it’s not even 100% accurate, really, is it?
Jo : Yeah, it’s a bit, I think they can miss a lot of things. There’s not a lot of evidence to say that they are very accurate, either, the different types of testing. Actually, I don’t think there’s any evidence to say that they are accurate, but I know a lot of practitioners that use them, and they’re pretty, they can get some good results from them. I haven’t ventured down into that because I’m pretty much a back to basics kind of person, generally. And as a practitioner I like to work out what food are affecting.
I think the biggest problem for me with the different tests is that I see a lot of parents that come in and say, “My chiropractor told me that my kid can’t have strawberries, oranges, this grain, dairy.” All these different things. So they just take them off all those foods and then the more foods they take away, the less food the kids can tolerate. They end up on this really limited diet of white rice and pumpkin, or something. But then that leads into nutrient deficiencies and all these other issues. And then can flare other symptoms up as well, because then when they do try and eat other foods, they’re reacting to these foods.
That’s one of the biggest reasons, for me, that’s one of my solid reasons for doing elimination tests because you can’t … Once you work out what food are affecting your child, you don’t just take them off them. An elimination diet, or working out what their sensitivities are is part of the process. The process is to work out what they’re reacting to, work on fixing that so that they stop reacting to it, and then reintroduce it. Not in the case of an allergy, of course. You’d never do that. But with a food intolerance, working out how they can then tolerate that food again, because the aim of, for me, the aim is to always get their children back to eating a wide variety of foods and as normal, inverted commas, “Diet” as possible.
Lisa: Yeah. And is it onerous? Because here’s the thing, I thought all of that stuff was so super easy when my kids were toddlers and they didn’t have a choice. They just would eat what I had for them. Now, my kid is in grade one, he’s suddenly super interested in packets and it’s like he’s just turned into this other human and has definite opinions about certain things. They’re going to parties all the time and it’s everywhere. I can’t even … Removing those foods feels challenging. Are mom’s just at their wits end when they come to you and they’re ready to try anything, or do you feel that there’s resistance to the idea of really drilling down and doing the work?
Jo : My job is to educate moms and to support them through this process. I would always start with why. Rather than just say, “Yup, you need to go and do an elimination diet and you need to take out gluten, dairy, nuts and seeds and eggs. Pretty much everything that your kid eats and don’t feed them that and feed them bone broth and all these sorts of things.” I’m never going to have any clients. It’s not realistic. I always start with why. The why is, and this is part of my food and symptom journal process. It’s not just a journal to write things in. It actually has, I ask the moms to fill it out and fill out what the problems are that they’re seeing in their kids and what they want their kid’s life to be like so that they can really focus on …
Say their child has eczema and it’s keeping them up at night, they’re scratching until they bleed. They’re getting constant staph infections because they’ve got open wounds on their skin. It’s affecting their confidence. It’s making them anxious. They don’t want that for their child, but sometimes when you go, you’re now faced with an elimination diet, they go, “That’s too hard.” But it’s much harder having a child who’s suffering.
If they look at, if you go down into why they really want to do that, and you look at, you want your child to have healthy skin, healthy self confidence, but you want them to be able to not have antibiotics all the time. You want them not to have wet bandages having to, so that they can sleep at night. You don’t want to be at the doctor all the time. If you look at that, that makes the decision a lot easier to go, “Right, we’re going to spend six weeks doing an elimination and reintroduction diet to work out what’s causing this problem in the first place.” I also recommend to do it in a school holiday if you’ve got kids at school. Because trying to do it in their lunch box is a nightmare.
And obviously a lot of planning beforehand, but that’s where I help. I give a lot of resources to moms so they know what to cook, they know what to prepare, get themselves mentally prepared for what’s going to happen because there is tears, usually by the mom. There’s tantrums because their kids want to eat that. It’s just about preparing both them and their child for what’s about to happen. But it’s, in the big scheme of things, it’s such a short period of time for the rest of their lives. It’s totally worth it.
Lisa: Can I just ask, what do you, do you come across people … I’ve got people in my life who are like, “It’s not all about food. Sometimes it can be something totally different.” Because when i’ll be like, “What? You gave them a Bubble O’Bill and a crunchy ice cream? I’m so glad they had a fun day with you. What?!” Thinking I’m just going to have to deal with that later, and they’re like, “Look. It’ll just be because they’re tired or they’ve been a bit hyped up and excited. It’s not always about … Like, we ate that stuff when we were little.” It’s so hard to have that conversation with people. What do you … Do you come across that and what do you think about it?
Jo : That’s my whole life. That’s totally. Okay, so I had a really good chat one day with a good friend of mine who is a physiotherapist and she focuses on helping kids to breathe properly. So, kids with anxiety, kids with asthma. We were chatting one day about all these other things because there is a million different treatments or modalities or things you can try and behavioural therapy. It’s a never ending list of things it could be. But she said to me, “But if you don’t have the right foundation, if you can’t breathe properly so you’re not getting enough oxygen and you’re not eating the right food to provide the building blocks that your body actually needs to function, to perform the things it needs to perform, all these other things can’t … They won’t be as effective.” I was like, “Yeah, that’s totally true.”
If you think … Nutrition and specifically gut health, but nutrition, if we get that foundation right, if we get the gut digesting food really well, getting as much nutrition as possible out of all our food, our bacteria’s happy and doing all the things it needs to do, then any other therapy that might be required … Whether that is psychology, psychological therapies, if it’s occupational therapy, watever else on top of that is a bonus. It will be better if you can get this foundation stuff happening. That was pretty … When I explain that to parents now they’re like, “I had never thought about it like that.”
Lisa: Yup. Yup. I love that. I will definitely remember that. There’s a few sayings and things that people have shared, or little analogies and I remember always Jo Whitton saying that our health journey is like peeling an onion. We just get the crusty bits off first and then went, “That’s a bit smooth.” But then you can take another layer off and you can go a little bit further and a little bit deeper. That’s always given me peace when I feel like sometimes I know that some of the things that I should be doing more often and I’m not. It’s okay because this is where I am right now and what I’m capable of. Small steps and all that.
But what, there was something that I just wanted to ask you, and that is this whole 80/20 rule. I know you’ve got teenage kids and you do your best to provide them that good foundation at home. I remember you saying what your daughter wanted at her birthday party and you were like, “What?!” This is the thing, right? We’re never going to have that perfect bone brothed 24/7 diet. There is packets. My kids who are wanting special stuff in their lunch box to feel like a normal kid. And because now my homemade popcorn is just not good enough, they all want the popped from the packet and put in the lunch box is more exciting. And if it comes in a small packet, even better. But I just refuse because that is a waste of packaging and just offends me on every level. I’m just such an annoying mom to them, I’m sure. But, what is the deal with that? Am I messing my kids up by having that take on things from your perspective?
Jo : No, most definitely not. I think the thing that we have to remember here is that food is more than just nutrients for our body. Food is also an emotional thing, it’s a social thing, it’s cultural, there’s traditions around it and that’s really important. And it’s really important to have those to be a well balanced, functioning human being. I think that there’s definitely … I’m not a fan of the word balance because I don’t think it’s meaningful. I don’t think it’s a tangible kind of word and it’s different for everybody. I think the most important thing is that obviously there are foods that you are allergic to, or in the case of my son he has celiac disease, so he has to avoid gluten forever, which does have, I mean, packed on, even going to parties and things like that and what he can eat. But you would avoid those things.
Generally if you are eating well most of the time, and then you go to birthday parties and eat whatever crap that’s there, or overeat something for a period of time, or whatever, that’s just all part of the bigger picture of life. If you go to birthday parties, if you take your kids to … I did do this very early on when we started eating like this. It was very stressful. We actually didn’t get invited to … We got uninvited to places because people were thinking I was judging them. I was not and I don’t. Yeah, I think it’s really important to just stay focused on what’s important, feeding your kids.
Like I said, in my house we only have healthy options. When my kids want to eat something they can eat whatever they want because I know that it’s good for them. When they go out, like you said, I’ve got teenagers. My girls are 17, so they have their own money. I won’t buy them Hungry Jacks or McDonald’s or whatever. But my oldest daughter when she goes out she will buy three hash browns from Hungry Jacks because they’re so cheap and she doesn’t like spending her money. She just loves them. But, every time she does that she’ll come home, she’ll go, “I really felt really yuck afterwards.”
Our job as parents is really to educate our kids on what our body needs, how they feel when they eat something that’s good, and how they feel if they eat something that’s not so great for them. And then work it out for themselves. If we continually police our kids and what they’re eating that’s just starting a whole other range of problems. And you’re going to find that the tipping point, I guess, for you as a mom, what you can put up with, what you can just be okay with and what is off limits. For me, I will not buy fast food no matter what. That is my line and we don’t do soft drink and I won’t have that in the house. But if they go out and do it, you know what? That’s fine.
Lisa: Yup. That just reminds me, we needed some more tamari and my husband went and got it from the shops but he just got soy sauce because he couldn’t find it. It’s in this bottle, it’s in this plastic thing. And yesterday my son was, because he’s always looking in the cupboard for something that might be exciting. Whereas I’m like, “Here’s your banana muffin.” “I want something special!” Anyway, he saw this bottle and he grabbed it and he’s like, “Coca-Cola.” He’s never had Coke in his life and he thought this bottle, he’s like, “Ah, man. This is like … I’ve just hit the jackpot, here. This stuff, we’ve got it.” He’s walking around the house with this soy sauce bottle thinking that it’s Coke.
I love your take on that. We’ve started, in our house, to do just listen to your tummy and when your tummy says it’s had enough. At the last two birthday parties two of my kids have brought back their plates of birthday cake with just an intense amount of icing and they just said, “My tummy’s had enough.”
But then they can also do it when they’re eating dinner and they’re like, “My tummy’s had enough of this potato.” I’m like, “Don’t mess with me guys. It’s your food, eat it.” But only because I’ve now realised I don’t want to be the police mom. I don’t want to be the person they rebel against. I don’t want to be a reason for them to have an eating disorder at the other end of this. But sometimes I do get panicked about the food when I go places and see it and think, “Oh dear.” It’s just the sugar and only because it does have a huge effect on them. But, this is a lesson they have to learn for their life, so I just love hearing a perspective like yours, from someone who knows that it’s also, it’s okay. It’s their journey through life. We don’t live on the top of a mountain.
Jo : No, and our job as parents is to help our kids be functioning, well balanced adults. All we can do is give them that foundation and then send them on their way for them to be able to make those decisions for themselves. If we take away all their decisions when they’re little, and control everything that they eat, they’re never going to learn how to control that for themselves. We need to allow some of that as they grow up, and let them make those decisions based on how they feel. And they do it. They will do it. My kids all do it. And my girls were 11 and eating, they were eating all … If you look on those lunchbox Facebook pages that have these immaculate, ridiculously perfect looking lunchboxes, my girls were not eating those. They were eating the complete opposite to that.
We changed from a high processed, lots of take away, lots of sugar diet to a, just a real food, whole food diet. They were 11. That was tough, but now they do it. They eat, most of their food is that and then they go out and they might have some take away or they might have some Fanta or something at a party. I mean, we haven’t even got to alcohol yet, but we’re getting there.
Lisa: As far as you know, no offence.
Jo : Yeah. I’m going to stay in denial for that one a little bit longer. And my youngest, when he was four all he wanted was an … Because I’d been strictly sugar free for a year. I was a Nazi around what they were eating. It was very stressful. But I felt like we needed this extreme, for me, I needed an extreme change and I needed a line in the sand and then that was it. But, we would go to the park every day after school and all his friends would have ice creams. He was so desperate for an ice cream. He looked at them like they were some kind of magical thing that would change his life forever. He was four. I just thought, “What am I doing to my child?” He needs to know that he can eat that and go, and know what it feels like.
I bought him his first ice cream. It was full of colours and additives and all this kind of stuff. He ate it and he was like, “Oh. Is that all it was?” Then he just moved on. He did have a major melt down about 45 minutes after he ate the ice cream, but he has taken it upon himself to choose things that he doesn’t eat and things that he does eat. He will avoid anything blue because he knows that gives him a reaction. He knows how to read labels because he has celiac disease, he has to avoid gluten. He’s really good at that now. They all have to, like you said, it’s their journey. They have to live that. It’s our job just to give them the tools they need just to be able to do that.
Lisa: Yup. You’re a legend. You’re such an amazing mom and now all these other moms have you as an amazing resource. You’re giving podcast listeners a nice special gift.
Jo : I am. I’m giving you … Well, I’m going to give you two gifts. The first one is a free 20 minute phone consultation with me. That’s if you have any questions about what to do, where to start, what it could be, how I work to help with those problems. Then you can book that in with me, and I’ll put the link in the show notes.
Jo : And, the second one is the food and symptom journal. That is full of information. Then it’s got your journal. That is a way to document what your child is eating. Also, things like environmental factors. If they’ve been swimming or if you’ve changed washing powders and things like that. If they’ve had any medication, any supplements. Keeping track of what they’re eating, keeping track of any signs and symptoms that you’re noticing and then working out if there’s any connections between the two. If something’s triggering their eczema, or triggering a tantrum, or triggering sleep problems. Then that’s a really useful tool to then take to your health practitioner and say, “Look, I’ve noticed that these things are happening.” Because I always give my clients a food and symptom journal to do anyway. It’s one of the first things I do because it’s a really simple way to find out what might be going on.
From there you can, I tailor all my elimination diets or treatment plans to the individual. There’s no one size fits all thing. They can look through that food and symptom journal, we can work on an elimination diet if that’s indicated, or if that’s appropriate. Working on their immune system, working on their gut health so that we can get back to eating a normal diet. It’s the food and symptom diary and a 20 minute free phone call.
Lisa: Outrageous. I mean, that food and symptom journal is … I can’t believe you’re giving that away for free. It’s amazing. Everyone will be able to find that in the show notes and on the blog. And Jo, just thank you for sharing all this information. We probably always try to get through a little too much and I slammed through the gates with just the big questions when really … Because I feel like people like you who number one, understand where people are coming from and haven’t, aren’t 25 and don’t have kids, number one and have been on this path for a very long time. Who, you’ve been there, you’ve seen it, you’ve done it, you’ve experienced it. You understand the challenges of not just knowing that something has to change, but actually then doing it. It’s two different things.
I just think moms and families in general would be so lucky to be in your hands because you bring that compassionate approach, but just a shit load of knowledge. You’re so smart. I love talking to you. Every time I talk to you I learn something new. But this is the thing also about the topic of gut health is it’s an evolving space. There’s new stuff being learnt all the time. Like what you’re saying about eczema being an autoimmune disease and this and that. It’s just all … I’m fascinated by it. I thank you for your time today.
Jo : You’re welcome. Thank you. I love talking about all of this stuff, so any opportunity I get to talk about it.
Lisa: I think we’ll get set to see a lot more of you now that you don’t have your head in books and that your website is up and running and you’re taking appointments. I know you’ve got lots of exciting things in the works. I’m super excited for you. And, that you’re going to bring your Jo genius to this whole conversation. Thanks for sharing it with us today.
Jo : Thanks, Lisa.