Editor’s note: Every Friday, HLN brings you the "My First Time" series, which explores the first time your favorite celebrities did something significant or memorable (so get your mind out of the gutter!).
HLN: When was the first time you were stumped by a patient’s condition?
Dr. Jim Sears: Sometimes, no answer is the best answer. One time, a 3-year-old child came in who was having seizures. When that happens, you think of the worst: Is there a tumor in the brain or a malformation? So we go do CAT scans, brain wave scans, blood tests, etc. For this particular child, everything was coming back negative, which was technically good news -- we didn’t want to find an infection or a tumor. So technically, we were stumped -- we never found out why the child had seizures, and they eventually went away.
HLN: What are the challenges of diagnosing a child as opposed to an adult?
JS: In pediatrics, the problem will usually fix itself. It’s usually a common virus like the cold or something. About 90% of the parents I see in my office require reaffirmation: This tummy ache will go away. The trick is to recognize the cases where the problem won’t go away on its own. Those require investigation and treatment. Most adults go to the doctor because their problem isn’t going away. With kids, the problem probably just started that day or the day before.
HLN: People like to self-diagnose with information they find online. Is it worse when it comes to their kids?
JS: A little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing. The Internet, I found, is a positive and a negative tool. I have a website, and I encourage all my patients to use it before they call me. I put on there very well-thought out recommendations for dealing with a tummy ache or a cold, advice for when to worry and when not to worry. I think it’s bad when they Google “headache” and the top 10 hits are crazy, nasty things they probably don’t have. Medicine is both an art and a science. The Internet contains the science of it, like top 10 causes for headache. The art comes down to figuring out what’s causing a specific patient’s headache when they’re sitting in my office. It’s the experience you have as a doctor that helps you figure out the nuances of what exactly is causing the headache. That’s what the Internet can’t give you.
HLN: You’ve written books about how to keep your kids healthy. What’s your No. 1 advice to parents when it comes to their kids’ health?
JS: I tell parents, “If you don’t buy it, they can’t eat it.” If a child is given the choice between Golden Grahams and Cheerios, they’ll pick Golden Grahams, which have 10 times more sugar than Cheerios. When the kids are young, 2 to 3 years old, don’t give them cookies or junk food, because they’ll develop a taste for it. I’ve had so many kids in my office who grew up with their parents only introducing them to fruits, veggies, whole grains, and healthy meats. They haven’t taken that many trips to McDonalds; they longed for something healthy because they didn’t know what a brownie was.
HLN: Sooner or later, kids will come into contact with junk food, so when is a good time to introduce them to it and maybe teach them that it’s not the best option?
JS: I call it birthday party food -- that’s pretty much the time when the kids will go, “What are these chips things?” I saw that with my kids when they were 4 to 5 years old: They pig out on chips and soda and come home and have a tummy ache. They don’t feel as good as they normally do after having food. So they realize, “I ate this junk, now I feel like junk.” We want them to know that those junk foods they would see at birthday parties are abnormal to have in our house. They’re welcome to have some -- we have a 1-2 servings of sugar a day rule -- but it’s not their go-to. It’s a special treat. I remember we had a party at our house, and we had sodas and other junk food there, but the next day, there were still a couple of 2-liter bottles of soda in the fridge. And my son said, “Hey dad, how come there’s soda in the fridge?” Most kids would say, “How come we’re out of soda?” It makes a huge difference.
HLN: What about the extreme opposite -- how do you feel about parents who only feed their kids kale and brown rice?
JS: I love it. A lot of foods like kale are an acquired taste, but they’re so good for you. Kale is probably the No. 1 leafy green in terms of nutritional content. If you give it to a 3-year-old before his/her tastes are established, it might taste good to a toddler. You try giving it to an adult who’s never had it, it’s pretty gross to them, because they have established tastes. Adults think lettuce is supposed to taste like salad dressing, but to a 2-year-old who hasn’t had salad dressing yet, it might be delicious. Any diet that’s very restrictive can be problematic -- you do need a variety of fruit and veggies. I would never encourage anyone, adult or child, to go on a diet that’s only bananas and maple syrup water, because you’ll miss out on many nutrients. So have variety and lots of colors. When I go shopping, I play a game with my kids: In the produce aisle, I ask them each to pick out a green, a purple and an orange item, for example. It makes it fun for them.
HLN: What makes you feel like you’ve made a difference in a patient’s life?
JS: Seeing the kids grow up and stay with some of the good habits that I tried to instill in them. One child in particular was very impressionable, and when he was 4 or 5 years old, I taught him all about trans fats and how bad they are for you. When he was 12, he sent me a very nice quote saying, “Trans fats are bad fats: They clog your arteries and make the brain go numb.” He added a few other things and I was so proud that he really got it. Now he’s a young man and still keeps up his good eating habits.