Food for Thought | Behavioral Problems in Kids Linked to Diet
We're here today with Sylvana Lee, who is a health coach, talking to us about the topic of behavioral problems in kids that are linked to diet. And Sylvana is a mom of two little ones. She has a multicultural background but will condense it to say, you know that she has British- Thai- Swiss roots, and she is truly a free spirit, and currently calls Hong Kong her home. And as a health coach, she helps people overcome stress related health problems by decoding the many ways stress appears in their body- from infertility to gut health. So, whether that be stress in the physical body, or stress in the mind, she works holistically to help each client, tap into themselves, and better understand how stress affects them and how they can overcome it. So, welcome Sylvana to our podcast!
Wow what an introduction. Thank you. I couldn't have said it better myself.
Hi Sylvana, thank you so much for being here and it's so great that we finally meet via this podcast properly. And I'm so intrigued, I mean, I've been following you for a while, I know a lot about you from, from Iva, but I'd love to hear just more of your journey and how you got there, how you got to live in Hong Kong and also how sort of you're doing- got to doing what you're doing today.
Yeah so, I mean, it was a long journey to get to where I am today, but I'll give you the short version. So, my husband is Hong Kong Chinese, and we actually met in England so he never lived in Hong Kong in his life, but when we met, we were working together, and I was like, ‘I don't want to stay here. This is a pit stop for me and if you want to join the journey then, you know, come with me. But if you if you're not, if you're not interested in, you know, living in Asia and doing new things then, you know, it's not gonna be easy for us to be together.’ And he was like ‘No, I'm up for it, I want to be in Hong Kong, I want to be in Asia, let's do it.’ And so we travelled around a bit, we worked in Indonesia. I worked in Thailand, a little bit. Apart from growing up there, and then we kind of made our way over to Hong Kong because he has family here, and so we inadvertently ended up settling here, and we've been here for, I mean, with a break in the middle, we've been here for cumulatively five years or so. And, yeah, now we have two young kids, so the idea of moving around on a frequent basis with young kids is pretty off-putting. So we've decided to stay here for a while, and
It becomes a challenge to be that Nomad with little ones.
It's pretty impossible. Yeah, and you want them to have stability, I didn't have a lot of stability, growing up in my life and so, you know, you always want what you didn't have, right? And so yes, that's really important for us to give them, like community and tribe and stability and in that sense. So, I became a health coach about five years ago, and my route into health coaching was I think probably as a lot of people's route into health coaching is, is that I had problems of my own that I was trying to overcome, and I wanted to learn more about myself and help myself. Because you know, modern medicine couldn't give me the answers I needed, and I thought the only way I'm gonna understand more, is by learning myself, because, you know, I can't afford to go and see doctor after doctor after doctor and get the same answer 10 million times.
So we, I really had trouble with my conception journey, and that's why I decided to start health coaching, just before I came pregnant and I did not become pregnant because I became a health coach. It was fortuitous that I went through some, you know, I saw some naturopathic doctors, I saw some alternative healers, I saw acupuncturist, and I did a lot of, you know, self-work to make it happen the first time, and, and then I thankfully got pregnant, the second time around because the first time I unfortunately ended in miscarriage, and I think it was at that point, that was like the low point, and I was like, ‘this isn't right, like this shouldn't be happening’. The more I spoke about it openly because I'm not the kind of person to keep things to myself I whether I like it or not I have to I have to speak my mind. And I started talking to more and more women about it, and the more I spoke about it, the more and more women were coming out saying, ‘oh it's happened to me too. I've had a miscarriage, I've had three miscarriages, I've had eight miscarriages.’ I know friends who've had almost 10 miscarriages, in their journey easy to get pregnant.
That is crazy
Well, that's the thing. I was like ‘this is not natural, this shouldn't be happening’. You know, back in the day when you used to have eight babies at home and you were just like a machine just popping them out. That doesn't happen anymore. It's hard for us to conceive these days as a human race it's harder for us to conceive in modern society. And I was like ‘something's out of whack, something is out of balance’, and I've got to figure out how to overcome this. And so, I did as much due diligence as I could, you know, fixing my hormones fixing my gut, you know, eating healthier. And so, I had Obie my first son. And then, after nine months, I got pregnant again, which was
After nine months?
They're Irish twins, as they say,
Almost, yeah. Because I was breastfeeding, like, full time, and everything. And I was like, ‘Oh, surely it can't happen that easily’, you hear stories about people it happening easily and I was like ‘no, not gonna happen to me because I, I struggled the first time’. But your body kind of resets after having a baby. And things work differently, I find. So the second one was like bam, hit you like a ton of bricks and so yeah so then it was a matter of ‘Okay now I've got to, how do I raise these kids. You know what, what I did in my lifetime clearly didn't work for me. And so I've got to do better’. And then that was like the beginning of my journey of, okay, I've got to take health coaching, seriously, and it just went from like, one study to the next study to like understanding and learning and more and more and more and more learning, and I've come to a place now where I'm like it's, it's not enough. I need more information, I need more data. So now I'm training to become a nutritional therapist. So, yeah, so it was really like the progression of events in my own life and then, you know, as a mom, looking after yourself now, now that you've got to look out after the kids and you've got to look out after yourself because if you're not functioning properly, as you guys know being busy moms, having good businesses,
It's the proverbial ‘Put on your oxygen mask first so that you can help others’. In this case, your family.
Yeah, absolutely. And so now it's a case of constantly working on my own health, to try and be, you know, optimal to, you know, and looking after my kids and going through their ups and downs and tweaking things here and there and finding what works and what doesn't work. That's really my journey on getting to here and as you kind of go through that journey you pick up people along the way, you know, people kind of join in and they're like, ‘Oh, I've got that problem, how do I fix that?’, ‘Oh, I need help with that thing that you're doing’, or ‘I need help with feeding my kids more veggies, how did you make that dish and so it's just about sharing really.’
And to start off the conversation today. I just want to share, because we're talking about behavioral problems in kids that are linked to diet. And I just want to share how relevant this is in today's world, that just yesterday, and I am going to share the date of when this episode was recorded. Today's the 23rd of September, 2021. And just yesterday, UNICEF, had a report that the title says, Young Children's Diets Showed No Improvement In The Last Decade, And Could Get Much Worse Under COVID-19. So, you know, like a little snippet of the article that I'm sharing goes into saying, “Children under the age of two, are not getting the food or nutrients they need to thrive and grow well, leading to irreversible developmental harm.” And this is a report released by UNICEF yesterday. And I'm going to quote “The report's findings are clear: when the stakes are highest, millions of young children are being fed to fail.” This are the words of UNICEF, Executive Director, Henrietta Fore. So, Sylvana, with this preamble into the conversation, I mean this is really scary. These are very sobering statistics that are being thrown at us and that we as moms, we are looking into and seeing how can we hedge ourselves and how can we hedge our children to make sure that they are indeed growing, not only in size, but also developmentally, emotionally. into resilient, happy adults that can thrive in the world.
Yeah, I'm really glad you brought that up, actually. And it's interesting to hear that, you know, a body like UNICEF is putting some focus on this now because I think this has been going on for a long time. And it's really been pushed to the sidelines, by authorities like governments, for example. Governments tell us what we need to eat. They give us that government plate, which is like a quarter of a plate of grains, you know, a quarter of a plate of meat. And so the government's feel like it's their duty to tell us what to eat, and they don't necessarily follow the advice of the nutritionist that they hire to write those guidelines for them. They take that into consideration, and then they take what the farmers are producing and what's good for their economy into consideration and they go ‘okay here's kind of like a healthy balance in the middle but skews us more towards, you know, our economy’. And that's the plan. That's what we're going to feed people.
Like the wellbeing of the humans is not really at the forefront, it's other [inaudible]. I'm pregnant right now and I'm in Japan and again, every country is a little bit different but the recommendations I get what my diet should look like now during pregnancy, and I'm like, ‘No, that's not I'm not going to take that in. I'm not going to eat that because I know that it's not good for me.’ You know, so it's really like we have to take matters into our own hands, we have to educate ourselves and we have to do what we know is right for us.
And I think that's a really important point is and that's the journey that I went on, was to educate myself, because I wasn't happy with the answers that I was getting from other places. But if you think about it, generations and generations and generations ago, before modern agriculture and all of that, we had that tribal wisdom, inside of us- that wisdom was passed down by our forefathers and our mothers, and as a tribe, we knew how to eat, we knew that that thing healed that problem, we knew that, you know, it's this season, and so this food is in abundance, and so we're going to eat more of this food. Whereas now, you can get food from anywhere in the world- it doesn't matter what season it is. I could be eating mangoes for breakfast as if I was in England in January. And a lot of people do right. But yeah, I think that that wisdom of ‘okay, this, this doesn't feel good to me, it doesn't feel right.’ It might taste good, the flavor might be good in my mouth, but the effect that it's having on my body is a different story. And I have to put those two things together and understand ‘okay, this is how I'm feeling, this is what I'm eating. What's out of whack?’, and we've really lost that.
And we also, as you say, because of - and I love that your emphasis is to focus on what comes out of stress, and this chaotic, fast-paced life that we have going on, because it also doesn't allow us to tap into ourselves and into our bodies, and pay attention. Because we are not paying attention when we eat we're golfing down food because we have 15 minutes and then we have a next call or we have somewhere else that we need to be, or we're rushing about as busy moms or sometimes we’re skipping meals altogether because you know, the kids come first, everything comes first and then we just forget about it. And so, we just rush through this ritual, because it should be a ritual of properly, eating and tasting and having all the flavors in our mouth and how that is, nourishing us, but we don't pay attention to even that, so how are we going to pay attention to the next phase as you rightly said Sylvana, what is the effect that this is having on my body. Because you do feel an effect is just that we're oblivious to it.
Exactly and then the worst thing is, we're passing that on to our kids. They observe us and then our kids start mimicking us or you know we feed them what we feed ourselves and they grew up like that already and I think that's where a lot of problems come together, don't they?
Yeah, I think it is hard, I mean, you know, we've got to be realistic about the situation we're in right now, as working families who need to earn a living. And put literally food on the table. We don't have the time to prepare food in the same way that we use to prepare food. You know, I'm thankful that I have taken this route, and therefore, I get to work from home, most of the time, and I spend a lot of my free time cooking, you know, preparing food. I soak beans every day, I soak rice every day. You know, I sprout things, I buy oil stuff to you know, I make stocks, food stocks to freeze you know. Thankfully I'm very lucky that I have help in that department, so you know I'm not gonna say that I do everything myself, but a lot of work goes into that. So it is hard for working parents to be able to tick all those boxes and it's almost, it's the last thing on your to do list. I remember when I was working in a nine to five or nine to nine in an office. There was a study that came out that we did at in my agency, it was an advertising agency ,so we did a lot of studies, and there was some research that had come out saying, the thing that people struggle with the most in their day is figuring out what to eat for dinner.
Oh yes, the dreaded “What's for dinner?” question.
Oh, yeah, right. It’s true.
And it's the last thing you want to think about: is like, ‘I've just had my whole day, I'm tired, I'm hungry, I just want to reach for the quickest, easiest thing that's gonna fill me up, and let me go to sleep quickly’, but unfortunately, that's often not the best things to be feeding ourselves, let alone our kids. So, you know, I'm not going to sugarcoat it it's really difficult in in modern day to be able to prioritize that if you've got a full time job. I think you either have to find ways to outsource it as much as you can, like, get help, you know if you can get a nanny who can come and cook a meal or cook dinner every day for you guys and the kids. Even if she comes for two hours a day if she can you know do a bit of cleaning, do a bit of cooking, and that takes that massive element of stress out of your day and you don't have to worry and then feel guilty because, you know, usually what we’re eating, we feed our kids if your kids are old enough. If you that that box is ticked, then that's a massive weight off your shoulders. I'm a big believer in asking for help when you need it and putting your money into things that are going to, you know, be insurance for later life.
And Sylvana concretely, what are some, I know that there's a myriad, probably, and we won't be able to cover them all, but from your experience what you've seen so far, what are some of the main behavioral problems that you're seeing in kids, that you're tracing already to the way that they are eating, or the diets that they are being fed at home?
Yeah so, I mean I have very personal experience and this may mean myself as a child I grew up with developmental behavioral problems. I had ADHD growing up, and in that generation, you know, I grew up with a single mum, and looking after us, and we didn't have the data that we have now, on what to do, what to do holistically, if you've got problems like this. And so, it was very difficult for her to know what to do so, I was medicated for a while as a teenager to help me with those problems like concentration problems, hyperactivity problems, focus problems, you know, social problems, and interestingly, I mean I've been working on myself a lot so I have, I'm in a pretty good place now but I still live with some of those challenges that I have on a daily basis and especially in work, but I have noticed my, my eldest son is five and a half now and in the last year, I've noticed similar symptoms in him as a kid.
Like those massive outbursts and not being able to manage emotions and obviously they're going through that, you know, every kid is going through that kind of developmental trajectory, you know, in the first five years of life, but with him, it was a little bit different, it was a little bit amplified and I could see that his focus was off, and you know my expectations aren't high anyway- it's a five year old kid, but there's a certain degree, that you would expect a five year old kid to be able to manage, you know coloring for five minutes or something like that. But that was that was impossible for him. And the more we kind of socialized with friends, the more I was seeing this in around in friendship groups like this was becoming more of the norm. And then, more kids on the spectrum, you know, varying degrees of what the spectrum means. And I just I saw the trajectory of where this was going, and I was like I don't want him to have the challenges that I had in school, I don't want him to have the challenges, as an adult, in my career that I had
And the labels that we grow up with, right, because once we have that label, psychologically, it also has some sort of impact as well.
Yeah, it does. I think labels is a really controversial question when it comes to these psychological problems, and I think they can be helpful in some cases, I think they are not helpful in other cases. And so, I don't think there's a right or wrong in the label sense that you've got to do what's right for you and for
And every kid is different, every family is different.
Yeah, and every circumstance is different as well. And so, I think that it's totally subjective and totally personal, and you got to do what's right for you, and those cases. But with my son, I wanted to get these problems in the bud because I could see his potential. And there is potential that is there is that potential and all of us and so the more I started studying about the gut-brain connection, the more I started digging in to ‘okay, what have I done for myself that's helped? What do I see, you know, what studies are out there of what has been done? And what is the research telling us?’, and I started to take some of those steps with him, and he is, he is a much, much more, much easier to be around. I get happier. He doesn't crave food in the same way that he used to. He used to. Oh god, I can't even tell you like you can't even imagine he was, he had these cravings that were so strong for food that he would climb up on the fridge and rattle it like he was in jail, and I had. It was crazy! I had those fridge locks on my fridge, you know those IKEA ones, he broke three of those, I was like, I can't keep buying fridge locks.
So what are some of the cravings that he had specifically and what are some of the things that later you said okay I'm going to cut these out because of that whole gut-brain connection?
Yeah so, I mean we're we are a no sugar family anyway we don't, I don't have sugar in our diet at all. And, well, I say at all, but you know, birthdays and stuff like that we make up, you know, we, we go with traditional, you know, I want them to celebrate and to have fun and to enjoy life as well so it's not, I'm not that strict. But yeah in terms of our diet it's like sugar was a big one like it just fruit, honestly, just for he just wanted to eat fruit, just not eating fruit so yeah it's good in one sense, but then he wanted the sweeter fruit and then he wanted the dry fruits that I keep in the cupboard, and then it became a craving for the dried fruits and I was like ‘okay I see where this is going, and it's not, it's not in a good place’. And so, I, I went to see a naturopathic doctor and I were on the protocol with a naturopathic doctor at the moment. And I did some tests, and we found out a lot of really interesting things and I think that one thing that people don't think much about, is that you can learn a lot from yourself by certain tests that you can do, and some simple tests like just peeing in a cup, and you know you don't have to get injections or take blood or anything like that. And so, we did one of those tests, and it came back with some really interesting information. And that's when we found out that he had a candida overgrowth. And I realized that a lot of a lot of kids with these problems have can have got dysbiosis. So that's where the bad bacteria and the gut, are overpowering the good bacteria in the gut, and creating problems that wouldn't necessarily exist otherwise
So you would say definitely look for certain types of outlier behaviors? Because we know that when we're dealing with young kids, you know, developmentally, they're going to go through stages. And as you said, the spectrum is very, very, very vast, right? So, even doctors say, you know, within the curve- you know, if you're within the curve but the curve is pretty is pretty ample. But there are certain outlying behaviors that as a mom, you know, they really make you wonder and then I guess you get also the opinion -if they are already at that age where they're going to school- maybe from teachers that might give you also some feedback and say ‘well, you know, it's not really within the norm, it's a little bit outside of this’ when you say that attention, you know like the ability as you say, to concentrate, irritability or this bouts of huge cravings are some flags, I mean, they're not necessarily red flags, but you would say something to pay a little bit more attention to.
Yeah, Definitely, especially when you start piecing these little things all together, like you think, ‘oh he just wants an apple here and there’, and he just, you know, ‘maybe he's too tired today so he can't concentrate on that’. Or maybe he's just, you know, woke up on the wrong side of the bed, but when you start piecing these things together and putting them together in a puzzle you start to see the bigger picture and you start to realize, okay, there are some trends here. There are some bigger trends that I'm noticing, and they're not going away. And I've been observing them for a while now. That's when it's time to kind of start thinking about okay, who can I talk to about this? And I think a lot of people get very defensive when we were talking about labels earlier, they get very defensive about the idea of, I don't want my kid to be labeled autistic, I don't want my kid to be labeled ADHD, and you know I totally get that, but at the end of the day, it's not about- the end goal is not about getting the label- the end goal is about helping your child reach their potential reach their fullest potential
Their fullest potential.
Exactly- and it's about working with other people to get there.
Yeah, so you need to have some sort of baseline from which you can start measuring improvements and where you can start helping the journey take on a much better ending point.
Absolutely. One of the things that's very common and that comes hand in hand, often with behavioral problems, is sleep challenges, and that was a big factor for us, where he just didn't sleep, like he just didn't want to sleep. Ever. It's only in the last year that he's been sleeping through the night, at the age of five. And, yeah, and that I kind of knew. I think a lot of women, kind of know inherently in themselves, there's a problem that needs to be looked at- because of the way it makes them feel. If you are exhausted, if you are on your knees, if you have tried everything that you can think of, and things are not getting better and if your child is still having these outbursts that are challenging for you to handle, then it's time to think about, like seeing a professional in that space, because you shouldn't. You shouldn't be feeling like that, you should be feeling good and energized and normal not exhausted and anxiety-ridden.
Right, absolutely. And Sylvana, what do you think might be a good starting approach? Because obviously you've given us really good advice on even if you're very busy or if you're part of a working family, you know, try to get somebody that somehow can help you- you know, do two meals at home so that at the end of the day, everybody's getting nutrient dense foods, and not just, you know, whatever I decided to whip out of a box because I'm too tired and I had a long day. So, besides that, are there any other pointers?
Right, general guidelines to what to look out for in the diet when you start seeing these kinds of behavioral discrepancies?
So, I'll talk about my easy go to things that I use on a, on a daily basis, which I find, easy, you know help or no help. But I think in terms of understanding how food affects the brain, the key things that you need to think about removing from your diet, or the kids’ diet is gluten and refined grains like really refined grains like the pastures, the white rice, or at least, or at least, really dialing it back. Gluten is a difficult, difficult one to really dial back. There's a lot of research that says if you're eating gluten, full stop. That's problematic. So, it's, it's either yes or no on the gluten front. Yeah, but in terms of the refined carbs like the white rice for example which is gluten free, you know, just observe and dial back. See how your child is on that food, see how they react to that food. Do they sleep well that night? Do they have a massive crash, an hour or two after eating that food, for example, that can give you clues as to what food is affecting them. Because as I said, we're all individuals but there are certainly groups of foods that affect people more than others. Another one would be sugar is a massive one that we all really take for granted and when we eat out sugar is in everything.
It's hiding everywhere.
It really is. And it's part of our culture and society which is just so difficult to help, you know, in getting away from it.
Yeah, what about dairy?
Yeah dairy can be problematic for some people as well. So dairy can make some people constipated. And these, these types of gut issues are very linked to these behavioral problems as well. So once you see a kid with behavioral problems or concentration problems, you will often find issues with constipation or issues with diarrhea or stuff like that, and dairy can be a big one for, for constipation specifically. So if you're dealing with constipation takeout dairy and you, you may see some significant changes, but you have to take out these foods for a good period of time like at least six weeks, and give it- I'd say minimum give it eight weeks but. But yeah, you have to give it a good amount of time to really see the effects.
The body needs time to react as well as obesity as well as say as well and clinical aromatherapy at least three months, usually for the body to adjust and to feel that transformation.
This has been really fantastic since then and we can continue talking for forever! And we just want to highlight that you do have a How To Eat For Stress Workshop.
Coming soon yeah. Coming very soon, I'm working on that right now. So that's mostly for adults, dealing with stress in our daily lives, and hopefully, all that knowledge filters down into what we start to feed our families as well because, you know, it's the same thing, really. It's the same rules for parents as it is for kids: eat more plant-based foods. Eat more diverse foods. Eat less refined foods. Eat less processed foods, and you will start to see changes and those are like the simple things you can do really to help the health of your whole family. But then, in terms of adult stress, you've got other factors too, like coffee, habits and other elements like that kids aren't necessarily as affected by. But, you know, once you start taking on these habits, it does start to filter down, and you
And you have a freebie as well that you're offering all the moms out there listening, can you tell us a little bit about that too?
It's My Resilience Toolkit, and it's basically about the four key pillars to help, which are food, movement, sleep, and self care, And these are the four things that I really work with my clients on in a holistic way to help them get back on track, and start feeling better, and it's about optimizing all of these little things. So it helps you, it's a guide and it kind of, It helps you understand where you're currently at, gives you a grading system, and then you go through the short program and at the end, it gives you another grading system so you can see if these things you're implementing has been working in your life so, I hope it's really helpful to all of you out there.
I'm sure it will. And this has been so awesome. Thank you so much Sylvana for chatting with us today. If you want to connect with Sylvana, you can find her on Instagram, her handle is @mind.body.temple. And we'll also share her links to her LinkedIn profile, as well as her website, www.mindbodytemple.org, and we will put all the links in our show notes so Sylvana, thank you once again for being here with us and we loved chatting!
Thank you for having me!
It was wonderful.
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Sylvana is a mom of 2. She’s half British and half Thai but truly a free spirit, and currently calls Hong Kong home. As a health coach, she helps people overcome stress-related health problems by decoding the many ways stress appears in the body from infertility to gut health. Whether that be stress in the physical body or stress in the mind, she works holistically to help each client tap into themselves and better understand how stress affects them and how they can overcome it.