Pediatrician Dr. Bill Sears on Modern Healthy Parenting

by Jen Barna MD | For Your Kids, Physician Coaching, Podcast

Pediatrician Dr. Bill Sears on Modern Healthy Parenting

“Most of my patients, and probably our listeners, don’t realize that you are blessed with a giant pharmacy inside. So, take care of it by what you eat, how you think, and how you move.”
-Dr. William Sears

As the father of eight children, Dr. Sears and his wife, Martha, have written more than 45 books and hundreds of articles on parenting, childcare, nutrition, and healthy aging. Dr. Sears is also the co-founder of the Dr. Sears Wellness Institute for training health coaches, and he runs the health and parenting website, Dr. Sears shares with Dr. Barna what inspired him to become a pediatrician and eventually a successful author. He mentions what he calls the “helper’s high”, and that he realized how much of a lasting impact his teachings and advice could have on both parents and their children.

In his practice, Dr. Sears saw that children were growing, but they weren’t thriving. Many of the parents that came into his office would have concerns that their child had ADD, but the symptoms were due to a nutritional deficiency. For healthy developing brains, Dr. Sears and his wife discovered that much of the nutritional advice of the past was no longer relevant, especially when it came to healthy fats. In addition to nutrition, Dr. Sears helps parents provide tools to relax and lessen the “fear factor” that’s so prevalent today. We discuss parenting as a physician, how to shape a child’s taste buds, how Dr. Sears trains health coaches, the body’s internal pharmacy and much more.

Dr. Bill Sears has been advising parents on how to raise healthier families for over 50 years. He received his medical training at Harvard Medical School’s Children’s Hospital in Boston and The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, the world’s largest children’s hospital. While at The Hospital for Sick Children, Dr. Sears was Associate Ward Chief of the newborn intensive care unit before serving as the Chief of Pediatrics at Toronto Western Hospital, a teaching hospital at the University of Toronto. He has served as a voluntary professor of pediatrics at the University of Toronto, the University of South Carolina, the University of Southern California’s School of Medicine, and the University of California Irvine.

What’s Inside:

  • What inspired Dr. Sears to become a pediatrician and author.
  • Why do children need a “smart fat” diet and “grow foods”.
  • Dr. Sears’ experience with physicians as parents.
  • How a child’s tastebuds are shaped.
  • How Dr. Sears trains health coaches.
  • The body’s internal pharmacy and how it works.

Mentioned In This Episode:


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Please enjoy the full transcript below


Dr. Sears:  Parenting and doctoring is very similar because parenting, in a nutshell, is giving your children the tools to succeed in life. Doctoring is giving patients health tools to succeed in life.

Jen: Welcome to DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. I’m Dr. Jen Barna, co-host of the podcast. And if you’re a physician or other health care professional who is interested in defining success on your own terms and finding the ideal work life integration for you, you have come to the right place. One of the things we do on the podcast is to bring guests who have found ways to think outside the box and create a career in medicine that is rewarding and sustainable. Today’s guest is probably a physician that you know and admire. I’m thrilled to have with me here today, Dr. Bill Sears. Dr. Sears has been advising parents on how to raise healthier families for over 50 years. He received his medical training at Harvard Medical Schools Children’s Hospital in Boston and the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, the world’s largest children’s hospital, where he was associate ward chief of the Newborn Intensive Care Unit before serving as the chief of pediatrics at Toronto Western Hospital, a teaching hospital at the University of Toronto. He has served as a voluntary professor of pediatrics at the University of Toronto. University of South Carolina. University of Southern California. School of Medicine and University of California at Irvine. The father of eight children, he and his wife Martha, have written more than 45 books and hundreds of articles on parenting, child care, nutrition and healthy aging. He is the co-founder of the Dr. Sears Wellness Institute for Training Health Coaches, and he runs the help and parenting website Ask Dr. Sears dot com. Dr. Bill Sears, welcome to DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. 

Dr. Sears: Oh, thank you. Dr. Jen, it’s an honor to be with you. 

Jen: Thank you so much for joining me. I’m thrilled to have you here and I’m so interested in hearing about your life and your work. I also consider it an honor and a privilege to be speaking with you because your books were so important to me. When my children were born as a young parent, I really relied on your wisdom, so I want to thank you personally for that as well. 

Dr. Bill Sears: Thank you. Just what you said makes it all worthwhile for an author because maybe I had a small part in the whole life of your children. Thank you. 

Jen: Absolutely. You did. Thankfully, they’re young adults now. And that probably that probably is thanks to you and some of your good advice when they were younger, that helped me through and I definitely identify with what you what you say there because I know as a physician, whenever someone gives you feedback so that you know that what you did was significant to them, it really is everything to us. I saved those and I’m sure you have millions of them, but I would love to hear your story and how you decided to begin writing. What was it that prompted you to go into a side career of becoming an author? 

Dr. Sears: Well, first of all, it was the joy of being a doctor, because, as you know, doctor means teacher. And early on, I decided to go into pediatrics for one thing, because I thought, wow, if you want to make a difference in a person’s life, I love a new parent. My favorite part of pediatrics as a brand-new parent is coming in for their first visit, maybe a week-old baby. And I’m holding this precious little baby and I’m thinking, Oh, if I can start these parents off with the right parenting tools, I’ve given them tools to instill into their baby. And those will last another 80 or 90 or 100 years. And I thought, wow. So that’s what got me into medicine and pediatrics in the first place is I call the “helper’s high” Jenn, that “helper’s high” is that wonderful feeling you as a physician, you’ve had a busy day. You drift off to sleep, take a deep breath and think, Oh, because of what I taught today, because of the tools I gave parents today, some child and some family is happier and healthier for a long time because of what I said. And then I go to sleep, you know, so that helpers high is wonderful for a physician. And then also as Martha and I were having lots of kids, we were reading lots of books and I thought, you know, honey, I remember with our fourth child, Hayden took us for I thought, you know, these books, they’re not written on the job. There’s a bunch of theories. I said, we got to rewrite baby books. So our first book, the baby book, you know, we wrote Nighttime Parenting, but the baby book was literally written on the job. Literally written on the job. And by that time, you know, we’ve had eight children. And what I would do in my office and you can identify with this. I come in to do an examination with a new baby and or a toddler or five-year-old. And I see this is a beautiful child, polite, disciplined, smart. And I asked the parent, I said, well, what have you been doing? What have you done? To help your child turn out so well. And the mom and the dad would give me little hints and I would write them down. And I had a little pocket recorder. And as I went from one room to next, I’d record these tips that these smart parents gave me. And so, at the end of the day, I had a few pages of the book. So literally our books were written on the job. And I credit parents by credit parents whose children have turned out well, whose children are just some children who just want to go up and hug. And that’s how that’s how we got started. And we got on a roll. And then, as you said, we’d be out at a restaurant somewhere and someone would come up and say, Oh, Dr. Bill and Martha, thank you so much for your baby book or your discipline book or the healthiest kids in the neighborhood book. Thank you so much for helping us. Enjoy our children more and giving us the tools. And so that’s why we got into to writing. 

Jen: Well, it’s fantastic. What a terrific story in terms of how you came up with the combination of your medical expertise and real-life parenting tips and patients contributed to that. I have to say, I would love to just hear a little bit about a couple of the books that you just mentioned and specifically how you’re seeing The Healthiest Kid in the Neighborhood book evolve over time, as we have learned so much more about nutrition and maybe hopefully parents are picking up on that more and more. I would love to hear about your experience writing that and where you see that going in the future. 

Dr. Sears: Well, The Healthiest Kid in the Neighborhood book, again, was written on the job because I would see children coming in and they weren’t growing well. They weren’t thriving. They were growing, but they weren’t thriving. Thriving means growing optimally again. And our role as physicians is to not only help children grow, we want to help them thrive, to grow to the fullest potential. And I would say to a parent, I would say, you know, they come in and say for A.D.D. or something like that, say attention deficit disorder. And I look at the mom, I’d say. Johnny doesn’t have A.D.D.. He has N.D.D., nutrition deficit disorder. And the mom would look at what he needs more grow foods he needs. You have him on these junk carbs all day. And then. Jenn, what I found is when I start talking about the brain, the brain would get parents attention. Because the brain above all other organs. Is most affected, for better or worse, by nutrition. You put smart food into your brain. You get that smart brain, you put junk food into a brain, you get back not so smart brains. And so I started teaching about brain food, and that’s the first change we made back in the old days. The books were said, Well, start your child on rice cereal. And Martha and I remember one day I said, you know, honey, this doesn’t make sense. The brain is mostly fat. And the babies, I call them all fat helps these little fat heads. Their brain is tripling in size in the first few years. They need fat. They don’t need these junk carbs. So that’s why we started redefining first foods. And the first food was avocados, rich and fat. And the second food was salmon. Salmon at seven months. Because if you Google the nutrient content of a piece of salmon, you Google the nutrient composition of the human brain. Perfect match, no other food on the earth. And so the parents got used to they call it Dr. Bill’s Fathead Talk. So that’s what got us into the healthiest kids in the neighborhood, having parents eat a smart, fat diet, not a low-fat diet. Back in those days, remember that low fat craze? That low fat craze reminds me of my favorite movie, Dumb and Dumber. That’s what it was. Note Mother’s milk is 40 to 50% fat. And the fat head is growing so much. Children need a smart, fat diet, not a low-fat diet. So that was the next change we made in infant nutrition. We just said smart fetch, not low-fat diets. And then our most recent book, then The Healthiest Brain Book. You know, Jenn, we realized a few years ago that parents, we have a problem. The incidence of type two diabetes has tripled. In the past few years. The incidence of depression. Anxiety is highest in my 50 years in practice. We have a problem. But parents, we have a solution. And one of the things, Jenn, I’ve learned from your podcasts and my practice, this will focus on solutions. Not problems, not dwell on problems because children right now in the fear factor. And so I started teaching. We wrote the Healthy Brain book to teach parents how to get into their child’s brain and start teaching them their beautiful brain. Like we teach them quality sleep. So I teach a lot of tools, like put a honey as you’re brushing your teeth, put a little phone on your mirror. Five things I like about me. I am happy. I am pretty. I am a good soccer player. I am witty, that type of thing. And for the little children I have, parents lie down with them and repeat after me, Honey, I am, I am, I am. We need to be giving children tools right now to relax because they are overloaded with the whole fear factor stuff. 

Jen: That is brilliant and I absolutely commend you for that because it is so, so needed right now, and I’m sure it’s making a huge difference. I would love also to ask you about physicians as parents and what your experience has been counseling physician parents over the years in your practice? 

Dr. Sears: Physician parents? Yes, I have a lot. And I sort of realize if I were a physician say you came into my office as a radiologist, I would say, all right, now, you know, Dr. Jenn, doctor means teacher. So parenting and doctrine is very similar. Because parenting, in a nutshell, is giving your children the tools to succeed in life. Doctoring is giving patients health tools to succeed in life and they kind of get it. Ah so I’m a teacher and I would say to you now also Dr. Jenn, what do you think would be one of the top tools you need to be teaching your children? Mm hmm. Food. Grow foods. Shape shaping tastes. Eat smart food. We call them grow foods are sometimes for children. I would say I’d find out what they’re into. And I call them soccer, food, football foods, pretty hair food, ballet foods, whatever gets their attention. And so giving them, like, another thing. Shaping young tastes. Honey, we don’t eat that. That’s not a grow food. That’s not a football food. So you, you the first two years, you have that window of opportunity to feed children. Smart foods only. Smart foods only. And what happens, Jenn? Follow me closely. I call it shaping young taste. When the taste buds of the tongue get used to real food. Taste the taste of real foods, the mouthful, the mouth feel. It’s a Japanese term called umami savory. Meanwhile, the taste buds get used to real foods, and the nerves of the tongue send messages like neurochemical checks, messages to the crave center of the brain. And the brain goes like, I like that fed, I like that protein I need to grow. And the brain texts the tongue back. Keep eating that and it gets better. And we call it the gut brain head brain connection. The head brain sends biochemical text messages down the vagus nerve, the biggest nerve in the body and the vagus nerve branches out throughout the gut and gives you a good gut feel. And those little gut voices in your gut tells the gut brain and says, the head brain, hey, head brain. I like that salmon. I like that avocado. I like that olive oil. I like that nut butter. I like deviled eggs. I eat the greens and the veggies I like down here. And so, like, those text messages go into the crave center of the child’s brain. And you’ve raised a child who craves veggies, who craves grow foods. Just what we want. 

Jen: So tell me. Speaking of that, tell me about your wellness institute for training health coaches. Tell me about your health coaches. Do they coach families in healthy living, healthy eating, healthy exercise? Tell me more about that. 

Dr. Sears: Well, the eating and exercise you just mentioned, the two big ones. About 15 years ago, I had a dream. I figure how could I get these messages to as many people throughout the world? Those are health coaches, train health coaches who go out into the community, into their schools and teach healthy living tools. So we started a health coaching tool called the Dr. Sears Wellness Institute to certify and train health coaches. And right now, we have over 13,000 health coaches in 22 countries, and we have four wonderful classes. The first one is lane expectations during pregnancy. When you’re growing a healthy mommy and you’re growing a healthy baby inside and then lean start the first ten years, that’s when you want to implant and imprint healthy living tools into your child when their brain is growing too fast, so they’re more receptive. And then we have lean prime time. For seniors, we’re seniors. And then we have a master’s class very going into things very thoroughly and deeply that encompasses all those. And we have a lot of parents just take it because they want to change their life. And we have four tools and I say become lean lifestyle, exercise, altitude and nutrition. And so I’ll give you just one example how we rivet their attention. Our trademarked teaching is called Make Your Own Medicine. And years ago, as a young doctor, I thought, you know. The body and the brain are all so connected. I call the body brain for the body mind is the greatest creation, the greatest garden ever grown. And what do you need to grow a garden? You need to feed it and fertilize it. You need to irrigate it with movement. And you need to keep the weeds out. Toxic thoughts. So movement. Movement. And that’s when I. I thought, you know, somewhere in our body is a giant pharmacy. He was a great designer. This beautiful body knew we were going to mess it up. By the way, we eat, live and think for somewhere in the body, there must be a pharmacy. So I did a lot of study and I even studied under a Nobel Prize winner, Dr. Louis Ignarro, up here, just up the road from us a bit, who taught me that inside your blood vessel, the lining of your blood vessel called the Endothelium, you have a giant pharmacy. It’s like medicine bottles. You picture right now, picture the lining of your blood vessels. You have trillions, a little medicine bottle, and those are dispensing medicines all day long. Medicines that lower the highs, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high blood cholesterol. Medicines that raise the lows. Antidepressants. Medicines that mellow your moods. Anti-anxiety medicines that heal your hurts. Anti-inflammatories. All the antidote. But the medicine you make is better than the medicine you take because it’s no side effects. It’s custom made just for you. And I thought, okay. So then my patients say, okay, wow, that’s going on inside of me, Dr. Bill, because I have finds all over my office on the blood vessels here, which are pharmacy. How do I open my pharmacy? One simple word. Move. Move more. What’s that got to do with. I said, Well, when you move, when you walk first, run down, swim the blood flow faster over the tops of the medicine bottles and creates a special shear force that opens the medicine bottles and squirts the medicine into your pharmacy. So every time you’re out there with a walk, take a nice power walk in the morning or swim. I start my morning every day with a walk, on a swim and in the gym. And Martha and I took up dancing. It was a get older, a wonderful for older couple and I’m visual and I’m opening my pharmacy and so that’s just an example of what we teach. We try to make it very graphic and very memorable because most of my patients and probably our listeners don’t realize that you are blessed with a giant pharmacy inside. So take care of it by what you eat, how you think, and how you move. Move more, sit less and don’t have what we call now the sitting disease. 

Jen: Which is another epidemic, another pandemic. I love what you’re saying, too, because I one thing I’m really interested in talking about is neuroplasticity. And you are tying into that very much with everything that you’re explaining. And we will link to your website in our show notes so that if you’re listening right now and you’re interested in learning more, well, we’ll give you a link in the show notes that you can click and get to Dr. Sears’ website so you can access these courses. And I’d love to also be able to provide these the link to these courses on the DocWorking Trusted Resources section of our website as well. 

Dr. Sears: We’d love to have your listeners join link on to our website because there’s so much over 10,000 patients. And really what we like to do, Jenn, is to make teaching simple and fun and we call it infographics. We have a lot of funny pictures on our website. Like, for example, when I teach them to eat more seafood, I have my partner in medical practice, Dr. Omega, the third, a big fish in a white coat with all the nutrients that she’s handing out and those type of little fun things we have throughout our website because grow foods. That’s what we teach so much. You’ll see on our website what we charge for like protein powders and grow food powders and how to calculate your children’s growth. So we’re really in highly into brain health. Thriving growth, raising happy, healthy children. 

Jen: Wonderful. And you have had a lot of experience with that personally. Did you ever struggle with balancing work and life considering that you’re the father of eight and you’ve had such a busy practice and a busy life as an author as well? 

Dr. Sears: Yes, I struggled with that. Martha and I are now enjoying our 50, 56 years of marriage, and I struggled with that because I was so much into medicine. And I’m honestly, I was married to medicine. In the early years. Of our marriage. And I realized at some point I had to make a switch. And I said to Martha one day. You first. Me second. That will be our motto. For the next 50 years of our marriage or so. And that worked out because it’s very easy for we physicians. To get lured into being married for practice. So I wanted a healthy home life. I wanted to model for my children what was important, their life. And so I took I would take my children to our medical practice a lot. I take them to make rounds with me in the hospital and I take them into emergency rooms to see people coming in who have had bad habits, health habits, and see what helps. And they learn, really? Oh, wow, Dad. I see what you mean. You know, I don’t want to get, like, type two diabetes. The most preventable thing. I don’t want to get diabetes. Well, just eat, grow foods. And so that’s what. And Martha. So we write books together and we’re still married. Happily married. And Martha, kids, bill writes that I fix it. So that’s how we enjoy writing books together. 

Jen: Wonderful. Well, you are such a shining example for all of us. And your many, many of your kids became physicians as well, right? 

Dr. Sears: Yes. We have three children who are physicians, and we have a new son in law who was a physician’s assistant in the hospital. So we need to you know, and it’s just and, you know, I trained on your grief. At no time in my 50 years of medical practice have I seen a greater need for physicians to train families. To get health, food and nutritional healthy. So I think it’s time that we brought nutrition into schools. And another thing we teach a lot right now is how to have a healthy immune system. That was a big topic right now with all this pandemic. Here’s an example that would happen almost every day during the pandemic would come in, Oh, my child came home from school, Dr. Bill, and he was just so upset. Mom, everybody is afraid and everybody is sad. What’s going on? And I’d say to them, okay, here’s my one-minute version to you. I say, one of the tools you want to give your children in life is have a healthy immune system. So say, okay, sit down, honey, you don’t need to worry because you have inside of you a giant army. You have a jar of trillions of little troops that circulate all over your body. And they look for they go on search and destroy missions for these germs. So when these germs come in that you hear about. You have and it’s called Pacman. I have old pictures of my office where we have the NK cell, natural killer cells, part of the immune system. I have them wear a helmet NK and they look like Pacman. I said, Now here’s how your immune system works. When a germ comes in, that little troop grow arms on through the germ like a magnet and literally shoots a biochemical dart into that germ and blows it up. So I want you to dwell on your good immune system army inside and how to take care of it and not dwell on all the stuff outside which you can’t control in any way. And so I give him a lecture. Well, what do we do with it? I said, Well, your immune system, you believe it’s going to work for you? You feed it well, you sleep it well, you don’t stress it out and you move it. Movement, mobilize the immune system. And I have a little picture in my office where it shows a runner and all the encased cells getting up and moving with the runner and circulating throughout the body so the children can understand that you concentrate on what you can do inside. To be happy and healthy and avoid germs, not dwell on the stuff outside that makes you panic. So that was my mission the last few years, doing all the stuff out there. 

Jen: Beautifully said. I hope if you are listening to this episode and you are a medical student or maybe pre-med and you haven’t decided yet on your specialty, that you are especially inspired to consider the field of pediatrics. Because when you hear the stories of Dr. Bill Sears and how he has positively influenced so many lives with his patients and parents who’ve read his books, and teachers and parents who’ve taken and other physicians who’ve taken his courses, the potential for the ways that you can help people who really are so amplified by all of the work that you have done, Dr. Sears, and it’s really an inspiration to all of us. So thank you so much for coming on the podcast and talking with me just for a few minutes. And we’ve just barely scratched the surface on everything that you’ve done, but thank you so much. 

Dr. Sears: And maybe we can do another one on intestinal health as well, you know, not just ill health. And as a partner and we have a little book. I had all my children in my office they really like. It’s called Dr. Poo and it takes them through their whole immune system in a riveting read. And so that’s what I’d like your guests to maybe we can do one on and just a little health and brain health. 

Jen: I think that would be tremendous. And I think it’s really a service to physicians and health care workers, parents and anyone who’s taking care of children, whether you’re a parent or you are an aunt and uncle or babysitter or grandparent, whatever the case may be, I think it’s such a resource to get to hear your ideas. And really it’s inspiring to go out into the community and take these ideas where we can as physicians. So thank you again for joining me today on DocWorking. Thank you, Dr. Bill Sears. And if you’re interested in learning more about Dr. Sears, you can visit his website, Ask Dr. Sears dot com, and we will link to it in the show notes. 

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