Boston Mamas Rock! Joanna Silverman

joanna-silverman.JPGWelcome to Boston Mamas Rock! -- where I share the voices of fabulous local mamas from all walks of life. Read on for today's interview with Joanna Silverman, a mother of one and the educator and holistic health counselor behind Nourishing the Peas and the Pod. Read on to learn about Joanna's wonderful work with moms and kids. Then go ahead and nominate a fabulous fellow mama!

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Joanna Silverman, educator and holistic health counselor

Christine: Joanna, welcome! As a proponent of self care and a holistic living approach, I was so fascinated to learn about your work. You're an educator, holistic health counselor, and mother of one. Tell us about the path that led you to this line of work.

Joanna: It would be hard for me to pinpoint one thing that led me to this line of work. A few years ago, I experienced my own health crisis that forced me to make many changes in my life, the most significant being diet and lifestyle choices. Early on in my teaching career I became concerned with the lack of focus on our children's overall well being as it relates to their behavior, performance, and health. For example, as educators we are taught how to maintain a child's attention. However, educational strategies are only one spoke on a wheel. A child's diet, sleep, and lifestyle are equally as important. When I began to make the necessary changes I needed to make in my own life I had a direct experience with how these things could impact a person's overall well being. I had more energy, attention, and focus. At this point I began to think how different my student's lives would be if we supported children in this way. I had the experience in education, but not in the health aspect. So, I decided to study food and health at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. Once I completed that course of study I developed Nourishing the Peas and the Pod. Because of this business I am able to support parents in their efforts to provide the best for their children in all areas of life.

Christine: On your website, it indicates that "The journey of motherhood made [you] realize the importance and need of supporting mothers and their children." Do you recall a particular moment where this perspective came into focus for you?

Joanna: Great question! Again this is a hard one to pinpoint. I think it probably hit me as soon as I had Ella. I was so tired and overwhelmed. A major frustration for me was the level of advice or judgment given by others. I think all mothers have gone through a time when their parenting choices were judged by someone, whether it was a grandparent, friend, professional, or stranger walking down the street. It is really difficult to be a parent and when you are judged it feels even harder. Often the fear of our parenting choices being judged causes us to be silent about our choices, struggles, and concerns. How much better could we parent if we felt truly supported? Motherhood is wonderful, but it can also be hard -- I think we need to be honest about the hard parts too! I always felt so much better when someone would acknowledge the hard parts. I was lucky enough to have someone in my life I could call when things were really hard, but I am not sure everyone has that. Also, as parents we are bombarded with so much information, that we often lose what is innately in us, our own intuition, values, and parenting styles. I respect that mothers have their own intelligence and understanding about their children. So, one of my major goals is to support mothers in finding their own voice about their child's needs.

Christine: You note that being a parent can be isolating and overwhelming and that families are often at a loss of where to turn to for support. What are the most typical reasons why families will come to your practice?

Joanna: Families come to my practice for a variety of different needs. The most typical reason a new mother comes to my practice is for support with starting solid foods. Most mothers want to feed their children well, but it is really difficult to do in a society that works directly against this from advertising to food choices. For example, most children's first food is a processed, fortified baby cereal. We as a culture have adopted this as being the first food to start, but I don't necessarily think this is the best first food. It can cause digestive discomfort and is bland tasting. A better approach is to start with a real food, full of flavor, such as a pureed sweet potato mixed with breast milk or formula.

Parents of older children are concerned about their children's school performance (ADHD), weight gain, or overall health. Most have tried to have conversations with medical professionals but have come up empty handed. It's not that doctors don't want to help, it is just that they do not have the time or experience to truly support a parent who has a child that refuses to eat any food that is not white, for example. Many parents come to my practice knowing that some of their child's struggles with food are having a direct impact on their health, but don't know why. I educate both the parent and the child on the importance of a good diet. Again, as a culture we down play the importance food plays in our lives. Food is fuel for the brain. If a child is eating a diet that contains little to no fruits, vegetables, and whole grains there will be a direct impact on their overall health. The effect may not be clear initially, but at some point a restricted diet will impact one or more areas of the child's overall health.

Christine: Can you tell us more about the services you offer? Let's start with the pod. What types of issues can moms get your help with?

Joanna: I work with women in all stages of motherhood from pregnancy to mothers of teenagers. I offer a post and prenatal program, either a six month program or a single two hour consult. The program focuses on the needs of the individual, but typically entails a focus on foods that support both the mother and baby both before and after birth. Preparing for the transition of becoming a mother for the first time is also a major component of the program. I also offer a six month mother's wellness program, a mother's wellness group which I love, and several workshops geared to the needs of women.

Christine: I'm fascinated by your six-month counseling program. Have you found it challenging for busy moms to commit? What are the types of issues you often work through in a six-month program?

Joanna: I offer a six month health counseling program for mothers which entails meeting/talking twice a month and email support throughout the entire program. What I love most about working with mothers is I know once they begin to experience the differences they feel while eating a whole food diet, prioritizing their needs, and increasing their activity level, they become invested in doing the same for their children. It is hard to know the importance of something until you have experienced it yourself. So, I have worked with mothers who want to eat better, lose weight, and improve their health because of underlying health conditions like thyroid or MS, and also for their overall happiness. Often times through our work together we will uncover a certain food or even a life choice that is having a negative impact on their energy level or causing digestive problems. Initially, six months seems like a long time, but in order to make real changes time and commitment is required. Some women want to continue their program beyond the six months depending on their needs.

Christine: I imagine you have a lot of clients in looking for help with the peas -- and especially how to feed them. Indeed, your nominator wrote that she has worked with you both on encouraging healthy eating and also behavioral issues. Do you have some top advice for parents who are completely frustrated with picky eating?

Joanna: Well the first thing I tell all the parents about picky eating is that "picky eating" is a pervasive problem in our society, so they are not alone! After saying that, I tell them the the only person in control of what, when, and how much is eaten is the child! The good news is that we as parents are in control of what food options we make available to our children. The best thing for a parent to do is to end the battle over eating because the child will always win! Sometimes it is just a simple as changing the eating relationship between the parent and the child that increases a child's willingness to try new foods. Pressuring our children to eat is a habit most parents can admit to. Some children respond well to this approach (although it is not a habit I recommend), but most respond negatively. Think back to when you were a child, how did it feel when you were not allowed to leave the table until you ate all your dinner? Usually my number one objective is to give the child back control of their eating. Control means saying you're not hungry, or rejecting certain food. It also means noticing how you feel after you eat certain food, being able to communicate your likes and dislikes (knowing you don't like mushy food), and feeling good about eating. Feeling in control and making connections to your likes and dislikes regarding food often empowers children to try new foods.

Christine: Your website says that in six weeks you can help change the habits of picky eaters. That's pretty impressive given that I've seen parents struggle long and hard on this issue. How are you able to get such fast results?

Joanna: Well in fairness I should include an * to that statement. The families that see the best results are those that are willing to be consistent with the plan. I have worked with some families who do not see these results because of difficulty letting go of old habits, or lack of consistent follow through. The true success of the program really depends on the commitment of the family to implement the plan. Also, I do an initial intake with families to determine their needs. On a rare occasion I have referred them to a feeding specialist or for a feeding evaluation because the child needs are beyond my expertise.

Once I have done the initial intake, I develop a plan that is catered to the needs of the child and the family. The plan typically comes in phases and looks different for every family. For example, phase one may be just having the child keep food on his/her plate or having the child sit at the dinner table with non-preferred food present. Phase two may be the introduction of trying new foods. There are so many dynamics to each case; however, with most families changes are seen within 4-6 weeks. It typically takes longer for the child to willingly incorporate a variety of new foods into their food repertoire. But it does happen with patience and commitment. Food issues have typically been a struggle for some time and it takes time to change old habits for both the parents and the child.

Christine: I'm curious about your thoughts about the rise in allergies in kids. What have you seen on the allergy spectrum in your practice? Have you found any natural measures that have helped kids work through allergy issues?

Joanna: The allergy question is a tricky one. Some people believe we have seen an increase in allergies and sensitivities because of our overprotection from illness. For example, the use of antibacterial gel and the number of vaccinations our children get so early in life. Basically, our immune system is meant to respond to germs. If there are not enough germs to react to because we fight them before we encounter them our immune system becomes hypersensitive or over-responsive to other things, such as food. However, I don't feel like we can blame one snowflake for an avalanche. We need to consider other factors like diet and environment. The typical American diet consists of processed food containing preservatives and additives. It is next to impossible to find a product that does not contain soy, whether it is soy lecithin or soy bean oil. Our bodies were not built to function with so many artificial flavors and preservatives. The use of pesticides also impacts our health. The purpose of a pesticide is to kill life, ingesting them into our bodies has an impact on our life over time. Also, the number of chemicals we are exposed to in our environment from car air-fresheners, off gassing of new furniture and cars, to cleaners we use in our home and on our bodies, directly challenge the body's immune system. There are 82,000+ chemicals used for various reasons in our society, many of these chemicals have never been tested for their safety. All of these things contribute to allergies in my opinion. My advice to support the immune system and help prevent allergies is to eat organic, whole foods whenever possible, and to minimize exposure to chemicals by choosing safer cleaning products.

In my practice I have worked with many picky eaters who have allergies. Often times because children with allergies are on restricted diets, they become picky about their food. I have also worked with a number of children who have food sensitivities which can cause a host of problems from eczema to attention/behavioral problems. Removing sensitivities or allergens from a child's diet can have profound effects on their health. For example, I worked with one child who suffered from severe eczema. Once we removed soy and dairy from his diet and increased his intake of EFA's, his skin completely cleared up.

Christine: We've talked all serious up to now. Tell us about the favorite things you do to unwind or any hidden/unusual talents you may have.

Joanna: Without sounding like I am writing a singles ad, I enjoy reading, spending time with my daughter and husband, having meaningful conversations with a good friend, going for walks, cooking, and sneaking in a yoga practice from time to time. I have no hidden talents -- I wish I did!

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