Entertaining GI Education: Meeting Kids Where They’re At & Things People Aren’t Telling You About Your Gut Health, with Rebecca Winderman

| Episode 24

When it comes to health education and teaching people what is going on with their bodies, the earlier we can learn, the better! How do we educate young children and teenagers about the importance of a healthy gut microbiome when we’re competing with social media and short attention spans?

On today’s episode, we’re chatting with Dr. Rebecca Winderman who is known as KidGastroDoc on all social media. Dr. Rebecca discusses the importance of making health education accessible and meeting people where they’re at!

Click the play button above to listen to our conversation with Dr. Rebecca Winderman.

Highlights from Today’s Episode

  • Some of the most common reasons kids are seen in the Pediatric GI office
  • The differences in treatment and presentation of various GI disorders in children versus adults
  • Steps parents can take to be proactive about their children’s colon and gut health
  • Some of the biggest misconceptions about GI health and how you can protect yourself against misinformation.
Colon Health Podcast with Dr. Dac and Ariel Bridges

About the Colon Health Podcast

Co-hosted by Dr. Dac Teoli and Ariel Bridges, the Colon Health Podcast features guest interviews with expert physicians, leading researchers, nutritional scientists, integrative health specialists, and other foremost experts in colon health.

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Episode Transcript

Ariel: Hello everybody, and welcome back to another episode of the “Colon Health Podcast.” My name is Ariel Bridges. I am your host. And today, we have the excellent and ever so lovely Dr. Rebecca Winderman. Hello, how are you this morning?

Dr. Winderman: Hi, Ariel, I’m great. Thanks for having me.

Ariel: We’re so excited to have you here and chat all things colon. Can you just first introduce yourself to the audience? I said your name, but can you let them know what it is that you do and your journey that brought you to doing what it is that you do?

Dr. Winderman: Yeah, 100%. So my name is Dr. Winderman. I’m a pediatric gastroenterologist, so I am a stomach doctor for children. And I got to this journey…actually accidentally fell into it and then fell in love with it. So I did pediatrics. I knew I wanted to work with kids. And then, you know, as a last rotation in…before I graduated residency, I did a rotation in gastroenterology, and I just fell in love with it. So I fell in love with the idea of how much our gut affects all of our health. And I think learning that just sparked a love for me of sort of an integrative holistic approach then and I took that and I ran with it. You know, I see a lot of patients. I’m known for, at least in my community as, you know, food is medicine, integrative approach to children who inevitably become adults, and their health, in general, taking that sort of approach. So that is what I do. I also am on social media known as the “Dancing Poop Doctor.” I do a lot of educating with my patients and with the community and social media. Anyone who consumes it knows that I give out a lot of tips and tricks in a fun and exciting way. In a silly way. So that’s me. That’s what I do. I love what I do. I love who I do it for. And that’s my story.

Ariel: I love it so much. And I’ve mentioned this on the podcast before, but I am like a huge proponent of making things like GI health fun, but also just making it easy to understand and accessible for everybody, which I feel, like, is especially important when you’re working with little kids all the time.

Dr. Winderman: A hundred percent. Snackable content. We hear it all the time, but it really is just especially for kids, right? So, I mean, I just figured they were always in my office flipping through TikTok, and I was always trying to be like, “All right. But listen, you know, just give me 5, 4, 3 minutes of your time.” And then I said, “All right. If that’s what they’re consuming, then I shall get on there and provide that information to them in that way then, so.”

Ariel: Yes. Brilliant.

Dr. Winderman: Yeah. You gotta go where the kids are, so.

Ariel: Yes, we love meeting people where they’re at. What are some of the most common reasons that kids wind up in your office?

Dr. Winderman: I would say the most common reasons are what we call functional GI disorders. So they’re not diseases, but things like irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, generalized abdominal pain. I see a lot of that in my office and for various reasons, all of them, a little bit different stemming from different issues. But those would be probably the most common things I see in my office. And some of it is genetic, some of it is environment, but I’m actually lucky to have parents in the room. So I actually have two people from the home in the room. So it’s, like, I get to educate both of them. They both get to go home and make those decisions together, which is why I love pediatrics. Some people don’t like it for that reason. You almost have two patients. But when we talk about lifestyle and changing the way we see food and the way that we see our health, and how we can be empowered to do things to help us improve our health, I see that change happening quicker when you have more people from the home involved in it, right? Just like anything. So I feel blessed to be able to do that educating and talking to patients, and really helping them understand how much power they have over their own health. I like to give it back in their hands, and I’m lucky enough to be able to do that in my practice.

Ariel: I love exactly how you said that. I used to work in pediatrics and you’re very correct, it’s often two patients in the room at one time. But looking at that in a way that, okay, yes, we can make this a family affair. We’re all being educated and learning about this, so everybody can help improve their own health, which actually brings me to my next question. Do kids present differently than adults with the same diagnoses? Are there any differences in treatment? Or is it really like, “Oh, the things that the parents are learning, they can take and also apply to their lives and things like that?”

Dr. Winderman: So certainly diseases present differently, so children are not little adults. But when it comes to lifestyle and the things that are good for our gut bugs or gut microbiome, and the things that promote health, they promote health at any age. So for me, I really focus a lot on preventative medicine, so that discussion is 100% applies to parents, kids, adults, old people, young people. You know, it’s the second you can start putting solids into your mouth, it applies to you. So diseases do present quite differently, and treatment is a little bit different. But even when I have to use medications, which I do not hesitate to use, especially, you know, when there’s a severe and significant disease, we must use them. Diet and lifestyle will always be a conversation that we have in my office. So for that part of it, no, it’s no different. I always have an abundance mindset. It’s best if we have more people involved, and we add things to our diet rather than subtract. So I would say that it is pretty similar across the board. What’s good for kids is good for adults as well.

Ariel: Yes, and we love abundance mindset as well. That’s a great way to look at it. We’ve spoken with other guests in the past that have also kind of seconded what you said and talked about how limiting and discouraging it can be to have a diet where everyone thinks, “Okay, I’m feeling poorly. I need to just eliminate, eliminate.” And then you’re left being able to eat no foods, especially foods that you enjoy, and how that can be so restrictive and kind of sad sometimes.

Dr. Winderman: Yeah, a 100%. The thing is that we’ve done the research, and we understand now what is important, and how we can promote our health. And with understanding gut microbiome or the community of organisms, mostly bacteria that live in our colon, and how important they are and connected they are to our brain health, to our hormonal health, to our immune system. Starting to really understand that, and that’s where I spent a lot of my time with patients is really explaining to them how important it is that our gut be healthy because of the connections it has to other parts of our bodies, and the regulation it has in terms of our metabolic health as well, preventing heart disease, diabetes. Those discussions are always hard in the sense of, okay, so we know fiber is the best thing that we can eat and a variety of fiber. We used to say that, “Oh, have a bowl of oatmeal every morning. You’ll be fine. You get your fiber in, right?” But now we know a little bit differently.

All the microbiome research that’s come out pretty much in the last 10 years or so has shown us that it’s not just about the fiber, it’s about the variety of fiber that you have. So, when I speak to my patients, I often tell them, and they all say, “Should I be vegan? Should I be crampy [SP]? What should I do? Should I do a detox?” And I always tell them, “Listen, the best thing that you can do is add as much fiber and as much of a variety of fiber as you can.” And that is fruits, vegetables, legumes seeds, lentils…oh, lentils and legumes are the same, nuts, seeds, and really try to get as many of those different things on your plate as possible. So rather than say, let’s eliminate, or I don’t want you having dairy or animal products anymore. No. I want you to start incorporating more of the foods that are good for your gut and focus on that adding sort of mentality.

And I think that’s been a really successful tool for me in terms of my social media presence as well of just helping people understand what it is that our gut microbiome needs and how we can regulate it. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of hoo-ha out there, you know, in terms of like supplements and cleanses and this and that. But the truth of the matter is, and I tell my patients, “Look, I work in a really low socioeconomic status area.” So, I mean, for me, I tell them, “You don’t actually need to spend a lot of money. You can actually do all of this in a better way by eating the right food.” So that’s 100% something that I feel everyone should know out there as well.

If there’s one thing you take away from this podcast is you don’t have to buy supplements and probiotics, and cleanses, and Colonix, and all this other stuff that people are selling to you. The best thing that you can do for your gut is to eat fiber, whole grains, plants, nuts, seeds, legumes, but mostly a variety of that as possible. So for kids, I have a chart that has a rainbow on it, and the kids know that they check off each color. What did I eat today? What colors did I eat today? And then they come to me after a month, and they have their rainbow chart and we go over it, right? And a lot of times the constipation resolves. The abdominal pain and cramping resolves. So those are things that I like to at least inform my patients, but so many people out there still don’t even know about gut microbiome, right? It’s almost a privilege to be able to have social media and to check these things and then to be connected to people. So I spend a lot of time really explaining to people that health is in your hands, and you need nothing more than to go to the supermarket and pick out as much fiber and a variety of fiber as you possibly can.

Ariel: That’s so empowering for people that I feel like at certain times in their kind of GI health journey feel so, again, discouraged and low because they look at the solutions that are often being pushed online, and they’re like, “Oh my gosh, I can’t afford all of these expensive supplements and cleanses and things. And I feel like I have to just eliminate all the foods that I love.” But it’s so great to be like, “Okay, no, I just need to add in more of this good stuff that my biome needs and keep it moving.

Dr. Winderman: Yes, exactly. That is probably the key to understanding your health. And feeling empowered about your health is important because it is not only is it true, but it’s also a motivation for people to know that I have control over preventing diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome. Those things are the leading causes of death in the U.S. at the moment, and they’re all preventable with diet and lifestyle modifications. And that starts young. So we set the stage for our health really as a child, so it’s 100% possible to reset your gut microbiome, and really takes about three days of changing your diet and lifestyle. So you are not doomed. We all were fed, you know, processed foods. I was definitely like fed processed foods as a child. I turned out fine. I don’t have a horn or a tail. But the point being is that, you know, the…yeah, I know, you know, just the healthier we can get and reshape that community of bugs in our GI tracts, we really wanna shift that over to feeding the good bacteria and sort of starving out the bad bacteria.

And so when people tell me, “You’re vegan? That’s great. You know, da-da-da.” And I try to explain to them there really is a difference between vegan and plant-based, right? Like Twizzlers are vegan. They are not plant-based. Plant-based means that you’re trying to incorporate more plants, more fiber, more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds into your diet. Vegan has more of an implication for avoiding animal products in general, right? So I happen to not eat animal products, but my focus is more on really feeding the good bugs in my GI tract. And I get a lot of questions. I’ll tell you about probiotics, which is a lot of hype with not a lot of science behind it. And I caution people out there who are listening to really take a look at their diet and see where they can add things like fermented foods, even like a [inaudible 00:12:06] or I know, I think Active has a yogurt that has, it’s like a green yogurt. I don’t know what one it is, but yogurts that have probiotics.

When we start taking these probiotic supplements, unfortunately, we’re introducing live bacteria into our GI tract that we’re not entirely certain which strains they are. I mean, we know how much they are, but we also don’t know, does the body need that? I mean, all of our microbiome signatures or makeup are completely different. They’re 99% different. So, overloading in one area… And yes, certain bugs we know are beneficial, right? But we don’t know the sort of [inaudible 00:12:42] that, or the balance that we have in our own GI tracts.

And we’ve had plenty of case reports of patients who actually become septic actually in their bloodstream because these live organisms transcend the colon and into the bloodstream and they end up becoming very, very sick. So a word of caution for those. And I know that there’s a ton of hype out there, and I know that certain people feel better with them. I just would like to at least bring awareness to the fact that we have very strict guidelines about who should be getting them and who should not. And there are very few exceptions. That’s probably my biggest TSA for this crowd because we’re seeing more and more of it in the hospital, which is, you know, it’s unfortunate. So probiotics is great, eat them.

Ariel: I love it. And a great time. I like to interject this within the podcast always, but a great opportunity to say yes, when you’re on your GI health journey, make sure that you’re following up with a doctor, and going along this path with a doctor who can help monitor you and make sure that you are moving in the right direction. And that you’re not just trying a bunch of things at once, and just really helping give you clarity on helping yourself feel better along this journey.

Dr. Winderman: Yeah. I’ll also add that maybe finding a doctor that is willing to collaborate with a dietician. You know, what we eat, you know, and our gut health is very much so connected. Obviously, we just spoke a lot about that, but it’s almost like having a dietician, and then having a GI doctor that don’t talk is almost like having your brain and your gut not talking, right? Like they both are connected, and they both should be speaking even if they’re in different places. So I would say that, you know, find maybe… Even there are some doctors that have dieticians already in their office, so that could be helpful as well.

And then I would also just add, you know, one last thing, we often focus a lot on diet when it comes to GI health, but there are many other things, obviously not as important as diet, but things to keep in mind, like, you know, our environment, stress level, toxins, alcohol, cigarettes, caffeines for some people is, you know, everything in moderation obviously, but reducing stress, getting sleep, avoiding toxins, even getting outside in nature, we know are beneficial to our gut health. So keep that in mind as well. It’s not only what you put in your mouth. The holistic approach.

Ariel: Yes. To holistic approach. I’m snapping my fingers. I don’t know if you all can hear me on the podcast. My fingers are snapping for holistic approach. Yes. You just dropped the bomb about probiotics. I’m wondering if there are any other really big misconceptions about children’s GI health, or GI health as a whole? Things that you’re constantly kind of refuting when you’re meeting with parents, or just anything that you feel is really important for everyone to know? And then how can people go, again, like protecting themselves from this kind of, like, misinformation?

Dr. Winderman: I would say detox, cleanses, and Colonix. I get a lot of questions about those. And what I’ll say to all of it, even probiotics is your gut knows exactly what to do. It is a cleansing organ, your liver detoxes everything. And all it needs from you is to be fed the right food and in the optimal environment. All the things we talked about, setting yourself up, but your gut knows how to do all this. You don’t need to intervene. It’s almost like, you know, being pregnant and then, you know, trying to make a better womb, right? Like your body knows how to do that. You would never go in there and, like, try to clean out the womb, right? So those things I would say, I do a lot of combating with, and I would just say, like, anytime you see something, never hesitate to ask your doctor about it. I never find questions silly at all. Sometimes my patients, many times my patients tell me things that I’ve never heard of, and I look it up online, and I even sometimes will find data behind it or a new study. And so I’m like, “Okay. All right. Like, that’s great. I’m glad they put this into their product.” Yeah, for sure. Or other times I’m like, “Oh, no, don’t do that. That’s gonna bulk your stool. That’s not what you need.”

Never be embarrassed or nervous or shy to ask a question to your doctor. I think that it’s a lot of information in maybe a 15 to 20-minute span that we get to spend with you guys. But I make it very clear to my patients that I happen to give my cell phone number to patients, which is probably a boundary issue that we work on in therapy on my own. But I will say that, you know, I can’t. There’s, you know, we all have a thing. Most places have electronic medical records, and you can go ahead and message your doctor on there. But definitely always ask rather than feel too embarrassed to ask and then sort of make your own decision based on whatever information somebody’s selling you.

I always tell people, I’m like, be careful of the people that are trying to sell you health. Okay? Like these are people that have their skin in the game here, and it’s about money for the most part, right? So, and unfortunately, I’ve heard of patients come to me and they’re like, “But my doctor said, don’t take any probiotics, but then sent me to this website with all these supplements that I should be taking.” Right? And so every doctor or person should always disclose any financial connection they have with anything. So just be wary of anyone that’s trying to sell you health, detoxes, cleanses, Colonix, this, that, and the other. I mean, the truth is you don’t need it. Your body’s perfect just the way that it is.

Ariel: Yeah. I feel like we forget because we are kind of bombarded with all of these advertisements for different things that our bodies are these really cool systems that were actually created to kind of maintain everything that they’re doing. I always thought… I mentioned earlier, I worked in pediatrics. I worked just for a general pediatric office, and then I also worked in pediatric orthopedics. And one of the coolest things was watching our patients that have…kid patients that had broken bones and just watch the body just do its thing, and just heal itself often without…I mean, obviously, there are some precautions and things that we need to take, but our bodies want to be healthy. I think a lot of people forget that piece of the whole equation.

Dr. Winderman: Yeah, 100%. Exactly. And it’s so empowering, right? To think about, well, I actually don’t need any of that stuff. I actually can go to the supermarket, or I can get out into fresh air and turn around my health. So you don’t need that fancy Peloton, you don’t need the probiotic supplements or any of that, right? All the power lies within you and you get to do that. It’s a privilege we get to be able to do those things.

Ariel: Oh my gosh, I love this. If it wasn’t, like, freezing rain outside, I would be going outside for a walk, a long walk to the grocery store, pick up some fresh fruits and vegetables. I still have to do that anyways. My walk will just probably be a bit shorter than it would be if it wasn’t freezing rain, but…

Dr. Winderman: And that’s okay, right? And that’s okay too. Yeah. That’s why I’m like…

Ariel: Right.

Dr. Winderman: That’s great. Yeah.

Ariel: It’s just so empowering.

Dr. Winderman: We have to support each other in this journey. We’re all journeying our way through health in one way or another. Mental health has been a big thing during this pandemic and believe it or not, you know, our gut and our brain talk to each other. And I tell patients it’s bidirectional. So if your brain’s not doing well, your gut’s not gonna be doing well. And if your gut’s not doing well, that’s not helping your brain either. So its a community. We’re all here to help each other and just support each other. And, you know, my office is a shame-free space for people to share questions and concerns, and accomplishments. And we cheer each other on. We all need it.

Ariel: I love it so much. We are just about out of time. Is there anything else that you wanted our audience to know as we’re kind of wrapping up here? Any final thoughts?

Dr. Winderman: I’m the worst with final thoughts, but I will say this. I don’t think it needs to be final because I am social media. I am everywhere @kidsgastrodoc. So if I forgot something and you have any questions, please feel free to DM me. I’m on Instagram. I’m on Twitter. I’m on LinkedIn. I’m on Facebook. I’m a Clubhouse. Always @kidsgastrodoc, K-I-D as in dog, S, gastro, G-A-S-T-R-O. Doc, D-O-C, everywhere. So, if I forget anything, let me know. I love each and every one of you. And I’m excited for you guys to go on your journey and continue listening to this wonderful podcast. I know I will.

Ariel: Well, thank you so much. And I always link things in the show notes, as you know, so I will definitely be linking her social media. But it really is so amazing and entertaining. You one billion percent have to check it, out and then send it to everybody in your life that has kids, because she’s literally dropping so many gems on the daily. So scroll down, check out the show notes…

Dr. Winderman: I also answer all of my DMs.

Ariel: That right there is rare and amazing. So take advantage of this incredible resource. But we’re all out of time. Everyone, thank you so much for listening. Like I always say, we all have colons, ask your questions, do your research, and have a conversation. All right. And we’ll see you next time. Thanks again, doctor.

Dr. Winderman: You’re welcome.