Nutrition Is the Best Rx

O.C. pediatrician and “The Doctors” star James Sears talks to writer Tina Dirmann about the danger of sodas, fries, and parents who can’t say no.

He’s co-starring in his fourth season of the CBS daytime talk show “The Doctors,” he’s penned six books on pediatric health and nutrition, and he’s a hot commodity on the lecture circuit. But Dr. James Sears balks at the term “celebrity doctor.” Perhaps it’s hard to feel like a star when you’re stuck in traffic outside your son’s school (as Sears was during this phone interview), dropping off a forgotten guitar for an after-school music lesson. And that was before rushing back to the pediatric practice he runs with his father and brother in San Juan Capistrano, where he still sees patients three days a week.

“That’s what keeps our show fresh,” Sears says of the weekday program he co-hosts with five colleagues. “We really are regular doctors doing our regular jobs. We just get to talk about it on TV.”

On the air, or in the office, he advocates good nutrition as the prescription for healthy kids. “The Doctors” executive producer Jay McGraw, whose own toddlers are Sears’ patients, calls him “the best pediatrician in the world.”

 

Your book “The Healthiest Kid in the Neighborhood” claims kids can stop craving junk food. Really? Let me tell you about my 5-year-old. For his first four years, he thought you ate pancakes just rolled up with a little butter. He didn’t know there was a thing called syrup. I’ve actually seen my niece at a party reach over a plate of brownies for carrot sticks because that’s what she was always given for a snack at home. Their tastes are shaped by what we give them.

But once they’ve had syrup, brownies, fries, how do you get them to just say no? You’re the parent. When we go out to eat, we might get an order of fries and split it as a family. But they know that’s a treat. They aren’t getting that every time. They’ll whine at first, but they’ll get over it.

How do you get kids interested in nutrition? Involve them. Take them grocery shopping and make it a game. Tell them to go find three green vegetables and one purple one. Or find a cereal that doesn’t include the three bad ingredients: hydrogenated oil, high fructose corn syrup, food dye.

In medical school you gained, then lost, 40 pounds. How’d you get healthy? I was writing a book on nutrition, and I thought, “Who wants to buy a nutrition book from a fat pediatrician?” So I started by focusing on one meal a day: breakfast. I went from grabbing a doughnut at the hospital to making a fruit smoothie before I left each morning. Then I started riding my bike, and I got addicted to that, riding five days a week.

Families find it tough to lose weight. What are they doing wrong? Don’t trust your willpower. If you’re hungry and have cookies in the cabinet, you’ll eat them. Nobody’s that strong! Make your decisions when shopping. When my kids open the pantry for a snack, they won’t get junk because it’s not there.

What question should parents ask when looking for a good pediatrician? Ask if they have kids. A lot of advice pediatricians give tends to come from their own experience with kids. You can read about this stuff in textbooks, but until it’s 3 a.m. and it’s your baby, it’s totally different.

Any New Year’s resolution advice for jump-starting a healthier lifestyle? Each day, try to find 200 calories to cut from your diet, about a soda and a half a day. That’s about 20 pounds a year you shave off.

Is that really you answering all those medical questions that pour into your Twitter page? It is. I’ve been successful on the show because I’ve remained available to people. They can personally ask me a question.

You must be busy. What’s your typical week like? Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, I drive my kids to school. After that, I try to get into the office as much as I can. Thursday and Friday, we tape the show. So I ride the train into L.A. from San Juan on Wednesday night and back by Friday night.

You make it all sound so normal—like you’ve adapted to the spotlight. Everything’s changed, but for the better, partly because I did a lot of acting in high school and at the Claire Trevor Theater at UC Irvine. I’ve always enjoyed the limelight.

 

Sears’ Bibliography “The Baby Book” 2003

“The Premature Baby Book” 2004

“The Baby Sleep Book” 2005

“The Healthiest Kid in the Neighborhood” 2006

“Father’s First Steps: 25 Things Every New Father Should Know” 2006

“The Portable Pediatrician” 2011

Photography by Jason Wallis

This article originally appeared in the January 2012 issue.

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