Billy's Story: Food, Mood & Learning

I once had a tutoring student, he was in sixth grade and man, sluggish didn’t begin to describe him.

Let’s call him Billy.

Billy made it about 15 minutes into the one-on-one tutoring session, diving into his reading and writing skills, and to say it wasn’t going well would be an understatement.

He was all but underwater - mentally.

His response time was ridiculously slow.

His energy was non-existent.

His ability to think, reason and even function was, well, hindered would be a nice way to put it.

Billy was lagging and I was struggling to figure out why.

[I go into depth about how I run a tutoring session and extract this information from students easily in this article on the P.O.P. Method. Nope, not a pop quiz.]

Nothing bad happened in school that day, that I could detect.

He wasn’t depressed, angry or upset.

He simply wasn’t there mentally, even though physically his chunky, little body was slumped over the table and his fist clasped a pencil as though his life depended on it.

When he asked to use the bathroom, I was as relieved as he was for the reprieve from what had become a second-by-second session that was requiring all my patience.

This wasn’t normal for me, not to figure out what was up with a student rather quickly and get them on the right path.

So while Billy walked to the restroom, I looked at his homework assignment, his folder and recent graded papers. He was a below average student, new to my tutoring center but had grasped concepts the first time I saw him.

I knew he’d soon be a B student from our work together so that didn’t faze me.

Nothing popped out. No horrid grade, no teacher note. Nada.

And then after ten minutes of his absence, I started to wonder if he was sick or avoiding tutoring. I gave him a few more, then knocked on the bathroom door.

He flushed and said he’d be right out.

Another ten minutes passed and the session was used up mostly with him in my bathroom.

I was stumped.

He didn’t appear sick when he came out.

He sat right down, grabbed his pencil and got to it.

He struggled but he was clearer, a bit more focused and pushed through a bit of his lesson.

I let it go. His absence, long time spent in the bathroom and to be honest, if he’d been older I might have thought drugs. But nah, as I simply didn’t attract that kind of student into my environment or if I did, it was when they were ready to turn over a fresh leaf.

I didn’t question him. I knew I’d investigate after he left.

And I did. He was my last session of the day and I can remember feeling perplexed more than drained.


Now, we’re going to get into muddy waters here but the lesson is so very important that I simply am giving this warning for those who don’t want to talk about what goes on in a bathroom or bodily functions.

But teacher, tutor, parent, friend - if you want to know something, dive in here with me. I promise, you’ll come out smelling like roses.

I remembered my own frequent bathroom runs as a child in school when a teacher would announce a test or pop quiz. My poor little stomach couldn’t handle the pressure.

Not to mention the foods I was consuming as a child that were making me sick.

[I am gluten free and dairy free now but back then my father, bless him, loved to cook Italian - pasta and parmesiana! - and French, a la creme sauce. Oh and butter! Lots and lots of butter.]

But we didn’t know back then. (Ha, I sound old-ish.) And what you don’t know, you don’t know.

So, I get it. Got it. Feeling sick. Running to the bathroom with a nervous stomach, but this kid hadn’t done that.

Not the way I had as a child who hated math to the point where I’d have to go to the bathroom now! Thinking about math would literally turn my stomach. Horrible.

Alone in my tutoring center, which was also a part of my 3-bedroom home, I began my investigation.

Hall bathroom.

Nothing personal for him to get into and spend 20 minutes investigating. A few tampons under the sink for girls who’d come to tutoring and were caught off-guard by their monthly cycle, plus some extra toilet paper.

Nothing he could have spent time getting into to avoid tutoring.

I thought for a moment about his session after his extended bathroom break.

He’d worked.
A bit.
But he was still off.

And I didn’t break thru in that session. Not like I normally did.

After my quick investigation, I noticed something interesting. A blocked toilet and thought, oh boy… please tell me it was natural causes.

I didn’t think much of it as a quick towel check assured me that, yep, he’d just used too much toilet paper.

But then I went to the trash can, as I was in clean up mode already, and what I found provided all the answers as to why Billy wasn’t able to focus, concentrate, communicate and basically function.

Warning: Frank potty talk ahead.

Billy had used a good half roll of toilet paper. And what hadn’t been flushed, backing up my toilet, had filled up my trash can.

Billy hadn’t used so much to play or to purposely clog my toilet. No, he’d been trying to wipe himself.

See, just by looking at Billy’s bowel movement, while kind of disgusting to do as part of my “tutoring” discovery work, was also incredibly enlightening.

And I had to clean it up anyway, so why not make note and learn from it?

Billy had no fiber in his diet.

His bowel movement was a thick paste, and while I don’t want to ruin a “food group” for you, think frosting. Thick and impossible to easily get out of the body, if that’s where it’s coming from.

No wonder poor Billy was mentally blocked. His poor little body was blocked. Literally.

Think clogged pipe or clogged toilet. I had to take a plunger to my toilet that day and really flex my bicep.

And Billy, no one was roto-rooter-ing him.

So, what does this mean?

Okay, I’m just going to say this once but I hope you hear it instead of getting grossed out by this topic. We all do it, nothing gross about it.

Well, maybe children who find it fun to smear it on the bedroom wall!

Yikes. Motherhood.

Your stool is a tell-tale sign of your overall health and wellness.

If you have soft stool, it says something.
If you are constipated, it says a lot about your diet and health.
If your system is sludge-like and slow, like little Billy, well, you’ve got major issues happening.

This kid, at age 11, was in for a world of shit.

Sorry, but pun intended.

Health wise.
Focus wise.
Learning wise.
Body wise.

Hello, diabetes.

Right away, I knew he had little to no fiber in his diet and way too much protein and sugar.

Right away, I knew this kid wasn’t being given the fuel to power his body properly let alone his mind.

Right away, I knew I’d have to have a chat with his mom, if I wanted to impact his educational (and everyday) life in a significant way.

So, as uncomfortable as it was for me, and her, I sat down with Billy’s mom a few days later. No Billy in sight. Why embarrass the poor little dude?! I’m sure he was already mortified on some level. Or even worse, that kind of bowel movement had become his norm.

Billy’s mom was horrified.

And no, it wasn’t a fun conversation. But once she got over her embarrassment and realized my concern was about Billy and his needs, not my clogged toilet, she listened, teared up and we outlined a few changes she could implement immediately.

And hey, if you don’t know what a healthy bowel movement should look like, you’re not alone. Most people don’t.

And if an adult doesn’t know, kids certainly can’t be expected to know.

So do a quick search... amazingly there are poop charts online that showcase what’s healthy from what’s not.

Here’s a quick WebMD slideshow to eliminate the need to type the word poop in Google! (Ha, get the pun! Come on now, we’ve got to laugh…)

Within a week, Billy had a new spring to his step.

He came to tutoring with a bottle of water. Hello, hydration and flow. He drank it. No more sugar water drinks and no more not drinking enough.

He also came with a snack of apples, almonds and carrot sticks.

Now, that’s a lot of sugar - natural sugar - but sugar no less, but this guy needed roughage, so it worked.

He had a spring to his step. His eyes no longer lacked life nor appeared dull. And he was able to sit for the 50 minute session with me, be engaged and actually put his brain to use.

The last ten minutes, we moved.

Yep, tutoring is not just about book work. It’s about working the entire little mind (and in this case body).

We talked about what we’d just accomplished and walked/jogged down the end of the street together.

When he got bored, we would do side stepping. Long lunge-y like things facing each other while I quizzed him verbally on some of his vocab words.

Hey, I was getting movement, too.

Nothing like a good sweat and hot, Florida sunshine to make me appreciate my dimly lit tutoring space.

Billy’s mood improved.

He went from moody and quiet to laughing, smiling and within 6 weeks, he’d dropped at least 10 pounds. He was happier than I’d ever seen him and his skin glowed, too.

His grades improved and he actually thought veggies were cool.

(Smell the roses, y’all!)

So, here’s what I want to leave you with today.

We spend a ton of time, thought, money and energy on maintaining our cars so why don’t we take the same care of our bodies? Or children’s growing bodies?

Regular checkups, oil changes, premium fuel, additives when the tank gets dirty, a check of all fluids, a tune-up every so many miles and we even scrub her down or take her to car wash to rinse her off.

Yet, how often do we give our human bodies the same kind of timely overhaul?

Or daily maintenance!

The human body works like a dream when fed well, rested well and maintained well.

Yet, it’s not a priority for most.

If you want to rock people’s lives with tutoring, coaching, teaching or anything, pay attention to the foods they eat.

Because what goes in must come out

And it comes out in the form of mood or learning issues.

The good news is, these can easily and rather quickly be addressed and rectified with a few “oil” changes, tune-ups and tweaks.

Start today, start everyday with a glass of water. Add some lemon juice, squeezed from an actual lemon, and set your body up for a rocking start.

You might be wondering: Why do I feel I’m qualified to chat on the subject of health and wellness with kids? Good Q.
First, as a writer, I’ve worked with some top-notch naturopathic practitioners such as Dr. D’Adamo - who dedicated his life to understanding blood types and diets.
Second, I’ve been there.
Unhealthy due to food. Moody due to diet. Literally dying due to choices that didn’t serve me.
Three, I’m a Certified Health Coach from a lovely place called IIN - Integrated Institute of Nutrition out of NYC. Cool, right?

And there you have it.

Or if you want more clarity from an MD, check out this little tidbit from a doc.

Courtesy of Dr Jockers’ blog  post  entitled  16 Ways to Achieve Healthy Poop  .

Courtesy of Dr Jockers’ blog post entitled 16 Ways to Achieve Healthy Poop.

Remember to learn something today that you can share with someone tomorrow.

Go ahead and leave a comment, share this post with a loved one and keep the healing of the next gen...and your generation…going.

Education Lady | Jill Stevens

Educator. Writer. Life Long Learner. Jill has a passion to help the next generation and improve learning across the board. She’s here to change the world, one mind at a time. Right now she does that through words with purpose and by training up remarkable, rockstar tutors.