Welcome back to The Betty Rocker Show! Today Dr. Jolene Brighten joins us to talk about her new book, Is this Normal: Judgement-free Straight Talk About Your Body.
You may have heard our first conversation on the podcast where we talked about the pill, the menstrual cycle and women’s hormones – and if you did, you know what a huge advocate Dr. Brighten is for educating women so they can make informed choices.
Today she’s sharing some of the medically accurate answers to questions you’ve been dying to know (but were maybe too embarrassed to ask) about your period, hormone concerns as we transition to perimenopause and beyond, and the perceptions we have about the way various parts of our body look.
While common, many of the hormone issues women face can be easily corrected with the solutions in her book. Is This Normal is your adult guide to everything your health ed teacher should of said about how your body works but didn’t, from a trusted physician and clinical sexologist.
If you didn’t catch our first interview, you can listen to that here.
- Is this Normal? Dr. Brighten’s new book HERE
- Dr. Brighten’s website here
- Dr. Brighten’s instagram
- Dr. Brighten on Facebook
Episode TranscriptNew Tab
What’s up, rock stars. Welcome back to the show. Hey, you may remember when I interviewed Dr. Jolene Brighten back in season one of the podcast all about women’s hormones and the pill. That is a great episode to listen to if you haven’t already. Anyway, she’s back, and if you don’t know who she is, Dr. Brighten is a hormone expert, nutrition scientist and thought leader in women’s medicine. She is board certified in naturopathic endocrinology and trained in clinical sexology.
Dr. Brighten is the author of Is This Normal?, a non-judgmental guide to creating hormone balance, eliminating unwanted symptoms and building the sexual desire you crave. A fierce patient advocate and completely dedicated to uncovering the root cause of hormonal imbalances. Dr. Brighten empowers women worldwide to take control of their health and their hormones through her website and social media channels. Dr. Brighten is an international speaker, clinical educator and medical advisor within the tech community, and I’m so excited to have her back and talk about her new book, so join me in giving her a very warm welcome.
Welcome back, Dr. Jolene Brighten. It is so great to see you again. How are you?
Dr. Jolene Brighten (00:20):
I am great. It is fantastic to see you. I have to say that I love the way you just said my name. I feel like… I don’t know. Like I need to be stepping into the arena.
Well, you’re stepping into the spotlight, that’s for sure, because you’ve just done a tremendous job of… I know the work that you’ve put into this book because I have read it. This book is called Is This Normal? Judgment Free Straight Talk About Your Body, and then I can tell what a labor of love this book has been for you. So step into the spotlight. Come on down Dr. Jolene Brighten and get your spotlight because you deserve it. Oh my gosh, what an amazing book.
Dr. Jolene Brighten (00:58):
Oh, well thank you so much. It definitely was a labor of love. And I talk about, I started this in 2020, that’s how long the endeavor was. And I had a baby in 2021 and was literally writing a book. I have a treadmill desk, so I had a baby strapped to me, was walking on a treadmill, because the publishers, two weeks before I had him, the publishers were like, “Yes, we want this. Sign this deal. Let’s go into a business together, friend.” And I’m like, yes. And then I had a baby and I’m like, oh, how do you write a book when you have a baby? Baby carriers and treadmills friends, that’s how you do it.
And a whole lot of love for the women who you want to reach. I think that’s a big part. I can always feel that from your words when I read your books and read your Instagram posts and read and hear your voice on social media. You clearly have taken care of your family, you have a practice, and you’re so dedicated to sharing information inclusively with so many different women. That really, I mean that speaks for itself of what’s your inspiration, I think. You just want to help us.
Dr. Jolene Brighten (02:11):
I appreciate that. It’s so true. Actually, I’m speaking this weekend at the Sexual Health Alliances Conference, and one of my talks is on endocrine disruptor exposure among BIPOC women. And I was just talking to my husband about it. This is one of the hardest presentations I’m ever going to give because I have a really hard time not being emotionally invested in women’s health and in everyone’s health, really. But as I go through all of this and I talk about the predatory marketing and the incidences of breast cancer and all of these things, I’m getting emotional as I’m talking about it and I’m like, okay, how do I not get emotional while I present this?
And with this book, it felt like exactly what you said. I’ve not had anyone bring that up, but it’s exactly what you said. There’s so many times in the book where I just felt like, why is it still this? Why are we still struggling with the things we’re struggling with? It shouldn’t be this way. We shouldn’t have only a handful of states offering medically accurate information when they teach us about our bodies. There are just so many generations that have been impacted by misinformation and shame about their body, and it doesn’t have to be that way.
No, and it shouldn’t be that way. I’m just reacting because what you’ve said, it’s such a visceral… It’s all of us who are listening, all of the women listening, you were right then thinking back to the first time you had your period or what you learned about in school or what you learned from your peers about what was normal. Maybe you were shamed because you didn’t have your period as soon as your peers. Maybe you thought you should be having sex sooner when you were a teenager. There are all these things, and maybe you found out about how to use a tampon from reading a box in your mother’s bathroom because nobody told you anything about how any of these things worked. Maybe you watched a video in middle school about the menstrual cycle and it was really awkward.
I mean, I think we were all thinking about whatever we did get access to, it wasn’t standardized, it wasn’t very open, and there’s even less available to more people now, which is very scary. And the regulation around that is very scary. What did I read about? They’re not allowed to talk about their period before fourth grade, is that-
Dr. Jolene Brighten (04:44):
It was in Florida. I actually just wrote Florida an op-ed that was in the Miami Herald actually just this weekend. I was in a newspaper, everyone.
Dr. Jolene Brighten (04:55):
Yay. It feels so novel. They put it online, then it became a real thing. But I wrote about this legislation that says you can’t teach girls about their body until sixth grade. The average age of getting your period is 12, but we have eight-year-olds who get their period, and the bill is called… People are calling it the Don’t Say Period, Don’t Talk About Periods. And I opened up that piece saying if 2015 was the year of the period, which is what it was deemed because everybody took to social media and said, “We’re done being shamed about this. We’re going to normalize these normal things in our body.” And if 2015 was the year of the period, then 2023 is the year that politicians have sought to muzzle women about their experience.
And so there are people who have argued back with me saying, “It’s not the school’s job to educate people about the human body.” I’m like, what? Did you not take biology? You’re going to learn about a dog and an elephant and a seal, but you’re not going to learn about a human because you have a belief system that says, “Don’t talk about this”? And there’s people that are like, “Well, it’s the parent’s job, and so this should be on parents. Parents, stop being so lazy.” I’m like, the audacity to assume that the issue is that parents are being lazy and not the issue is that maybe we have a single family household and you have a daughter who doesn’t know how to talk to her father about this. And the first time she gets her period, he didn’t know to prep her for that is at school. And she can’t go to the teacher and who she trusts, who sees as an ally and ask them, “Can you please explain this weird, strange, scary thing going on?” Because if you don’t know about it, that’s exactly what it can feel like.
We also have just situations where homes are not safe. Just because these people have kids doesn’t mean they’ve made a safe environment for their children to be able to talk about things. We have so many different scenarios going on, and if we’re going to say we’re going to teach science in school, this is science. This is science. And so I do not understand the separation or being like because a period and ovulation are associated with reproductive health and that my brain goes straight to sex, that we can’t talk about these things.
And I think the title of your book sums it up so beautifully as far as the questions that all of us have about our bodies, because we’re all… There’s this surrounding culture, this pervasive shame culture about women’s bodies and about our period and the stigmatism around the transition to menopause, because now we’re old and not desirable, this whole bull crap thing that we get. And all of that, the title of the book just made me so happy when I saw it, because is this normal?
And hearing from a doctor who specializes in women’s health, hormone health, sexology, all of these important topics, so directly related to women’s rights and women’s reproductive freedom, you are normalizing… You’re helping us answer these questions and educating us in answering these questions about our bodies that so many of us have, even as adult women. I mean, doesn’t matter what you ended up learning about your body in school, when you ended up learning certain things. Many of us go through our whole lives thinking that our breasts are abnormal because one’s a different size than the other when that’s actually quite normal. I mean, can I ask you what are some of the common things that are thought to be normal but aren’t?
Dr. Jolene Brighten (08:47):
Yeah. Well, and just to say what you’re saying about asymmetrical breast size, that is very normal.
That’s very normal.
Dr. Jolene Brighten (08:54):
Yes. But the things that are often thought of as normal that aren’t, painful periods, the kinds of periods that keep you from living your life, going to school, going to work, that cause you to vomit, cause you to miss out on events. Those are not normal. Beyond the period conversation though, I think about how… Okay, we had the year of the period. Great. I feel like we’re now having the year of perimenopause and menopause and I’m here for that conversation.
Dr. Jolene Brighten (09:23):
But what I’m still seeing going on is things like hot flashes being called normal, insomnia, anxiety. The fact that when you get into perimenopause, you now fall into the risk group, the category that’s got double the use of antidepressant drugs, and that’s being termed normal. Like, oh, it’s just normal. And I keep clapping back on that of this is not normal. This is actually a sign that the brain isn’t getting the stimulation of hormones that it needs, and it’s early signs of brain dysfunction. The brain is struggling.
Temperature regulation is a brain event. It is affected by hormones, but we pass that off as this is just normal. Oh, you’re in perimenopause, it’s just normal now. You’re having pain with sex because you’re in menopause. That’s just normal. No, none of these things are normal. But because society has put the hush on us, hasn’t talked to us about it, it goes back to that conversation of “Why aren’t moms teaching their their kids?” Well, who taught her? And then people are like, “Oh, you can get your information on the internet”. Friends, I have been on the internet. In fact, to try to understand a lot of where sexual health myths come from, I had to… I’m looking at my desk right now. I had to reposition my desk so that I had this screen to a wall so that my kids could never walk in and accidentally see me somewhere on the internet that I don’t want them to know exists right now.
Because with these sexual health myths that come up, so like myths about labias should be uniform in color, uniform in size, never asymmetrical. The labia minora, the inner lips, should be tucked inside a Barbie doll. I’m like, where are these myths coming from? Then everybody’s blaming porn, and as it turns out, it’s not porn. And I had to go do that research. And trust me, there is so many times that I ended up on websites that looked legitimate as I started to do research, and then before I knew it, there was some video coming on that I’m like, I did not consent to this.
So I think about that, how people are like, “You can just go do your own research”. It’s actually not that easy, because a website like mine, drbrighten.com, I cannot talk about some of these things without being categorized as adult content, which is why I had to write the book. But it is not that easy to go out and just find information that you can trust. And sometimes you find this information and it’s not [inaudible 00:11:53] it’s talking about the spectrum. If you go google “What does a yeast infection look like?” You will most likely hear beefy red tissue is going to be part of that presentation.
Dr. Jolene Brighten (12:00):
… Here, beefy red tissue is going to be part of that presentation. But if you have more pigment down there, there’s more. By the way, everyone, there are more melanocytes in your genital area than anywhere else on your body. These produce pigment, these respond to estrogen changes, they respond to temperature changes. If you’re pregnant, might get darker. You go through puberty, it will get darker. If you go through menopause, you may notice things are getting darker. Labia minora is extending. All of that is normal and normal to see. But when you see it talked about, on even medical websites, it is not inclusive, and it doesn’t include the spectrum of normal. Because spoiler, normal is not always just black and white. It’s not just like, it is or it isn’t. There falls into a range, and there’s certain categories, where we’ll say “This is the range of normal.” So for example, a period, that is three to seven days, that’s considered normal. Less than three or more than seven, not considered normal. We need to investigate.
And I think one of the things I loved about having this book was it was like I had you, if I had anything at all I was wondering about or vaguely wondered about ever in my life about my body, “is that normal or not?” I can go look in the book. It’s like I can go and ask an actual doctor, who loves women, is including everyone in the conversation, and you’re answering all of these questions for us. And that spectrum that you mentioned, I think, is so important to touch on, because like you’re saying, you go to look up information on the internet and it’s unreliable. It give you an answer.
It may give you a thousand answers, but they will have an agenda behind them in many cases, or they will be sort of biased or they will have sort of a skewed response, that then sends you down a rabbit hole thinking, “I’m not normal. I need to get plastic surgery,” to the example you gave earlier. Like “Okay. My labia don’t look like the girl in the porn video or the girl in the example or the…” Even the medical drawings are very specific looking…
Dr. Jolene Brighten (14:08):
It’s the medical drawings.
Yeah, the medical drawings.
Dr. Jolene Brighten (14:09):
Those are very problematic. That is what I found in my research. So I talk about this in the book, that I actually, we had to cut out my whole breakdown of it, because we just didn’t have room, and I don’t know if it would’ve been as interesting to everybody. So PornHub actually did a survey, where they were like “Vote for your favorite vulva.” The spectrum of what, and these are presumably mostly men, what they voted on is not what cosmetic surgeons are marketing to women. It is not what medical textbooks look like. Medical textbooks are like everything is symmetrical, uniform, and color. There’s almost no hair there, because we’re trying to look at an anatomical structure. But me, at 14, had I had the internet, I would’ve definitely looked at that and been like, “Oh, that’s actually normal. That’s what normal is.”
And it wasn’t until 2020 that we started to see people start to bring in different bodies, different colored bodies, into medical literature. So you are not seeing that diversity. Even still, in the majority of anatomy textbooks and medical teachings, the clitoris is not represented correctly, so there’s a lot of real estate that’s given to the penis, when it comes to anatomy textbooks. And yet, you get one vulva, and it looks one way. And it doesn’t track with reality. But I actually was shocked, because I very much bought into the idea that porn was to blame. Certainly for the hair, porn, you can point the finger at porn, but for the lack of hair. But for the lack of understanding or even desire for this vulva variety, it’s not porn. And that, I think, is so important for women to hear, that you get marketed to of “Men are not going to like you, because men don’t like this.” And in reality, it doesn’t track with what men are actually consuming online. What they’re actually giving attention to is they do like that variety. They do like…
And what about the bigger picture of, why are we constantly trying to adjust ourselves to be pleasing, to be…? I get it, desire makes the world go round, but at some point, do you have to base every decision about your appearance on what you think will make you sexually attractive? It’s tough. I think there’s just this veil, that, once you draw it back and you see what’s behind so much of our spending and our decisions about our health and our looks and all of this stuff, it’s such a fraught conversation, because we are so much more than this sexual body. And yet, our sexual health is such an important part of our lives, our sexual hormones, our sex hormones, I shouldn’t say our sexual hormones, our sex hormones.
Dr. Jolene Brighten (17:11):
Well, they are involved in sexual desire and arousal, so it’s not…
Absolutely. But our sex hormones, I’m talking about estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, those sex hormones, they’re incredibly important, not only for our reproductive health and sexuality, but for our overall physical health. And this is one of the things ,we mentioned perimenopause and menopause a few minutes ago, and how, as we start to go through that transition time, a lot of women, they start to feel like what used to work for them stops working and they start to feel like something’s wrong with them. And to your point, they think that, “Oh, well, the hot flashes and all these things I’m experiencing are symptoms of what I’m going through and that’s normal, so I shouldn’t bother…”
I think the second part of that is “I shouldn’t bother to do anything about it,” or “There isn’t really help or support for me.” And I think that unfortunate thing is that that actually plays out and is true for way too many people. There isn’t help or support for the vast majority of women, when it comes to these symptoms. They don’t know where to go for help or what are the root causes of these symptoms and how could they address them? So I think that bigger conversation is kind of a part of this normalizing the whole experience conversation.
Dr. Jolene Brighten (18:24):
Yeah. Well, and to your point, our bodies were not made just to be looked at. And I think that is a message that we have internalized so much, and it comes from marketing mainly, that we see where our energy and attention goes to. And then, you’ll see the same kind of marketing when it comes to the changes that you’re going through, as we’re talking about with perimenopause, where you’re being told, “Yeah, these things are awful, but here’s the only solution for that.” And what gets left out of a lot of these conversations is the nutrition and the lifestyle practices that are free to you, that you can be doing every day, that, not only are going to help your hormones, but they’re going to help your overall health and help you feel amazing in your body. And these days, there’s a lot more talk in a positive way about hormone replacement therapy.
And I love that. If your issue is that you are deficit in hormones and we need to replace those, I want people to understand hormone replacement therapy isn’t just estrogen, testosterone, progesterone. It’s also insulin. It’s also thyroid. And we have to look at this as the individualized level. However, whatever you choose to do, whether it is hormone replacement therapy, whether it is a medication, all of that is only going to be amplified in a positive way by the choices that you’re making every day. I think, when I talk about things like endocrine disruptors, and people right away are like, “Okay, I have to overhaul my entire house, and I have to get rid of all this stuff.” And it’s just like, “You might need to do that over time.” But when I give simple things, like “You know what? Buy pasta out of a glass jar, wash it out, and now, you have a glass jar, now, you have a drinking container.”
It was that easy. You can upcycle something. It doesn’t have to be the $80 stainless steel water bottle cup that everybody has on the internet right now. It doesn’t have to be that way. And I love that we have that option, but I also am someone who loves that we can also just make it really simple. I talk about, in the book, your circadian rhythm, waking up in the morning, exposing yourself to sunlight, and in the evening, trying to make it as dark as possible. There are people who are like, “You have to buy the special blackout curtains.” I’m like, “Ikea actually has $20 ones, and I find they work better than the blackout curtains.” You can do that, but also, you can just get an eye mask.
But that simple practice of light in the morning, dark at night, we take it for granted. It’s going to amplify the quality of sleep that you’re getting. You get more deep sleep, you’re going to detox the brain, you get more REM sleep, you’re going to get more quality sleep is what I’m getting at here. That’s when your adrenal glands repair. Then, as you wake up in the morning, we spike cortisol when we’re supposed to. Just taking care of that rhythm can help take care of the progesterone that you are making now.
And I think this is the conversation about the surrounding actions that can help make all of these other potential interventions, that your doctor may be recommending, much more effective. And these are all the things that are within your control. And you and I are very aligned. I teach the four pillars of health, and they are sleep, nutrition, stress management, and exercise. Because most people come to me for workouts, and I say, “Your workouts won’t be as effective, unless you’re sleeping, unless you’re eating nutrient dense food, and unless you’re managing your stress levels.” And every functional medicine doctor, every doctor I’ve ever talked to, says our protocols aren’t as effective without these pieces surrounding this. And I don’t know why… Sometimes I feel like it’s easy to downplay them because they seem so simple, but to actually practice them in a busy modern life is actually very challenging.
But it is essential for your health. And if we’re talking about the perimenopause and menopause transition, going through that time, many women who are going through that time, in their forties and fifties, are dealing with higher levels of stress, just by nature of where they’re at in their life in general. And so, implementing these strategies, not only does it become even more essential for them, but it’s also even more challenging. So I think, the more we can remind and recommend and mention why they’re such essential things to pay attention to, the better because we, all of us, need that reminder. “What is going to be my priority today, when I’ve got all these competing priorities?” And one of the things you talk about in the book, you mentioned nutrition a minute ago, one of the things that you mentioned is a balanced plate, which I love to see. And one of the things you said about that was “Have protein in every meal.” Do you want to elaborate from your stance as to why that’s important for women and anything else you want to say about that balanced plate?
Dr. Jolene Brighten (23:23):
Absolutely. And this is something, as we talk about these things, if you’ve been alive long enough on this planet, you’ve heard these things before, which is where I always ask people, “Now ask yourself, how well are you doing it?” Because the reality is, when I step back, and I went to a conference that was all about sleep, I spent four days just learning about sleep. And I had to ask myself every time, “Yes. And how well am I doing it? How well am I practicing these things?” So when it comes to how we eat, I talk a lot about protein, because, so before I went to naturopathic medical school, I was pursuing a master’s in nutrition. And my research was in sarcopenic obesity. If people don’t know what that is…
Dr. Jolene Brighten (24:00):
My research was in sarcopenic obesity. If people don’t know what that is, it is the loss of muscle mass and the infiltration of fat cells. This is almost 20 years ago, okay. This is how long this information has been known, and it’s still seen as controversial to tell people get protein at every meal. And you still have people saying, “Protein is not that important. It’s not as important.” I’m like what? It’s used in everything in the body. So in my research long time ago Isoleucine, Valine and Leucine, the branch chain amino acids were absolutely key and essential in reversing sarcopenic obesity. So once it has started. I like to use the M&M body, the round M&M, that’s sarcopenic obesity. When you see somebody who has central adiposity, so this is going to be visceral adiposity. I don’t care what your BMI is. I care about what is your body composition.
Because if your fat is around your organs, your risk for cardiovascular disease, for diabetes, for dementia. For all the things you don’t want to have in this life, they’re going to go up. And what those skinny little arms and legs are, is the loss of muscle.
Dr. Jolene Brighten (25:12):
And as you lose muscle, you lose the ability to regulate your hormones and you also lose your mitochondrial health. And the mitochondria are concentrated in the brain, the heart, and also the ovaries. So protein is going to be essential so that you can build muscle mass, you can stay full throughout the day. You can have blood sugar regulation. And so this is where I talk about the fat, fiber, protein. Every single meal. Fat, fiber, protein. People are always like, “Well, how do I do fiber?” Plants. Plants. That’s it. And so back when I was studying nutrition 20 years ago, we knew then the research said six to nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day. That’s what we wanted to aim for. The food pyramid still says like two, four, they know that goes against the science.
And so eating in this way, where I talk about in the book, take half of your plate, cut it in half, fill it with plants. Take that other half, quarter it, there’s your protein. And then you’re going to have a carbohydrate. What carbohydrates work for you and where are you at in your cycle? Because if you are in that gluteal phase, post-ovulation before menstruation, progesterone is up, insulin sensitivity slightly down. But caloric needs can be as high as five to 10% more. You may be like, ” I need sweet potatoes.” Or, “I’m going to use some rice here. I need more carbohydrates.” Whereas other parts of your cycle, you might be like, “I’m going to get away with a little bit of green beans, a little bit of carrots.” They still count as a carbohydrate. They have those carbohydrates, but maybe it just looks different in terms of what your carbohydrates are.
And then getting about two tablespoons of fat. So at least one if not two. And that can be… Yeah, everybody’s like, “Butter, olive oil, right?” Yeah. Or some avocado or have some nuts and seeds. I mean, research shows us, if you’re eating nuts and seeds every day, you’re going to have a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. So why not leverage those? They’re also going to have fiber. They’re going to have minerals in it. Things that are going to help your period, help your hormones overall. So this is something that I feel like for a very long time, medicine has disempowered patients by saying nutrition doesn’t matter. Everything you eat becomes you. Literally, you’re the cells of your body. So I don’t know how we could ever believe that it didn’t matter. And yet you have so much power with what you put on your plate to shape your hormones, your metabolic health and take steps and action towards health every single day.
And as I say in the book, you can have your cake and balanced hormones too. We don’t have to be super rigid and dogmatic. Because I mean, you see it out there these days. It’s like, “Everybody fast, everybody do keto, everybody drop your carbs.” And I’m like, “Everybody calm down. And let people get the bio-individual approach that they need to their body.” And could we stop taking research that’s been done on men and saying that absolutely this must apply to cyclical creatures who are very in tune with the environment because they could potentially have a baby. We’re set up so differently.
Yeah, you said a lot there that’s so true and so helpful and important to put into context. And one thing that I wanted to bring to the forefront that you said was, “I don’t look at the BMI, I look at the body composition.” Like, the BMI was developed by a mathematician back in the early 1800s…
Dr. Jolene Brighten (28:36):
And it was developed for men and it was developed for an average population in that actual era, that century of time, this microcosm. And yet doctors are still lazily referring to it. And I literally had a nice woman in my Rock Your Life group the other day. She was like, “My doctor said my BMI is so high. And then he related it to all my predisposition to these family diseases. And I feel so terrible and I’ve built all this muscle doing these programs.”
I’m like, “The BMI is not a metric to be looking at. You want to be looking at your body composition. Don’t listen to this crap. This is just crap.” I’m so glad you said that. And this muscle to fat ratio and the importance of how we’re eating. How we’re taking care of ourselves with these regular practices to help shift the body composition. You talked about sarcopenic obesity and what you were studying in school. And this is sort of another thing that comes up of, is that normal? I’m just, as I age, I’m just going to lose all my muscle. And that does not have to be normal. It does not have to be normal at all. You can take steps.
Dr. Jolene Brighten (29:43):
No. And if you are, we need to figure out what’s going on.
Dr. Jolene Brighten (29:47):
Because maybe it’s a matter that you’re not strength training, you’re not doing enough resistance training. It could very well be that. It could also be that there’s something going on with your testosterone levels.
Dr. Jolene Brighten (29:59):
Or maybe your thyroid hormone is making it so that you can’t repair. So you can’t exercise in the same way. If your estrogen is going low, then your joints are going to hurt more. We need to investigate what is going on. And I think there is very much a dogma out there about women’s bodies where it’s like, if they don’t have the… You and I have been around long enough to be like, it’s like, “If they don’t have the Kate Moss body… Oh wait, no. If they don’t have the Kardashian body… Oh wait, we’re going back to the Kate Moss body now.”
Okay, what? If they don’t have this certain kind of body. Or they’re BMI, if doctors are looking at that, it’s because they willpower. It’s because they’re just like, “They need to eat less and move more.” And it’s like, eat less, move more, is a great way to destroy hormonal health. That, hands down. We know this. And yet it still all plays out. And it all comes back to this, “Well, you just don’t have the willpower.” It’s not about willpower. It’s about figuring out what is going on for that individual. Because it is so much more complicated than that. I think the big thing I’m seeing right now. I’m seeing, and I’m not hating on anyone, but I’m seeing a lot of 20 something influencers who are popping off being like, “Oh, don’t use perimenopause as an excuse. Don’t use menopause as an excuse for why you look the way you do, because you should be… It’s your fault for doing Pilates.”
And I’m like, “Well, tell me, you don’t care about the pelvic floor. You don’t know anything about the pelvic floor.” Okay. There’s nothing wrong with Pilates. But they’re saying things like, “There’s no research to support that perimenopause or menopause is doing anything for your body composition and why you look the way you do.” And I’m like, “Okay, look. When I was 20, I could… Yeah, it didn’t take much for me to be able to be fit.” For a lot of people, they notice a big difference over those 20 years from 20 to 40 of what their metabolism has done, how their body has shifted, how it has changed. And what I really take issue with this narrative is one, there’s not enough research has been done in perimenopause and menopause, full stop. But they also don’t know enough to understand that the research has been done.
It’s called sarcopenic obesity. There is research done in this other category, and it applies to the aging female body as much as it applies to the male aging body. But we statistically have less lean body mass or muscle mass than male counterparts. But to that, I’m like, “It exists, but you’re trying to market a program based on shame. And I hate to break it to you, but we’re seasoned veterans to the shame game. Okay. We’ve been through this before.” And so for anybody listening, if you’ve ever seen that on social media coming at you, please just remind yourself these people are not experts. And that is not an expert opinion. That is somebody who really needs to live a little more of their life, and understand that life is a lot more complex, as is the human body.
Yeah. And I tend to give women a lot of credit for being intuitive and discerning. I think there are a lot of shiny objects out there and we’ll be like, “Oh, that message sounds good.” Or, “I really want that result.” Or, “I wish I looked she does in her 20s.” But we have to really adjust our expectations of the reality of how life… I wish that we would start to celebrate women who are older. I wish that we would celebrate the gray hair, the wisdom, and the strength and the grace. And that all these things can coexist. That there isn’t one way to age. That there’s many ways to go through life in a healthy body that you love. And, I think that’s part of why, again, I just keep looking at the book cover, Is this normal?
I’m like, “There’s so many things that are normal.” That, which is what your point is, is that there are so many things that are normal. There’s so many ways to be normal. And this judgment that we have of ourselves, most of all, is what we need to learn to let go of.
Dr. Jolene Brighten (34:03):
Yeah. Yeah. So well said. It’s something that I address in the chapter about libido. And you know why I was talking about the body image stuff earlier is because body image is one of the biggest breaks to your sexual desire, to your arousal, to a phenomenon known as spectatoring. Where you’ll literally be in a moment, maybe you’re about to orgasm. And then here comes this thought of, “I wonder what my cellulite looks like right now.” And are they noticing my stretch marks?” Or we start thinking about these other things. And in that moment, it can rob you of your pleasure. But also your joy of that experience. And then what comes up is this narrative that, “I’m broken, something’s wrong with me. I’m not normal, because I can’t stay aroused. Or my sexual life is failing in some way.” And it’s very rare that the conversation ever comes up, that you are challenged with one of the most difficult tasks. And that is loving yourself unconditionally without exception in a world that demands that you constantly be pursuing anything but you.
Yeah. Love that you are bringing up the orgasm conversation as well. And how we could literally stop ourselves from experiencing pleasure, because we’re so in our heads about what we look like. Or how we’re presenting to our sexual partner. And that is another reason why getting out of our own way and feeling like finding these tools to find this loving way to see ourselves, it’s just so important. And there’s no question that there are a lot of actions you can take that are self-loving. Including many of the topics that we were going over, the surrounding actions that you can take that will help potentially any healthcare that you’re being given.
… help the, potentially any healthcare that you’re being given by a doctor, work better. It’s self-loving to go to a doctor and ask for help. It’s self-loving to question if the doctor isn’t giving you something that is useful. I mean, in our last podcast conversation, which I hope you all will listen to if you haven’t yet, we talked a lot about the pill and how it’s lazy medicine in a lot of cases where someone’s just putting a woman on the pill because she’s having specific symptoms. And it’s not because… They’re not educating women. Specifically the doctors who are prescribing in these specific cases. They’re not educating women about the potential ramifications of that and the potential consequences or long-term side effects to their health.
And that’s very problematic because, in the end, you’re trying to take action to do something that is good for you. But if you don’t have the information that you deserve, you can end up with bigger problems down the road. And I’m sure you see this all the time in your practice when you’re trying to… I don’t want to say fix, but you’re trying to resolve issues that someone has, which came from something that they were told to do by a previous doctor who maybe didn’t have the full spectrum of their healthcare in mind.
Dr. Jolene Brighten (37:17):
Yeah. Yeah, or didn’t have the time. And I actually was just recording a podcast with… She’s a medical doctor currently in her residency. And we were just talking about how the system makes it so difficult for doctors to be able to get the full picture, to be able to talk about the nuance of healthcare. And how so many doctors, that’s why you became a doctor.
Dr. Jolene Brighten (37:45):
You wanted to help people. You wanted to be able to talk about the nuance. You wanted to do all of these things. And yet you’ve been pushed into a paradigm that says, “You get seven minutes max. Figure it out and move them along the way,” and don’t spend the extra time because if you’re running late, then in the next room there’s somebody waiting to yell at you because you wasted their time and look like. It’s so funny because I hate to run behind. My husband always jokes, “Why did you become a doctor if you are such a stickler for time?”
And I’m very much, as a doctor, believe that you need to respect people’s time. It’s not just my time, it’s their time as well. And it is so hard to stay on time when sometimes somebody walks into your office and you thought, oh, this is just going to be a routine check, or we’re just going to follow up on these labs and now they’re telling you about some major thing that is happening. It can be very, very difficult. And so I say all of that because I think it is a very popular thing to just be like, “Doctors suck and they’re the worst.” But understand if a doctor is giving you the pill, if they are recommending something to you, that’s what they feel is best in that moment that they can pull from their toolkit. You just may need a different toolkit, and that’s going to come from a different kind of provider.
I mean, even working with you, as an example, you are not going to go to a doctor and they’re not going to talk to you about physical activity and routines other than you need to get this many steps a day, or you need to lift weights three to five times a week. There’s these general recommendations, but they can’t guide you in that. I mean, a lot of them have never even stepped foot in a gym. Let’s just take that in for a second. And so that’s where working with someone like you is so, so important. We need that healthcare team.
And for so long, medicine has been, the team is only licensed credentialed people who can order labs and prescribe you drugs and recommend surgeries and things like that. And I really think that we’ve missed the mark with that because really the team is so much more beyond that. Yes, we have our dieticians, but we also need people like yourself who are educated in physical activity and can guide people in that. We need to think about even the people in our food supply are part of the healthcare team. It is a very, very broad team that we’re talking about. But having these allies, having people that are all working towards the health, not only of you but of the community, can have such a great impact.
Yeah, you’re saying it. Your healthcare is not a one-stop shop. I think we put a lot of pressure on the doctor to give us all the answers when that’s not really a fair thing to do. And we also need to advocate for ourselves, educate ourselves as much as possible, which is again, why we’re so grateful that you keep writing books to help us get that information in our hands.
Dr. Jolene Brighten (40:44):
There’s literally so many checklists for people to take to their doctor in that book.
Dr. Jolene Brighten (40:48):
I’m like, this is so you know, but also you can take it to your doctor and say, “Hey, could it be this? Look at all these symptoms I’ve checked off.”
Literally one of… I was just about to say, in the book, you share symptoms we can tune into. And you also have this thing where it says when to see your doctor and you can give your doctor the checklist of your symptoms and you can have done some of this pre-work. And you can also be somewhat educated about your hormones so that when your doctor… Like one of the things that I think is really hard and what would give you a better experience in the doctor-patient relationship is being able to ask questions and understand the answers. And maybe the questions that you ask, you have a better idea of what to ask because you’re more educated about, say, how your hormones work or what maybe you’ve noticed in your symptomology just from going through a checklist.
And it’s up to your doctor to help you work through that, but just having the conversation becomes easier when you understand the landscape a little better.
So I think you have some book bonuses that they can get when they order the book. And we’re going to put a link to that with the show as well. Dr. Brighten has an amazing website. Her Instagram is a super awesome resource for everything that she shares constantly, her stories, her tips, and it’s so great to be able to connect with you and all the great information that you share. And I really just want to encourage people to get this book and read it, and thank you for sharing it. Do you want to tell us any more places we can reach you or anything else we should do to get access to things?
Dr. Jolene Brighten (43:01):
So I’m on Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube all at the same @DrJoleneBrighten. And I am at drbrighten.com, which is my main hub and I have a ton of information there. I think one other thing that I would say is that if you’re going to get the book, yay, love it, want you to have it in hand. But also to make sure that this book is accessible to as many people as possible. A very simple thing you can do is call your local library and request it. As somebody who could not afford books growing up and who also went to the library to try to figure out what was going on with my body, that little girl in me wants everybody to be able to have access to this that needs it. And I would love, love, love if people would help just support another woman in their life just by making sure that the library is carrying it as well.
Thank you so much for that wonderful suggestion and I really appreciate that. That is so important. I know I grew up reading about this stuff in the library actually. That was the place where I was able to get access to the information that I needed about my body finally. So great tip, and thank you so much for sharing so generously of your time and your feelings and all of this work that you do for all of us. Thank you so much for it and we appreciate you and look forward to connecting with you and all of your wonderful channels, and look forward to talking to you again very soon.
Dr. Jolene Brighten (44:37):
Yes. Well, thank you so much. I appreciate the conversation and your time.
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This podcast is for information purposes only. Statements and views expressed on this podcast are not medical advice. This podcast including Bree Argetsinger, Betty Rocker Inc. and the producers disclaim responsibility for any possible adverse effects from the use of information contained herein. Opinions of guests are their own, and this podcast does not endorse or accept responsibility for statements made by guests. This podcast does not make any representations or warranties about guest qualifications or credibility. Individuals on this podcast may have a direct or indirect financial interest in products or services referred to herein. Before starting a new exercise, fitness, or health protocol, or if you think you have a medical problem, always consult a licensed physician.
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