Do you have a “female” problem?
As an integrative medical doctor, I work with a lot of women with a lot of different types of health challenges, diagnoses, and symptoms. As a woman myself, I talk to friends, family, and acquaintances regularly about these same challenges. And in reflecting on a lecture given by Dr. Christiane Northrup, one of my personal favorites, I realized that we, as women, do seem to view the female body as generally a problem. I realized that we often feel or even go as far as describing ourselves as “at war with” our own bodies- fighting against symptoms, battling a diagnosis, or trying to somehow “outsmart” our out-of-control bodies.
So many of the issues seem to center around “female” problems- from the time we begin menstruating and fall into PMS, irregular periods, PCOS, or even just feeling cranky or off, it’s that darn period-thing. Our bodies gone cra-cra. Our self-esteem plummets. If we’re really unlucky, we then move into the territory of things like endometriosis, fibroids, or various other sources of uncontrolled pain or bleeding. Some of us have to deal with challenges like infertility, where our female body completely fails us. And then there’s the dreaded perimenopause and menopause- hot flashes, dryness, brain fog, weight gain- definitely not something most women look forward to. Sweats, sleepless nights, slow, and shriveled up- hmmmmm……
But what if we are looking at this all wrong?
What if we are completely missing the whole point of all this?
And what if, by doing so, we are missing out on a critical element that could turn it all around?
Looking back in history, there were cultures and traditions that actually revered and viewed the process of menstruation as a time when a woman is at the height of her power. Lara Owen describes this in her fascinating book Her Blood is Gold, and goes on to describe many positive aspects of this time in a woman’s life, as well as strategies to enhance and get the most out of it.
From my point of view, listening to the body and asking questions is always a good place to start. And with “female” problems especially, as women, it is critical that we begin to view these symptoms and challenges not as something to go into battle against, but rather to appreciate as valuable information. I believe our bodies hold a great deal of wisdom, and that in experiencing symptoms, our bodies are attempting to communicate with us that something is off. It could be a nutrient deficiency caused by poor diet, a hormone imbalance resulting from stress, or inflammation triggered by sleep deprivation, among other things.
I always tell my patients- our bodies start to speak to us in quiet, gentle whispers. Unfortunately, many of us fail to listen, so the body speaks louder. More symptoms, symptoms that are worse or somehow more dramatic. And if we continue to ignore these pleas, we get the 2 by 4- in health terms, this shows up as the health crisis. The dreaded diagnosis that turns our whole lives upside down. I see it over and over again with women in my practice.
So here is the critical shift, the piece that we are missing:
It’s not a disease, it’s just information.
So then, rather than “how do I fix this broken part of myself?”, which sends us into battle against our bodies, the question becomes, “what is my body trying to tell me and how do I support myself through it?”. Going into battle and waging war on anything, as powerful and fierce as it may sound, may not be the best approach. As astutely stated on a recent episode of “The Goldbergs”, “when you go to war, nobody wins”.
So instead of going to war with your body, lay down your arms and surrender to the fact that you and your body are on the same team.
Then take a moment or two and simply ask your body “what are you trying to tell me” and “how can I support you through this?”.
You may want to journal about it, or just close your eyes and breathe deeply for a moment. Then listen and notice. You don’t have to wait for an answer, but you may find that you are feeling like you need some extra rest, you may feel like going for a walk outside or just sitting in your backyard and taking in the fresh air, the birds singing, or the breeze gently swaying. Or you may hear of a new eating plan that sounds really appealing to you. Whatever it is, pay attention to what you are drawn to over the next few days. And take some time, even if just 5 minutes each day, to go with what your body is telling you.
Too busy? Do you find yourself saying “Hah, sounds great but who has time for that?”
I will say the the #1 item most women really need to add to the mix to best support their health is Self-Care (more on this next time). As women, we are natural nurturers, and the thought of taking some time for ourselves seems selfish, indulgent, or even downright lazy. But if we don’t take care of ourselves and then burn out, how can we take care of anyone else?
Okay, so let’s begin at the beginning. All of this starts with a perspective shift. Let’s get out of battle with our bodies, let’s begin to honor the female parts of us that are at the source of all creation instead of viewing our body and its processes as some sort of nuisance or out-of-control disease, and let’s start to listen to the information our amazing bodies are attempting to communicate.
So in the spirit of true prevention and even to help turn around an established problem, I invite you to lay down your arms, get off the battlefield, and get really quiet and really curious about what’ s REALLY going on in your own body. It’s a simple yet powerful place to start. And it has the potential to make all the difference.
To your Best Health,