I recently interviewed Staness Jonekos, author of The Menopause Makeover: The Ultimate Guide to Taking Control of Your Health and Beauty During Menopause.
It’s a terrific book and Staness has a lot to say about her journey and how it can help you in yours.
Dr. Mache Seibel: I know that your personal menopause experience had a lot to do with why you wrote your book. What was going on in your life and what was your motivation?
Staness Jonekos: I had spent over 20 years as an executive producer, writer, and director in the television world, which was really fun and a great career and I loved it. I was single all of those years. And when I was 46, I finally met the man
of my dreams. Thirty five years ago I had ovarian cysts and endometriosis and my doctor put me on birth control pills that regulated my endometriosis and my ovarian cysts. So during my reproductive years, it was like I was normal, I didn’t have terrible periods and all that goes with that. When I met my soon-to-be
husband, we both agreed we didn’t want to have kids. But because he was younger, I said, “You know, I’m going to get an FSH test and find out if I can still have kids because you’re younger than me by 4 or 5 years, and I don’t want you to come back and say, ‘Let’s have a kid.’ I just want you to have the facts.”
Dr. Seibel: You wanted everything on the table before you got married.
Staness: Absolutely. And as we know the FSH test (Follicle-stimulating Hormone) kind of indicates where you are in your reproductive cycle. The nurse explained I had to get off birth control pills to get an accurate FSH test. As soon as I got off the pill, I slammed into menopause. So, I was 46 years old and even though I was on birth control pills all that time, and I had a regulated period because of it, I had gone into menopause. And I have to tell you my life was in chaos – hot flashes, weight gain, moody. It was awful; I had to take a leave of absence from work. I finally got the dream job; l launched a network with some other amazing people with Oprah Winfrey and the woman that launched Nickelodeon, Gerry Laybourne, some amazing people. And I couldn’t function. I was miserable.
Dr. Seibel: It sounds terrible.
Staness: Awful! You know, every girl waits for a wedding day and I waited 46 years! I’m like, wait a minute! And before all this had happened I purchased my size 6 wedding dress and before I knew it, I couldn’t put it on. I couldn’t zip up the back of the dress. I’m like, “Oh, my gosh! I’m about to get married!” And “Oh, this is awful.” I went from one doctor to another trying to get help. They tried different drugs and some were regulated and some weren’t, and some said do this, or go take a vacation or start meditating.
Dr. Seibel: You got a lot of advice, but nothing was helping.
Staness: Yeah, nothing was helping. I was actually desperate. I left my job because I couldn’t function with the stress of running a network and going through menopause. So, I said, “I need to put some focus on my health.” I surrounded myself with experts and I created this program, it was actually 8 steps, inspired by my wedding planner. I was planning my wedding and the wedding planner was like, on week 1 do this, on month 1 do this, on month 2 do that.
I’m like, why don’t they have something like this for menopause? I was gaining weight, my skin was changing, my hair was changing, I had zero libido, which was not a good thing before your honeymoon. I was Bridezilla. I worried my husband will come home and I will start screaming at him like a monster woman. I’m like, the poor guy. I got to give him credit; he hung in there until I got it figured out.
Dr. Seibel: So, you were in a good place until they took away your birthcontrol hormones, and you realized that hidden underneath the hormone treatment were the symptoms of menopause that were just like Pandora’s box – it opened up and swamped your life.
Staness: It was crazy! But I thought, Okay I’m going to be inspired by my wedding planner. I had no intention of writing a book; I was on survival mode. I was just trying to navigate this transition so that I could start feeling better, lose weight and get some control over my life, feel good again and feel normal again all before my wedding.
The months were ticking by, and I had to figure out how to manage my symptoms, change my nutrition, control aging stuff like slower metabolism and a loss of muscle mass; control fluctuating hormones.
I started exercising every day. I used to be able to exercise 2 to 3 times a week and lose five pounds. Well that all changed. So, fitness had to be changed and then my whole beauty regime had to be changed. My skin, I needed to exfoliate because as you know that changes and my moisturizing routine. I even had to get a new bra because my boobs changed.
I left my job because I couldn’t function running a network and going through menopause
Dr. Seibel: So, every dimension in your being was now different than it was just six months or a year earlier.
Staness: Yeah. It was traumatic.
Dr. Seibel: And there was no transition really, because your body transitioned into menopause under the veil of being on the estrogen, on the pills, and so you didn’t realize it. So, when you removed the pills, you suddenly felt everything all at once. You didn’t just go back on the birth control pills?
Staness: Not at first. I said, “Put me back on what I was on. Just let’s go back.” She said, “Well, we really can’t go back now because we know that you’re menopausal. Let’s just start treating you like you’re menopausal. Let’s put you on a drug that’s similar to the birth control pill made by the same manufacturer, but in a different dose. Let’s just try it.
Dr. Seibel: So, birth control pill light.
Staness: Yes, exactly. So I figured out this 8-step plan and I got married. I fit into my wedding dress, had a great wedding in the Caribbean. It was all that a girl dreams of. So, it was like, in the nick of time, it all came together. When I came home, everybody was like, “What did you do?” I lost 25 pounds in 12 weeks, so there is the punch line. I managed my symptoms and I lost 25 pounds.
Dr. Seibel: You had a forced march towards your bridal dress.
Staness: Exactly right. Even my fiancée was like, “Wow! You transformed!”
And I said, “Gosh!” I went through these steps just like my wedding planner, different steps. I created this plan, like a pilot when he does a checklist before he takes off in his plane.
Dr. Seibel: You made a framework for experiencing menopause that women could use like a planner so that they could benefit from what you researched, learned and experienced, and apply it for themselves.
Staness: Absolutely! So I hooked up with Dr. Wendy Klein who’s a leader in women’s health and she goes, “Yes. I want to coauthor with Staness.” Because there was no way I was going to put out my plan without being responsible, with the content inside supported by science.
Dr. Seibel: Please tell us about your 8 steps to a menopause makeover.
Staness: Step #1 was managing your treatment options because I had more than just fluctuating hormones. I had the whole aging thing with muscle loss and slowing metabolism. There are four variables in managing menopause. There’re lifestyle changes, there’s complementary and alternative remedies, like I tried acupuncture for hot flashes and that actually was very beneficial and I actually had success with it although it was time consuming, so not a practical long term solution for me. Then for me, I needed to look at medical options, and as we know there are hormonal and non-hormonal options to manage symptoms. Hormones have worked for me in the past, so for me hormonal options was the way I wanted to go, it was the way that I knew that I would feel better. That said, I went to a number of doctors who had all sorts of potions they threw at me that were unregulated.
I had to decide between bioidentical versus non-bioidentical. I had to figure out compounded versus FDA approved. Then I had to figure out what route of administration did I want? Did I want oral or transdermal, did I want a spray, what type of routes of administration? So, there are a lot of decisions that have to be made. I was healthy and didn’t have risk factors – and that’s an important conversation for women to have with their doctors, “Don’t take hormone therapy, if you haven’t had that conversation.”
Dr. Seibel: You have to have a conversation first to see if you’re a candidate, then you have to figure out which one works, which shoe fits.
Staness: Yes. Sometimes, it takes a number of products. It did for me. I really loved the spray option. I thought that was fantastic, but it wasn’t a good fit for me, the dosing wasn’t strong enough. I did patches and I did oral again, which is what I did for 30 years. So, I found my way and the symptoms subsided in 2 or 3 weeks. I have to tell you, I felt like a normal person again. I can’t tell you how dramatic the effect was.
Dr. Seibel: So, your first step was to manage your treatment options. What was step 2?
Staness: I now had to handle my body. I’d gain 25, 30 pounds. I had the belly fat and jiggles everywhere.
Dr. Seibel: Were you eating a poor diet or too much?
I created this plan, like a pilot when he does a checklist before he takes off in his plane
Staness: Oh, my goodness, I was miserable. I remember I sat there watching Oprah Winfrey. I drank a whole bottle of red wine and a whole slab of Greek cheese and crackers. For me, I think eating was my way of trying to manage my symptoms.
Dr. Seibel: So, you were trying to soothe the pain because really here you are, you’re a new bride-to-be, you found that, a) you have lost the potential for child bearing – you didn’t want children but still it was a loss that you may not have grieved in the past – and many women equate menopause with a loss of youthfulness. You found yourself thrust into menopause completely blind-sided. You start to not feel good, you get a little depressed, you start to eat and gaining weight makes you feel worse, your diet is not good and so you’ve really got to move into step #2, which is Feeding the New You. You found your treatment options and now you had to discover your “eatment” options, right?
Staness: That’s right. I had to make a lot of adjustments in how I was eating, one to lose the weight, but also to adjust food intake with my age – you know, I was 46, 47. My metabolism was slower, I just didn’t have the same muscle mass, my hormones were different. I now had to make lifelong decisions about how I was going to eat and I actually liked eating… and being with people and having fun!
So I had to find a way to eat where I could enjoy food, but make food choices that would fuel my body in a healthy way and not pack on the pounds. I had to slightly massage the food pyramid. Then all of a sudden, I made some small changes and boom! The weight started coming off.
Dr. Seibel: What’s the main one change you made?
Staness: Low to medium glycemic carbs.
Dr. Seibel: So you ate foods that didn’t dissolve into your bloodstream and turned quickly into sugar.
Staness: That’s right. That’s the thing that makes you feel good, like “Ahhh…some crackers and white bread or Twinkie or a piece of cake.” Because it’s like ahhh! There’s this moment of feeling great but then your blood sugar is up and down all day and that contributes to the Bridezilla syndrome. Actually, the biggest change for me was going from high glycemic carbs and then educating myself with what’s healthy carbs, low to medium glycemic carbs; and once I figured it out, it was very simple. I went from white bread to whole wheat bread. Same with pasta, I cut out baked potatoes although potatoes are good for you, but for me I just switched to yams and lots of veggies.
And I had to change my portion size. And when you’re losing weight, I know hunger is a problem for a lot of women. I decided to start eating lean proteins with low saturated fats like chicken and turkey and fish and soy (a great complete protein in a plant form). I would grab the protein instead of the carbs. I’d get a little piece of leftover chicken from the night before, wrap a piece of lettuce around it, and that protein really helped manage my cravings. Those low to medium glycemic carbs really helped stabilize my blood sugar and it controlled my hunger urges.
Dr. Seibel: So, you ate different sugars. The sugars you ate were things that were slower to release in your body, like you wouldn’t be drinking sodas, eating a lot of potatoes or white bread. You would swap out those things for the whole wheat and sweet potatoes and things that break down slower, but also you were using portion control and you were eating relatively more low fat protein and relatively less sugar.
Staness: That’s right. Exactly. But I was still eating; I was eating every four hours. I was having breakfast, lunch, and a snack, dinner and another snack.
Dr. Seibel: So, smaller amounts over a wider period of time, which is more grazing than gorging.
Staness: Yes. And exercise is step #3, which I started doing 60 minutes 5 or 6 days a week for those 12 weeks. That was a lot of hard work, and it’s all the basics that we know – a couple of days of strength training and cardio workouts. But I have to say the biggest thing with exercise for women is we’re all busy and you’ve really got to pick an activity that’s going to fit your lifestyle so you do it.
And on top of it, as you were saying earlier, there is the issue of self-esteem. You’re getting older, there’s the association that menopause means you’re now an old lady and we’re in a society that celebrates youth. So, I had to rethink beauty. And I live in Los Angeles, which as we know, is Tinsel-town. I had to make a conscious decision to embrace aging and be proud that this is where I am at, and I don’t want to chase youth.
Dr. Seibel: Looking beautiful isn’t trying to alter yourself to look like what you aren’t; it’s really taking care of yourself and beautifying what and who you are. Trying to inject or cut or cover things that make you look like who you’re not is a deception that fools no one.
Staness: People all have to do what they need to do to feel beautiful. But for me, I decided to embrace that this is where I am in life and Botox wasn’t an option for me. Anyway, that’s where I am at this point, but I know women all have different opinions about that.
Dr. Seibel: So, the things that you were doing were helping you to feel good about yourself. You learned about what your treatments were, you learned how and what to eat, and you learned how to exercise. You got control of the things that were running away from you; then, you were able to see yourself in a positive way and optimize who you were.
Staness: You bring up a good point, that all equals to a really powerful result and that’s called self-confidence. I found that when I started feeling I had self-esteem and confidence, and I felt better and was at a healthy weight, it fueled a good self-image; and I can’t stress enough how important it is to love yourself. I like to tell people it’s not menopause, it’s “me no pause.” It’s a time in your life you have to focus on you, and beauty is definitely part of it.
For me, I think eating was my way of trying to manage my symptoms
I had to start step #4 and customize my beauty routine – weekly exfoliation, be-cause we know as we get older our skin isn’t sloughing off like it used to; I had to update my moisturizer routine. And I was bad about wearing sunscreen, I just started wearing that every day, and went and got my hair color updated, I went and bought a new bra – so, all those things. And I threw out some clothes that I thought were kind of out of style and got some fun clothes. I felt pretty again.
Dr. Seibel: In order to love yourself, you’ve got to first start liking yourself. And what you were doing is re-acquainting yourself with you and getting to know you in this new place, in this new point in your life, and doing that allowed you to like yourself and ultimately to love yourself.
Staness: The process is like puberty. Except that you don’t have the same stressors during puberty that you have when you’re in your 40’s; you’re taking care of a family, you’re working, and all of that good stuff. But once I started feeling better, the next thing I had to do was step #5: look out for my emotional health.
I think a lot of people forget that your emotional health is part of the formula of happiness. And things change in midlife, like I had gotten married and I left my job, and now I was about to write a book. I had to look at the people in my life, who were the people that were perhaps maybe not the healthiest people in my life and then who were my healthy relationships, and I decided to really embrace my healthy relationships.
And I have to say having all that positive around you, looking at all of those parts of your emotional health, are really important; and also asking for support, telling your friends, “I’m going through something and I need your help. I need your support, please understand I’m going through a tough transition and I just want to get through it.”
Dr. Seibel: So, you got rid of the clothes that didn’t make you feel good and you got rid of the relationships that didn’t make you feel good; and basically, you redid your friend wardrobe.
Dr. Seibel: And by doing that you became who you are. People surrounded by people who are heavy end up being heavier. People who are around people who are upset or cranky, irritable or negative end up being like that, because that’s all they hear. What you are saying is that you took control of your surroundings and you asked for support from the people that you knew were willing to give you positive support.
Staness: Yes, yes. And the ones that weren’t there for me were clearly not real friends.
Dr. Seibel: And also, menopause causes such a big change in people’s anxiety and if a person is susceptible to depression, hormonal fluxes can lead a person towards depression so they have to be mindful of that, and you don’t want to be around a bunch of negative people.
Staness : Yeah. And the next thing is step #6 – strengthening your relationship and getting the sizzle back into your sex life. I’d married a younger man and I slammed into menopause just like wow! So, I had a very real and honest conversation with him. My vaginal health had changed and vaginal dryness was now part of our life and fortunately my libido came back once I managed my symptoms; but I had to have a very real conversation with him. I said, “I am feeling great about myself now and I’ve completely reinvented myself, so I’m not really the person you met a year ago.” I just want to make sure, you’re not going to stray and look at younger women,” and he’s like, “No!” So I got that out of the way and handled. But that said, there are women that go through menopause and find their relationships are a problem; so it needs to be addressed whether professionally or privately.
Dr. Seibel: It is a couple’s experience but some women are afraid and do not want to talk about it because they’re afraid they’ll be seen as weak or maybe they don’t feel so good about themselves, maybe they feel that they’re getting older; but the fact of the matter is that talking about it and letting your partner in on the secrets of what you’re working on, is an opportunity to enrich your relationship.
Staness: That’s right. And it did for us. Honestly, it took us to a whole new level of intimacy that was amazing, because when you get real and you’re with a good person, you definitely have a deeper experience for sure. And we have to talk about things I didn’t know like vaginal atrophy. I did not know it was chronic. I kept thinking it would get better, and didn’t know how to address it.
Dr. Seibel: With vaginal atrophy, the vagina becomes shorter and narrower and drier and the tissue becomes thinner which can make it very painful. Even if you take hormones by mouth or by skin patch it may or may not get enough to the vaginal tissues to make sex comfortable. If that’s the case, it’s just a discussion with your doctor. Even if you don’t take estrogen and you have that problem, talk about that with your doctor. You can fix that with local estrogen.
Staness: Yeah. And there are a lot of options from over-the-counter to medical, hormonal or non hormonal. It can be an uncomfortable conversation to have with one’s doctor.
I can’t stress how important it is to love yourself. I tell people, “It’s not menopause, it’s ‘me no pause.’”
Dr. Seibel: It shouldn’t be. If it’s a problem with your doctor, you need to get another doctor or a referral. Because you can just say, “Listen, I’ve got this problem…” and don’t wait until the doctor has his/her hand on the door walking out. At the beginning of the visit, say, “Listen, I’ve got a problem with painful sex. Is this something I can talk to you about?” Hopefully he/she is going to say yes, but if not, then the second question is, “Can you give me the name of someone else whom I can talk with about it?” It’s so treatable and all you have to do is talk about it; but if you don’t talk about it, the doctor can’t read your mind.
Staness: It is true and that’s such good advice. When I found out 75% of postmenopausal women do experience vaginal dryness, I was like, “Wow! I’m not alone.” I even joined a group of women called GLAM (Great Life after Menopause) sponsored by Novo Nordisk and we’re going around the country talking about it so other women can talk about it as well. So, vaginal health is definitely part of The Menopause Makeover. I’ve had women who don’t have partners saying “why should I have to worry about it” and vaginal health is important whether you have a partner or not.
Staness: Step #7 is Spirituality and step #8 is Happiness. The reason I saved the best for last is you really have to go through the other steps to get the main result, and the main result of The Menopause Makeover is to be happy and healthy. I found that in order to do that, I had to physically get a handle on my life emotionally and with the relationships in my life. I had to go through all those steps. And then the big changes I made in my life allowed me time for myself; time for spirituality and happiness. I started traveling. I decided to hang out with other women going through the same things so we could support each other.
Dr. Seibel: Girlfriend time is very important.
Staness: Yeah, it is! And it’s a gift that I so appreciate now. It’s valuable to have great girlfriends to support each other. I started keeping a diary and talking about how I felt, not the things I did but how I was feeling, and all of a sudden I reconnected with who I am, my spirit; and I had to say I think once I accepted myself, this is where I am in life, I’m healthy, I’m now doing all the things I need to do that take me to a second active life and be healthy because at menopause you really are at a fork.
You can choose to take control and get healthy and get on top of your game, or you can be depressed about it and drink a bottle of wine and have a slab of Greek cheese like I did and go down the line of chronic illness for the second half of your life. I chose to get on top of my game, and I’m actually healthier now than I was in my 20s or 30s. I eat better, I exercise, I’m emotionally better; and having all of that gets you to happy, and positive. It changed my life and I’m having a blast!