Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz, MENOPAUSE BOOTCAMP: Optimize Your Health, Empower Your Self, and Flourish as You Age

Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz, MENOPAUSE BOOTCAMP: Optimize Your Health, Empower Your Self, and Flourish as You Age

Zibby is joined by OB/GYN, breast cancer survivor, and author Dr. Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz to discuss her honest, empowering, and joyful new guide Menopause Bootcamp: Optimize Your Health, Empower Your Self, and Flourish as You Age. Suzanne talks about going gray (and receiving backlash for it), her popular Menopause Bootcamp retreats, the most common menopause misconceptions (it’s not all bad!!), and what women should really be doing when they reach it – throwing a party.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Dr. Suzanne. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Menopause Bootcamp: Optimize Your Health, Empower Your Self, and Flourish as You Age.

Dr. Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz: Hello.

Zibby: I love the introduction to this book, how you decided to let your hair go gray. People were freaking out at you, as they do. Tell me about that and then how it turned into this whole book and how menopause itself is discussing something that you wouldn’t have necessarily discussed before, just like you wouldn’t have let your hair go gray.

Dr. Suzanne: First of all, let me just say that the deal with growing my hair out was really not a political statement. It turned into one. It’s very on brand for me as a human, before people branded themselves. I’m just going to do this thing. Oh, it turns out it’s a thing. I had thought about growing my hair out for a long time. I went gray. I have very, very dark brown hair. I started going gray very young. That’s what we do in our family. Do any of the men in my family color their hair? Of course not. They all look very handsome and distinguished with their gray hair. All the women did. I had young kids and blah, blah, whatever, as a person does. I started thinking about how it didn’t really fit my lifestyle. I didn’t want to do it. I was going to go blond and grow it out. I had a whole plan. I went in one day to my longtime hairdresser, who is dear friend. My hair was finished, and it was not blonder. It was darker. I was like, “What are you doing?” He said to me, “You’re not ready.” I was like, “Wow, that is not what I said. That’s how you feel.” I just said, “That’s it. I’m breaking up. I love you, but I’m breaking up. We’re not doing this anymore. I’m just done. I’m very done. I’m not going to do any schemes. I’m just going to grow it the hell out. It’ll look crazy. I don’t care.” Basically, Zibby, I didn’t have time or money to be sitting for three hours in the chair every three weeks. The roots, I was playing around with it, and it looked weird. I also felt like, frankly, it was going to age me more. I was like, whatever. I’m in my fifties now. Who freaking cares? It turned out a lot of people cared. My patients were very concerned about my mental health or something because so many people brought it up. I do feel like my patients who are older than me and had blond hair or whatever were the ones that brought it up the most.

Zibby: People who are older than you, but dyed? Is that what you’re saying?

Dr. Suzanne: Yeah. I understood. Here’s the thing I know as a person and I think we probably all know or we come to at a certain point, which is that people’s comments about us are really about them. They’re really not about us, and so I didn’t take it personally. As the doctor, it’s easier in some ways. I was like, hmm, interesting. I was laughing. I’m like, I’m fifty-three. Do you think I don’t know how? I know what I could do. Thank you for sharing. It started becoming apparent to me that this was really triggering people, which wasn’t going to make me stop growing my hair my out. I thought, oh, I’m touching on something much bigger, a much bigger cultural point about women, aging, how we look, how we think we’re supposed to look, how we think other people think we look. I already was doing a lot of work in the menopause space. I’m a gynecologist. As you get older, you’re aging with your patients. My patients are aging with me.

I’m very, very fortunate to have a practice where I do have these long-term relationships. Babies I delivered are young women who I’m seeing as patients. It makes me feel very old. I’m very blessed in that way. I have these long-term relationships. As we were aging together, I was realizing people are having these needs. I didn’t learn enough in my training. There’s all sorts of data on this as well. People come out of OBGYN residency not prepared for menopause care, even though we’re going to spend a third to a half of our lives postmenopausal. I just was devoting more and more of my own time and attention to that and didn’t have in the office to address it. Started actually doing a Menopause Bootcamp with my life partner, who’s a fitness pro, because we needed more time to address — then the pandemic hit. I actually was already working on the book when the pandemic hit. Wrote the book. Then it turned out everybody wanted to talk about menopause, so here we are talking about it.

Zibby: Here we are. Tell us more about the actual Menopause Bootcamp with your partner. Describe what type of fitness professional. Go into that whole thing.

Dr. Suzanne: First of all, we haven’t done one — well, we did one live. Oh, gosh, it’s been six months. We’re starting to do them a little bit more again live. They do still exist. Honestly, I made it up as I went along. I knew the information, but I was like, how am I going to do this? Everything with me is a story, by the way.

Zibby: Great. Love it.

Dr. Suzanne: If you want to know how I wrote a book, it’s because everything is a story with me. It was a natural progression. A very dear friend of mine who’s twenty years my junior brought me to The Wing. Do you remember The Wing?

Zibby: Yep.

Dr. Suzanne: In 2017 or 2018. She said to me, “I’m doing programming there. I want to interview you about menopause.” She knew I was doing that kind of work a lot. I said, “Interesting. Okay, let’s do that.” We had this public conversation. I realized during the conversation, yet again, there wasn’t enough time, enough space, enough normalization of it, but also that we had lost an intergenerational conversation. Here I was talking to a woman in her thirties. She and I are very dear friends. We talk about everything, but we were doing it publicly. It was very interesting who had attended, a wide variety of ages, backgrounds. There was one particular couple that really stuck in my mind. It was a mom and daughter. The daughter was pregnant. She brought her mom. I was like, wow. I couldn’t let go of that. I kept rolling this over, an intergenerational conversation. Communities breaking apart or being different than they used to be, this is sort of a missing piece in the conversation about the normal physiologic transitions and developments of our lives. I think we’ve gotten better about reclaiming talking about puberty with our kids, making sure they’re prepared and they feel safe, talking about period health, talking about fertility, talking about breastfeeding, talking about childbirth, talking about the fourth trimester. We’re edging our way toward, really, the convergence of what I call misogyny and agism where there’s a lot of fear around both of those topics. I was driving down the street. A thought bubble came into my brain. Menopause Bootcamp. That’s literally what happened. I can tell you exactly where I was too.

Zibby: Tell me.

Dr. Suzanne: I was at the corner of Fairfax and Santa Monica by the Whole Foods and where my yoga studio used to be. It popped into my brain. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I came home. My boyfriend is forty years fitness pro. He was a professional bodybuilder. He’s a trainer. He’s really an interesting person, mind, body, spirit, the basics. He has a thing he calls poise-ature. He’s a very precision-oriented person. He really works from a place of how important — your mind, heart, and body need to connect in order to move yourself in a way that promotes health. If you think you’re going to lift the heavy weights and push through and white-knuckle it but you’re not connecting to yourself, it’s not going to give you what you want. I’m encapsulating forty years of his work. He is not my trainer, by the way.

Zibby: Was he ever?

Dr. Suzanne: Never. That was a setup. We were set up because we’re both mind/body/spirit weirdo people. It worked. We do a weekly workout, for those who are interested, on Fridays. It’s canceled today because I’m getting over a cold. I came home. I said, “Honey, I have this idea. What should we do?” He was like, “I’m there. I support you.” I created a curriculum. What are the people coming to me that they need time and attention for that I can’t do in a five-minute or fifteen-minute encounter in the office? I just went through. Okay, people don’t know the definitions. Let’s go through, what are these terms? What are the terms you hear? What do I hear? What do I know? How can I help you understand so we have a common language? Then basically, problems and solutions. What do I hear coming in? What are the problems that I’ve had? What are the solutions from a deeper tool kit? I am board certified in OBGYN, but I’m also trained in Ayurveda. I’m an herbalist. I’m board certified in integrative and holistic medicine. I have a deeper set of tools.

I’m a breast cancer survivor, so I myself have had to look at different ways to handle symptoms because I’m limited in some of the things I can use. That led me more into botanicals and stuff like that. Then I felt like, I know for me, fitness and movement has been a very important part of my life since my twenties. Greg has worked a lot, a lot, a lot with midlife women in transition. We do a session with him, which is not what you think. When I first started talking about it, I was like, it’s not high interval. It’s not a bootcamp. He does these movements that you’re thinking — if you saw us doing it, it looks easy. Oh, my god, it’s not. It’s core support. It’s helping you increase your weight bearing, your flexibility so that you can decrease some of the risks of what’s going to happen as a consequence of aging. You need to build your lean body mass. You need to build those big muscle groups. You need to build bone or stabilize bone. You need to be flexible. You need to prevent a fall.

Zibby: Okay, okay. I feel like you’re talking to me. I need to do all these things.

Dr. Suzanne: It’s okay. You’ll come to a thing. It’s not that hard. Then a come-together talk about, what did you think? What do you want? What are the questions that you have? Really talk about the mental and spiritual aspects of this transition. Here’s what was so amazing to me. I thought people were coming for the information. They thought they were too. They were. They did. They got it, but they left with community. They left being able to say the word out loud. They left not feeling alone, not feeling ashamed, not feeling sidelined, invalidated, invisible. This narrative about us becoming invisible is not — let me put it this way. It’s not my narrative. I don’t know where that came — I have ideas of where it came from, but it’s not mine. I don’t adopt it. I invite you to do the same. That was so amazing for me personally, and so gratifying. It built from there. The book is based on that structure. The book wrote itself in many ways because I talked it to my coauthor. I did a lot of writing, a lot of writing. I basically told the stories. I took that framework, and we just made it into a book. People are resonating with it.

Zibby: Wow, amazing. Common misconceptions, what’s the most common misconception about menopause?

Dr. Suzanne: I think the most common misconception I touched on is that it’s over. You’re done. That’s it. You’re not around anymore. It sucks completely. It’s really awful. There’s not very much to do about the things that bother you. We could go through all the things. We don’t need to, but the hot flashes, the vaginal dryness, the sleep issues, the weight gain. Honestly, the grief around the change is the biggest topic that I feel is important to address. Again, as I mentioned, I think when we say the word out loud in community and we support each other and we realize, “Wait, I’m not the only person who felt like this. Here are some solutions. More importantly, here’s the support and the accountability that I need,” that really makes all the difference. I had people coming in to the first bootcamps — I’m always asking for feedback. What worked for you? What would you like to see more of? All the things you do when you’re trying to build something. I’ll never forget — I think the first one, somebody came up to me and said, “Look, loved it. It was great. Could you please not call it Menopause Bootcamp?” I was like, I love you now. We’re going to call it that. I had a lot of people come up to me, also, and say, “Hey, I told my husband, my son, my coworker, my neighbor, ‘I’m going to the yoga studio.'” I was holding these in my friend’s yoga studio. “‘I’m going to the yoga studio for a workshop,’ but I left saying, ‘I went to Menopause Bootcamp.'” That word is really hard for people to say because it’s an admission of something. Why are we ashamed that we are still here? What? Could we just say that out loud? It’s awesome that we’re still here.

Is some of menopause crappy? Yeah. Me waking up and having to throw the sheets off fourteen times or having all these UTIs or whatever it is or my skin changing in a way that I’m not super thrilled about, I’m not asking people to love all of it. If you are alone and don’t think there’s anything you can do, yeah, it’s really bad. It’s also bad for your health if you aren’t understanding, what are the things you can do to, like I said, optimize your health and flourish as you age? Probably, the hardest part is the loneliness and the isolation that people feel, and then compounded by not really being able to find professionals who can support them who really are knowledgeable and well-educated. People have a very hard time finding doctors who do this work and who really know what they’re doing. I hear that all the time on social media. Sometimes I’m in the menopause echo chamber, and I forget I’m in menopause world. I’m like, there’s so much going on, but not everybody is in that world and has access to it. That’s another reason why I wrote the book, because the book is something you can take home, look at. There’s a lot about advocacy for yourself, how to set your priority list, how to bring this to your doctor, not in a wagging the finger, “You suck” way. That’s not helpful. Also, your doctors are literally doing the best they can. Coming to them and saying, “Hey, these are the things that are bothering me. What can we work on? How can we work on it?” I’ve had a number of readers contact me and say, “I did it, and it worked great. My doctor was grateful that I had a priority list.” I was like, oh, my god, that’s amazing. I was so excited. I really wanted people to have usable tools to take to their lives.

Zibby: There’s been so much in the news and articles about hormone therapy and hormones. What do you do? What should you not do? This will help with this, but this will cause cancer. It’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t. What is your advice on this?

Dr. Suzanne: First of all, one size does not fit all. I want to remind people that this is not a disease that we’re treating. This is a condition of development and aging. There isn’t one way to do it. That’s really, really important. I think people get very stuck on, we have to do something a certain way. I understand that because it’s easier and also because they want answers. This is why you really do need to work with a professional who knows what they’re talking about. A lot of the answers are going to be individualized based on your own personal history, your own family history, whatever medical issues you have, are facing, your concerns. There isn’t one way to do it. I really need to blanket with that. I will say the hormone cancer fear is so overblown. I don’t even know what to say about that. I do know what to say about that, actually. I talk about it in the book. A very, very large study was published, a billion dollars, NIH, hundreds of thousands of women, in the early 2000s. They halted the study because partway through they saw that there were some deleterious effects, negative effective of hormone therapy in certain groups of women. Here’s the problem with that study. The average age of the women in that study was sixty-two years old. Something like two thirds of them had heart disease risk factors or heart disease. That’s not looking at women in the menopausal transition. That is not looking at women forty-five to fifty-five years old.

Now we know initiating hormone therapy before the age of sixty and within ten years of menopause is very beneficial for many, many things. Most importantly, it’s the best way to handle hot flashes. For sure, it is going to decrease your risk of osteoporosis. The jury is still out on decreasing your risk of heart disease and dementia, both of which are the top problems that women really face as we get older. I’m not here to say cancer isn’t a thing or you should ignore cancer. I’m a cancer survivor. I just told you that. I had cancer early in my forties. It’s not like there’s a straight line between menopausal hormone therapy and cancer. It is so much more nuanced than that. I think throwing the baby out with the bathwater is a really big mistake. I think the best thing to do is to go into your doctor if you have a personal fear of cancer, if you have a family history of cancer, and have a conversation because it’s not necessarily true that you can’t use hormones. Also, I’m saying hormones as this blanket statement. What hormones are we talking about? Vaginal hormone therapy for vaginal dryness and urinary symptoms, for sexual health and comfort are safe for everybody. They’re not systemically absorbed most of the time. I really want to say that again. I am a breast cancer survivor. I use vaginal hormone therapy. There’s no reason that I can’t do it. The data is very clear. People are getting scared of things that they don’t need to be scared of. They’re losing out on opportunities.

Zibby: Talk to me about the menopause middle.

Dr. Suzanne: Everybody’s favorite. It’s a thing. Here’s the problem. What happens as your hormones shift and change, whether or not, frankly, you use hormone therapy — if you use hormone therapy, it may help a little bit. Your weight shifts. The thing is that estrogen — we’ll just talk about estrogen because that’s sort of the queen hormone that everybody talks about. Estrogen receptors are all over your body. As estrogen declines as we get older, we see a shift in our weight distribution. It does look more like male-pattern weight, so we get it more in the middle. That’s where you start losing your waistline, getting the pudge, that kind of thing. Some of it is natural aging. Men have this problem too if they don’t stay on top of things. Some of it is really because of our hormones changing. That doesn’t mean you have to give up and that it’s the end. Again, there are a lot of things you can do in terms of changing lifestyle, changing the way you eat, changing the way you exercise, changing your mindset about your body and what you think is important.

I want people to feel good in their bodies. I really do, but I want them to focus on their health and not necessarily on the number on the scale. Your cholesterol, your lipid particles, that’s a lot more important, inflammation, stuff like that. There are things you can do. There’s a lot of really interesting data now emerging in nutritional sciences world, a lot of stuff about gut health, stress. I think those of us who are big exercisers, we have to really tone it down as we get older because your recovery is more important. I see people overdoing it and not only injuring themselves, but putting themselves into higher cortisol states, more stress, and they’re actually going to hang onto weight. The other thing is that cardio is awesome for your heart, but cardio is not weight loss. You need to build the lean body mass. You need to build those big muscle groups not only for your bones and just overall health, but that’s a really important metabolic key. Resistance training is really important. For the people who are only spinning, you’re going to have to change it up and get some weights in there. This is where Greg is helpful.

Zibby: We should’ve gotten Greg on here. Is he home? Get him on here.

Dr. Suzanne: I know. Next time. Somebody just came home. I don’t know if it was him or my daughter.

Zibby: Are there any benefits? Yay, I’m in menopause, and therefore…?

Dr. Suzanne: Oh, gosh, yes.

Zibby: Give me a benefit.

Dr. Suzanne: One of them is — am I allowed to throw swear words around on your podcast?

Zibby: You are.

Dr. Suzanne: Okay, good. Have you heard of the no-fucks-to-give fifties? It’s real. So awesome. I don’t know if it’s just, you’ve been on the planet long enough that you’re like, whatever. It’s a big eyeroll. Mm-hmm. Also, developmental and evolutionary biology is very interesting to me. It’s not bench research, science-y, academic medicine stuff, but I’m not an academic medicine person either. There’s some interesting theories and data to suggest that as we stop cycling and we stop being actually enslaved to those menstrual cycles, even though it’s so hard to let go of those because it feels like that’s who you are — oh, my god, who am I going to be? Let me just backtrack and say you spend decades of your life, if you are a menstruator, menstruating or stopping menstruation, trying to not get pregnant, trying to get pregnant, whatever it is. Who you are is that. Now you get into the transition or what people call perimenopause leading up to the cessation, which could be ten years of your life or more. It’s all over the place. Of course, you feel crazy and awful. You think it’s going to be like that forever. Then it stops, and you’re in a steady state again. It’s awesome. You’re not subjected to those highs and lows in the same way. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have joy and excitement and highs and lows, but it’s not hormonally driven. There is some question as to whether or not there’s a benefit. Have you heard of the grandmother effect?

Zibby: No.

Dr. Suzanne: It’s very interesting. I believe whales — I don’t know if all whales, but some species of whales and humans have menopause. There is a positive impact on survival on these species that have grandmothers, women who are older, who are available, who have wisdom and experience but are not menstruating, can’t get pregnant. They help their tribe. They help their tribe survive. That’s awesome. We’re the repository of wisdom.

Zibby: Love it.

Dr. Suzanne: Not only is that a beautiful thing to feel as a person in my situation — sometimes it’s a little jarring because I’m like, oh, my god, now I’m the grandmother. It’s also really important for us as a culture and a society to remember that this is a time of sharing, of creating that generational wealth of whatever it is, not necessarily just money, but wisdom, stories, experience, support. That’s a beautiful thing. That should be honored and celebrated. If we don’t honor it and celebrate it in ourselves, I really don’t know why we’d expect anybody else to do that. We have to do it ourselves.

Zibby: Menopause parties.

Dr. Suzanne: Yes.

Zibby: Let’s do it. Congratulatory cards.

Dr. Suzanne: I’m telling you, when my patients come in and they’re like, “I made it,” I’m like, “Yes! Let’s have a party.”

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, too funny. I had so many more questions, but we’re out of time here for the day. Thank you, Dr. Suzanne.

Dr. Suzanne: I’ll come back.

Zibby: I feel like I want to come and be your patient now. You’re in LA?

Dr. Suzanne: You can. I’m going to come be your patron at your new store. I’m so excited for you. Congratulations.

Zibby: Yay, good. Excellent. I’m so excited. Awesome. It was great to chat with you.

Dr. Suzanne: You too.

Zibby: I’ll come sponsor your first menopause party. How about that? Zibby Books will be a sponsor.

Dr. Suzanne: Amazing. I love it. We should do it. Now I’m having all sorts of ideas. We should have a menopause party at your bookstore.

Zibby: We should.

Dr. Suzanne: I’m serious. I love that.

Zibby: Actually, this is perfect because my dermatologist in New York wanted to come out and do a Botox and books party.

Dr. Suzanne: I love it.

Zibby: We could do a Botox, books, menopause.

Dr. Suzanne: All of it.

Zibby: We’re going to be packed. There won’t be room to move in the store.

Dr. Suzanne: That is totally true. That should be your worst problem in life.

Zibby: I’m not really worried. Lots of fun stuff we can do.

Dr. Suzanne: So nice to meet you. Thank you for your time.

Zibby: Nice to meet you too.

Dr. Suzanne: Appreciate it. Bye.

Zibby: Bye.

Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz, MENOPAUSE BOOTCAMP: Optimize Your Health, Empower Your Self, and Flourish as You Age

MENOPAUSE BOOTCAMP: Optimize Your Health, Empower Your Self, and Flourish as You Age by Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz

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