Women In Wellness: Christy Halvorson Ross and Eliza Graham On The Five Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Help Support People’s Journey Towards Better Wellbeing
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Have confidence in your unique idea! Every successful business started with a spark of an idea and the confident women and men behind those ideas turned them into success stories. Hard work, vision, and confidence can get you far..
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Christy Halvorson Ross and Eliza Graham of Be the Change: Nourishing Ourselves Through Menopause.
Christy Halvorson Ross and Eliza Graham are lifelong friends and passionate professionals in the nutrition and wellness industry, who joined forces three years ago to create Be the Change: Nourishing Ourselves Through Menopause. They saw a need and opportunity to support women transitioning into menopause in a positive, honest, and holistic way. Christy has run her health and wellness company, LittleGreen.me since 2012. Eliza is a licensed functional nutritionist with a private practice in women’s health.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
Christy: We met before our first birthdays and have been best friends ever since! As adults, we happily found ourselves in similar wellness fields. I became interested in nutrition while helping my mom fight ovarian cancer; she was not getting any nutritional advice from her doctors. Since founding my company Little Green in 2012, I have been running cleanses and plant-based wellness programs.
Eliza: I became interested in nutrition when trying to get pregnant, and began my master’s degree at Maryland University for Integrative Health in 2012. I’ve been working as a functional nutritionist since 2017 through my practice Brookfield WellBeing.
Christy: As women in midlife, we observed a tragic lack of information about menopause in the mainstream and also an incredibly negative perception of the topic. Menopause is seen as a disease state and the beginning of the end. Women internalize these messages, all while suffering emotionally and physically. We created Be the Change: Nourishing Ourselves Through Menopause to educate and empower women to ease their menopausal transition through food and lifestyle change. Our platform at bethechangerevolution.com allows women to connect with each other, learn about hormonal transition, focus on their health and well-being and open themselves to affirming, creative prevention strategies for long-term health.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
Eliza: As we wrote the program, we realized that the two of us have been through every hormonal transition side-by-side. Infancy, early childhood, adolescence (with all the chaos and rebellion that can entail), child-bearing, perimenopause and now menopause for me! Our takeaway from this lifelong journey is a deep appreciation for the power of community and open, honest conversation. As soon as we started brainstorming this entrepreneurial venture, we realized that everyone we knew wanted to talk about menopause and had no place to go. These were topics that they weren’t discussing with their mothers, as they had with menstruation. Often they had already lost their mother or their mother was struggling with serious health concerns including dementia, or their mother simply didn’t see menopause as something to discuss openly. Our peers wanted safe spaces and they wanted more robust and holistic information than they were getting from their doctors.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Christy: Building on what Eliza was just saying, women are eager for venues where they can share their menopausal experiences. Women today are often squarely in the middle of their most productive years of work and career when menopause hits and they are looking for supports. They’ve got to figure out how to balance these new challenges and it is super helpful to know they are not alone. One of the mistakes we made early on was scheduling one of our community zooms without a specific talk or topic. We wanted everyone to have the opportunity to share honestly and openly with one another. We found that stories and pain just spilled out of our participants. Out of this experience grew newer additions to Be the Change, including our office hours and one-on-one menopausal consultations, where we can offer more personalized support.
Let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
Eliza: We are offering a revolutionary, life-changing paradigm shift in women’s menopausal health. Be The Change is a holistic, positive, evidence-based, feminist and natural approach to perimenopause and menopause. It’s the intersection of the physiological changes of this transition, and all things nutrition and lifestyle. We are supporting participants in their own creation of a foundation of health and wellness in their 40’s and 50’s, to help them thrive now and to keep vibrant them long-term.
Menopause remains the most extraordinary taboo in women’s health, such that women are left with few therapeutic options. In recent years, some physicians have emphasized the importance of menopausal education in the context of choice, that women need the facts in order to choose how to proceed. However, the only choice offered in medicine, unfortunately, is whether to start on hormone replacement therapy or not. Be The Change: Nourishing Ourselves Through Menopause expands the conversation far beyond the question of “HRT or not HRT” by introducing midlife-supportive, evidence-based foods, herbs, supplements and lifestyle change for all people entering menopause.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
Christy: We love this question. Our business is in women’s health, and specifically we are focused on mid-life. However, we would love to share the “lifestyle tweaks” that we would suggest for everyone. Our top five are:
- Get 8 hours of Uninterrupted Sleep. Insufficient sleep is insanely prevalent in this country. So often Americans imagine that getting enough sleep is almost “indulgent” or a luxury. But actually, sleep is taking care of ourselves at the most basic level. Too little sleep is associated with high blood pressure, heart disease and cognitive changes. It actually accelerates the aging of the brain! So we unabashedly recommend re-organizing your life so that sleep can be put at the top of the priority list. We have tons and tons of ideas about how to do this, but one of our favorites is keeping a gratitude journal. We love referencing an amazing 2016 study that shows that folks who wrote down what they were grateful for that day, slept better that night. How beautiful is that?
- Fully Embrace an Anti-inflammatory Diet. We know that chronic inflammation is the root cause of many serious illnesses — including heart disease, cancers, osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s. For most people, eating an anti-inflammatory diet means eating veggies and fruits, plant-based proteins like nuts and beans, whole grains, and fatty fish. The Mediterranean diet is a great example of an anti-inflammatory diet which has just tons of research behind it. To reduce inflammation, it is critical to include the cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli, cauliflower and kale), garlic, turmeric, ginger and then finally fish, chia seeds and freshly-ground flaxseeds, all for their amazing omega-3 fatty acids.
- Be Supportive of the Creatures in your Gut. The 100 trillion friendly bacteria that live in our digestive tracts are critical to our health and well-being. They break down toxins for us, increase our ability to absorb nutrients, improve our immune function and prevent weight gain, among many other positives. We can feed and support their work by eating 1) the fiber found in garlic and onions, apples, nuts, beans, seaweeds, mushrooms, oats, 2) fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha, and again 3) the fabulous omega 3s in chia, flax and fish. You may notice somewhat of a theme here.
- And, disregard your doctor’s advice about exercising 3–4 times/week. Instead, Move Every Single Day by tailoring it to exactly what you like and exactly what you will be thrilled to get out the door to do. In an early grad school class, I was asked to journal on exercise and its effect on my mood and well-being. I was sure I preferred any exercise that was social, like tennis with my father and was surprised at what came out in my journal. It was the days I went on long, solitary walks in the woods that I felt most well and most at peace. I have walked in the woods almost every day since, usually including a 30min walking meditation at the end. I still do other forms of exercise, but I count on my forest walks for calm and wholeness. During the pandemic, there have been two tech-y developments to my routine. I now have an app that can identify the trees and plants I am seeing, as well as a competitive focus on how many steps I have taken. I never thought I would, but I kind of love knowing that I am pushing myself to go further and further.
Christy: And finally, we hate to say it but,
- Reducing both Alcohol and Caffeine Intake is a Big One. Many of us love a good drink, and in our adult life it can be a fun and relaxing way to transition from work-day into play-time. But for many of us, the way we metabolize alcohol changes as we get older. As difficult as it sounds, reducing or eliminating alcohol intake can have tremendous benefits for your long-term health. For one thing, alcohol negatively impacts the metabolism of estrogen, increasing a harmful estrogen metabolite associated with breast cancer. Also, just 2 alcoholic drinks per day significantly increases our risk of osteoporosis. In Be the Change, we love sharing alternatives to alcohol, recipes for delightful, sparkly and medicinal mocktails. Reducing caffeine is also an important aspect of sleeping and feeling well. Too much caffeine can leave us feeling anxious, jittery, and uneasy. It can raise our blood sugar, which becomes more of a problem in midlife. And we know that just 2 caffeinated drinks per day can also increase our risk for osteoporosis by increasing the amount of calcium excreted in our urine.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Eliza: We hope that we have! Every cisgendered woman (and some non-binary people and transgendered men) will go through menopause during their lifetimes. Women typically enter perimenopause in their forties and the average life expectancy for U.S. women is 81, meaning we spend more than half of our adult lives in our menopausal years! Approximately one million U.S. women and 1 billion women worldwide enter menopause each year. And yet, there exists a stunning absence of information on the topic of menopause, and women in midlife are eager for the facts. During this critical window in women’s mid-life, they need to know, for example:
- that hot flashes are not something to soldier through but rather a marker of cardiovascular risk,
- that relatively rapid bone loss begins before menopause, in our 40s,
- that 30% of women in perimenopause experience depression and increased anxiety,
- that the metabolic changes that lead to weight gain begin in perimenopause.
- And, that food and lifestyle change have been shown to address all of the above, modifying hormonal function to improve health and even reversing the risk of chronic illness.
Our goal is to positively impact women around the globe, during their menopausal years.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
1) Working with friends can add enormous energy and inspiration to the work. People warn you against going into business with a close friend, but we’d beg to differ! We have found collaborating to be the absolute highlight of the work! Brainstorming and visioning has been more fun, more creative and more productive together.
2) Being a microbusiness allows for flexibility. Our two-woman platform has allowed us to be immensely innovative and to pivot at a moment’s notice when the world throws curveballs.
3) Re-investing in the business, in the beginning, is part of the deal, as it takes a while to make a profit.
4) For a business in the wellness education industry, be sure to have a healthy budget for book purchases! Our libraries are now massive.
5) Have confidence in your unique idea! Every successful business started with a spark of an idea and the confident women and men behind those ideas turned them into success stories. Hard work, vision, and confidence can get you far.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
Christy: Mental Health! When mental health is ignored, the toll on our bodies can be huge. When we experience sustained emotional distress, a negative feedback loop results in a whole cascade of events, which wear the body down. The stress can result in cell damage, hormone imbalance, and elevated weight and cholesterol, and ultimately can weaken our bones, our immunity and our brain function.
Self-care is key in addressing mental health. There are as many ways to address self-care as there are people in the world! For me, I approach it by making sure I always sleep eight hours, take an outdoor walk every day, and remove myself from my family to soak in an epsom salt bath when I get stressed. I’ve also learned how to say “no” for my mental health–no to too many plans on the calendar, no to folding the laundry if it’s too much at the moment, and no to my inner dialogue telling me I always need to be productive. For other people, their mental health may be prioritized through meditation or massage or bike riding or cuddling with their cat. Whatever works for you! And remember, it’s not a luxury–it’s critical to your health.
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Thank you for these fantastic insights!