Struggling to lose weight? Maybe the problem isn’t you. In her new book, Eat Like a Woman, author Staness Jonekos ( Menopause Makeover) lifts the veil on the hidden problem of sex-based research. With diet books and programs based solely on men, treating women as smaller versions of the same creature, the female population was in desperate need of plan that focused on how their bodies processed food.
Jonekos, a former television producer turned women’s health advocate, partnered up with sex and gender medicine expert, Marjorie Jenkins, MD, to write a diet book with a 3-step, 3-day program catered specifically to women. Here, Bookish talks with Jonekos about the problem of sex-based research, the celebrities that shared their recipes with her, and why focusing on “problem foods” won’t help women lose weight.
Bookish: What sparked your original passion for women’s health?
Staness Jonekos: When I slammed into menopause at the age of 46, and could not find the care needed to manage the miserable symptoms, my quest began to find out why managing menopause, in a country of medical excellence, was so difficult. That is when this Alice fell down the rabbit hole, never to return. It was during this journey that an unexpected and shocking discovery changed the course of my future.
As I navigated limited women’s health studies, I stumbled upon a surprising truth—until recently, studies in our country have been conducted using only males, even for female conditions, with the exception of reproductive health. The few studies that used female study subjects, like the Women’s Health Initiative, were and still are being interpreted, with results slowly trickling into the mainstream health community.
It’s the 21st century, and women still do not have full equality. Women’s health is lagging, but fortunately, today new leaders in science are changing this reality.
I left a two-decade career in television and have devoted my life to building a bridge between this new sex-based research and the public. Every woman should know if her treatment, medication, or nutritional advice is based on research that was conducted using women.
Most bestselling diet books apply research that used only men. So if you are a woman and wondering why you can’t lose weight–it’s because you aren’t a man.
Bookish: In your book trailer, you outline your “3-week, 3-step” program. Sounds easy, but in practice it’s tough to ditch old habits. If you could give only one piece of advice for those who struggle to change their dietary instincts, what would it be?
SJ: Love your body. When you truly love your body, you will fuel it with good food choices and healthy lifestyle habits, boosting self-esteem. Your self-image will no longer be defined by what others dictate is beautiful, but what is healthy for you. The goal should be obtaining a healthy weight, not to be skinny.
Love yourself, and sometimes forgiveness is part of that journey.
SJ: Setting unrealistic expectations is the most common mistake in weight loss and health goals. The average woman in America is not a size 2 but a size 10, yet most set their goals to obtain a shape that is not natural or healthy.
When you set yourself up for failure by setting unrealistic goals–what is the first thing you do to feel better? Eat food, and not usually the healthiest choices.
Bookish: How can they fix it?
SJ: Love your body in its current state, then start feeding the healthy you, and you will eventually get there. If it took 15 years to get to a current weight that is overweight or obese, don’t expect to lose that weight in a couple of months.
Set realistic goals, and ask yourself, why are you wearing that fat suit? Are you lonely? Feeling unloved? Lazy? Suffering from an emotional injury? Is your life too stressful? Once you know the answer, you have mastered the first step to change. A woman’s journey is very different than a man’s.
Bookish: Quite a few superstar celebrities and chefs shared their recipes in this book. What were some of the reactions you received when originally approaching them with the idea?
SJ: One hundred percent of the celebs and famous chefs that contributed recipes fully supported theEat Like a Woman mission to bring awareness to women’s health using the latest sex-based science. Most were shocked to hear research is still being conducted using males only.
Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart Simpson, was speechless when I told her about the injustice in women’s health research. She said, “Cowabunga! How do we change this?!” The next day her favorite recipe, Nancy’s Mean Tortilla Soup, was in my email box.
Bookish: What’s your favorite recipe from the book?
SJ: It is impossible to choose just one, so my favorite two recipes are Mojo Criollo Slow-Braised Porkand Vegan Chocolate-Mint Brownies, both contributed by Sheryl Crow. Eating like a woman is about enjoying all types of foods in balance.
Bookish: What is your favorite way to exercise?
SJ: I don’t exercise in the traditional way, because I prefer to stay active in my everyday world. I use a standing desk, walk the dogs, take the stairs instead of an elevator, and I love sailing and horseback riding. Sometimes I take a spinning class or swim, but I am constantly moving. My husband calls me the “human hummingbird.”
These habits keep my metabolism up, as well as my bones and heart healthy. The best kind of “exercise” is the kind you can do every day.
Bookish: It seems as though every day we turn around and there’s a new “bad” food—gluten, wheat, soy, sugar. In chapter 8, you delve into these issues. Why do you think there’s a current trend of basing diets around avoiding a single food or ingredient?
SJ: The average person makes an excess of 250 decisions about food each day. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average adult spends almost nine hours a day working, and only an hour eating.
My theory is: Americans no longer take or have the time to enjoy a meal embracing nutrition, so it is easier to eliminate entire food groups than make additional decisions on food choices. Of the two sexes, women tend to cut out entire food groups to lose weight, instead of making lasting lifestyle changes.
Once a food group is completely eliminated and weight loss is achieved, they resume previous eating behaviors and gain the weight lost, and often more.
Unless you have a food allergy or intolerance, there is no reason to eliminate an entire food group.
Bookish: Women’s health issues have been in the media more than ever in the last year. You reference being born during the women’s rights movement. How much have you seen women’s health change in your life and career?
SJ: I was fortunate to be born into a society that was focusing on women’s rights—from equal pay to new reproductive rights.
As attention was focused on equal pay, many (including myself) had no idea there was inequality in the research world. We are, and have been, treated as small men with our only differences being reproductive.
Women and men are different—from our brains [to our] hormones and digestive tracts. We absorb foods and medications differently. Demanding sex-based research benefits both sexes.
Bookish: Where do you think (or hope!) the road is currently leading us?
SJ: I hope the next generation sees further progress in women’s health, but it will take awareness today to make changes for tomorrow.
Bookish: You dedicate the book to the trailblazers of women’s health. Who is one female trailblazer that women should know about, but don’t?
When women demand equal care, we declare our equal capacity to contribute fully to society. When we learn about and value our bodies, we become truly powerful.
A woman who says with conviction, “My health is worth fighting for,” is saying, “I am worth fighting for.”
After writing Eat Like a Woman, I wanted to personally thank her for her incredible contribution, but she died one year before completing this project. I am forever grateful for her inspiration and hard work that opened the door for Marjorie Jenkins, MD, a sex and gender medicine expert, who co-authored Eat Like a Woman.
Dr. Jenkins, a contemporary trailblazer in women’s health, reviewed every word in this book to make sure the latest research was included and that all interpretations were accurate.
Her passion to ensure new sex-based science reaches health experts everywhere is an inspiration, and gives me hope that both worlds—the medical and public—will meet to embrace individualized health care.
Dr. Jenkins says, “You have to know the difference, to make a difference.” This is the core of Eat Like a Woman.
Staness Jonekos is President and Founder of the award-winning video production company Krystal Productions. One of the original executive producers who launched the Oxygen Media network, she was instrumental in their “Be Fearless” campaign to empower women. Most recently a survivor of a difficult menopause transition, Jonekos is passionate about her newest commitment—helping women look and feel better during menopause.