Women In Wellness: Vanessa Ford Of Menolabs on the Five Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Help Support People’s Journey Towards Better Wellbeing

by Charles Purdom
Women In Wellness: Vanessa Ford Of Menolabs on the Five Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Help Support People’s Journey Towards Better Wellbeing

As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of Interviewing Vanessa Ford.

Vanessa Ford is the co-founder of MenoLabs, a company focused on women’s issues during perimenopause/menopause. Vanessa was prompted to action when, at 44, she began her own transition into menopause. Unsatisfied with the lack of support that women experience during this stage of life, and finding the stereotypes of women in mid-life exasperating and insulting, she and her friend of 20 years, Danielle Jacobs, created MenoLabs to address what they see as a glaring need in every woman’s life. Named a top ten finalist in the Cartier Women’s Initiative, Vanessa believes that for-profits can change the world and make a difference in people’s lives with the same passion for mission used by nonprofits — and in fact should do so if they want to be truly successful.

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?

Vanessa Ford: I would love to because I think that when women share their menopause experiences, we start to fundamentally change society’s attitude toward it, which is so critical to making sure we have a complete picture of women’s health.

When I was 44 I had a period that lasted for three weeks, and not only was that very unusual for me, it was really heavy, also unusual, and I didn’t know what was happening. When I got online to look for what it might be, of course, cancer came up in my search results. So I called my doctor, and she said “OK. come in and we’ll do some tests, but I think it’s perimenopause.” And I had never heard that word, so of course, I had no idea what it was. She ran tests (they were fine, of course), and then we talked about perimenopause, and she gave me some research sources, and the more I researched, the more I couldn’t find the answers I needed, and the more determined I became to do something about it.

I started MenoLabs with my friend of 20 years, Danielle Jacobs, and our research cofounder, Dr. John Konhilas, who has researched women’s health in midlife for as long as Danielle and I have been friends. We are on a mission to change the way the menopause transition is talked about, researched, and treated.

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?

Vanessa Ford: I will never forget the conversation I had with a woman when we first started this company, who told me that her mood swings were so intense that she couldn’t control her temper with her kids and her husband. She told me — in tears — that she thought her husband was going to leave her, and she didn’t blame him. And it really hit home when I was talking to her just how devastating the transition to menopause can be for women. It impacts their relationships, their careers, just as they are at the peak of their career, by the way. It affects the way they see their bodies and their mental and physical well-being, and that moment was when I knew, I mean really knew, that I wanted to devote my life and my resources to changing this process for women.

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?

Vanessa Ford: We had incredible success right out of the gate, and the credit for that belongs to the people on my team. I like to use mistakes as opportunities, either to inform a change of approach or as a learning opportunity — whatever it might be. That said, the biggest learning opportunity I’ve had is to consider the woman we’re talking to first, above everything else. We’ve found that she has to be the center and focus of everything we do. We have a saying in our company that guides each decision we make — “Every woman first.”

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Vanessa Ford: Well, it’s a team of people, really. There are five people in our leadership team who collaborate and drive decisions, and I really love that approach. It means that problem/solution analysis always has multiple brains, areas of expertise, and ways of thinking to guide it. But if I have to choose one person, it’s Danielle, whose friendship and business acumen have been absolutely essential to me. During the pandemic lockdown, we tried to hop on Zoom calls every Friday, just the two of us, to touch base and chat about things that weren’t always work-related. It was such a good stress reliever to laugh and talk, that we decided to film it and share it with our MenoLife app users, because who couldn’t use a good belly laugh?

Ok perfect. Now 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?

Vanessa Ford: Menopause and perimenopause are really just starting to be talked about in more open ways, and we have such a long way to go, in terms of really understanding what women can go through. Estrogen is responsible for regulating just about every system in a woman’s body, so when that hormone starts fluctuating, it can wreak real havoc. And the fact that we don’t talk about, study it, or teach it means women are facing this huge, truly impactful event in their lives with no resources. And what’s worse is that the symptoms she will experience can get into a really nasty loop, so a hot flash at work makes her feel off her game, and that increases her anxiety, which then sparks night sweats, and that leads to insomnia, and now she has brain fog at work, and there’s the start of a whole new loop. It’s insidious for many women, impacting their careers just as they are starting to see their career trajectory reach its highest peak. It causes mood swings that can be so severe they break up relationships. The list really goes on, and if women don’t start to lead the charge to fundamentally understand menopause and its repercussions for women’s lives, nothing is going to change.

Danielle and I recognize that women face these challenges in midlife because we’re there, and facing them. And we feel that if not us, who? We’re both problem solvers by nature and not women who tend to wait for someone else to step up. MenoLabs has a three-fold approach. We fund research into women’s peri/menopausal health, we developed an app, called MenoLife, which is free for every single woman to use, where they can get answers about what is happening in their bodies and track their symptoms so they can take their health into their own hands, and we created a line of all-natural products that are informed by research and made in the US, in GMP certified laboratories, that can help women address a whole host of issues related to the 40+ symptoms of menopause. We want to give women the insight and the tools to deal with their transition now because that means better health outcomes for them in the future.

We also fund research, so part of the purchase price of our supplements and other health products goes to fund research into menopause. We’re currently investigating patterns in symptom clusters and triggers, to determine what kind of common lifestyle changes women can make to reduce the severity of symptoms. The more information a woman has about her own health, the more power she has to advocate for herself and make the changes she wants in her life.

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.

Vanessa Ford: Absolutely. The first is “move your body”. You don’t have to be a triathlete, just move your body, every single day. It keeps your heart, your muscles, your bones, and your brain stay healthier, longer.

The second is “get in tune with your body”. Really listen to how you feel, track what you feel and when, and see if there are triggers or patterns you can discover. You’ll get a better sense of what you can do to mitigate unpleasant symptoms.

Third, I’d say, don’t neglect your cognitive health. Read, play brain games, do puzzles. You have to exercise your mind if you want to keep it in peak working order.

Fourth, keep your social connections strong. Support networks are incredibly important to maintaining just about every aspect of our health. Social connections keep us engaged, and our interactions with them help release happiness hormones in the brain. You don’t have to have a network of hundreds or even dozens of people. A select group of friends or family that make you feel supported is what is critical.

And lastly, give yourself some grace. Part of what I love about getting older is that I see my time as precious, and as a result, I am definitely less critical of myself. That results in being more at peace with who I am, and being comfortable in my body, comfortable with my perceived faults. And I find I have less stress, less negativity, which results in my feeling happier and healthier.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Vanessa Ford: I feel we already have. Nearly 300,000 women have tried our products, our social media following is about 60,000 strong and growing rapidly, and we are having conversations with all of those women about taking their health into their hands, about being vocal and demanding better information, more research, more focus on women’s health in midlife and beyond. When women reach the end of their reproductive years, this society tends to stop seeing them, thinking about them, and that shows in their physical and mental health outcomes. The movement I want is a fundamental change in the way menopause impacts women, and I think we’ve got a good shot at accomplishing that.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

Vanessa Ford: Well, in the beginning, we set out to create supplements that would be truly impactful, and we let science guide our decisions when they were formulated, which was absolutely the right thing to do for our customers. But having a product with that many ingredients can make supply chains very complicated. If I had a crystal ball, we would have stocked up on ingredients before Covid hit. I am really proud of our team, though, because so far, we have managed to navigate the realities of supply chain economics exceedingly well.

Second would be: The ability of large online platforms to impact a business are fairly significant and can happen without warning, or even without making any sense. It’s an issue we navigate, all day, every day. If Facebook, Google, or Amazon decide that today is the day to change some internal algorithm or try out a machine learning enforcement tool, it can wipe out your business in a week. My team has to constantly learn, adjust, and triage the changes of these big platforms.

The third thing would be to be prepared for the horror stories women would share with me. I knew going into this that menopause was broken, but I have had a real eye-opening education into just how badly women can suffer. I have to hold back tears at least twice a week, as women share their experiences with me. Ultimately, it makes me more determined to fix it, but those first few times really caught me off guard.

Going in, I knew this would be a full-time gig, but in some ways, I was not prepared for how fully menopause would occupy me. If you had told me at twenty that fixing menopause would be my calling in life, I would have said you were nuts, but it truly consumes just about all of my waking hours. I wouldn’t change it for anything, and it would have been great if I could have been preparing for this all along.

And last is something I still wish for: I wish someone could give me a timeline for when menopause will no longer be an uphill battle for women. When I talk with women who are seeing real, negative impacts on their lives, I just want to speed this whole process up, because I want it to be better for them now.

Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?

Vanessa Ford: They are all causes I believe in, but I think I would have to choose mental health above all, simply because I see the impacts that it can have on a person’s quality of life, and the extension of that into the public sphere. If your mental health is suffering, it can be very difficult to affect change anywhere else. A populace with good mental health is a populace that can effect positive change. We’ve seen over and over that some mental health issues are impacted by hormones, stress, diet, even gut health. We should all recognize that the mind and body are linked and that health for the whole person is important for us to fund, research, understand and support.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Vanessa Ford: You can find MenoLabs on Facebook, Instagram, and on our app MenoLife, and I have an Instagram account where people can connect with me directly, @vanessa.menolabs.

Thank you for these fantastic insights!

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