Published: Oct. 17, 2006
Updated: Apr. 27, 2010
Almost every woman has felt victimized by her hormones at some time in her life. After all, a woman’s monthly and lifetime cycles greatly influence her experience of the world -- and rarely, it seems, for the better. Most women bemoan the cramps and irritability of PMS, the swollen ankles and physical awkwardness of pregnancy, and the hot flashes and "spaced-out" feelings of menopause.
Many women also spend a large portion of their lives seeking to avoid the unwanted aspects of being female. They chemically alter their bodies with medications to avoid pregnancy or periods; later, they may turn to other drugs to diminish the effects of perimenopause and menopause.
But what if women could learn how to embrace these changes rather than dread them? What if they could learn from them and hear the messages their bodies are sending?
That’s what Tracy Gaudet, MD, women’s health expert and executive director of Duke Integrative Medicine, hopes to teach women in her book Consciously Female: How to Listen to Your Body and Your Soul for a Lifetime of Healthier Living (Bantam Dell, $25.95, paperback also available).
Gaudet, an obstetrician-gynecologist, believes many women have lost the connection between their bodies and souls. These women, she says, are living “unconsciously.” Gaudet wrote her book to help women rediscover that lost balance and return to a state of being “consciously female.”
“We women tend to be so busy running to the next thing in our lives that we miss out on what’s happening in the moment,” says Gaudet. “We often end up overriding what our bodies are telling us, which lessens the quality of our well-being or even causes us to ignore early disease processes.”
In the book, she gives the example of “Karen,” a 29-year-old mother of two small boys, who worked as an accountant. Karen came to Gaudet complaining of unusually severe PMS symptoms. Her mood swings were so bad that her husband called her Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Upon examining Karen, writes Gaudet, it “became apparent that she was running on empty. She never felt she had enough time.” Karen rushed between work and home and child rearing with little time for herself or her relationship with her husband. Her exercise routine consisted of walking across parking lots from her car to the office or stores, and her diet revolved around fast food and Diet Coke.
Gaudet recounts that she told Karen that she needed to restore balance to her life. Karen agreed to eat fewer prepared foods and eat more whole foods. She switched from soda to water. She began to get up a little earlier each morning to exercise to a home video. Gaudet taught her some breathing exercises that Karen could use to relax at her desk or in her car.
Karen followed Gaudet’s advice, and her cramps and mood swings became much less severe.
In Consciously Female, Gaudet explores modalities ranging from nutrition and exercise to spiritual connections to discover how they can enhance healthier living at every stage of female life. The book reflects Gaudet’s strong belief in the powerful connection between mind, body, spirit, and community in the interplay of both health and disease.
Gaudet's commitment to exploring this approach to medicine came early in her career. She served as founding executive director of Dr. Andrew Weil’s Program in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona in Tucson before joining Duke to lead Duke Integrative Medicine. Gaudet’s eloquent, outspoken advocacy of integrative medicine has made her a nationally renowned expert in the field.
Gaudet, who earned her medical degree at Duke, explains that integrative medicine does not reject conventional modern medicine, nor does it uncritically accept all alternative practices. Rather, integrative medicine recognizes that different people in different health situations require responses that are tailored to their unique needs.
“Integrative medicine seeks to match the best practices to a given situation,” Gaudet says. “Very often, these may be state-of-the-art conventional treatments. But sometimes, the best treatment may be a careful, scientifically supported but less mainstream therapy.”
In Consciously Female, Gaudet uses her expertise in integrative medicine to help women live more fully and comfortably in their bodies. “Optimal health requires being attuned to what both body and soul are telling you,” she says. “A balance between the two -- body and soul, equally nurtured, functioning in concert -- is my definition of true wellness."
Get more information about Duke Integrative Medicine.