Here is the full transcript of nutritional biochemist Dr Libby Weaver’s TEDx Talk: The Pace of Modern Life Versus Our Cavewoman Biochemistry at TEDxQueenstown conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio: The pace of modern life versus our cavewoman biochemistry by Dr Libby Weaver at TEDxQueenstown
Thank you so much.
There is a crisis facing women’s health and it affects everyone around us: our partners, our fathers, our brothers, our children and it is critical that we get to the heart of the matter and resolve the why behind it.
Not that long ago, in the evolution of humanity, women were given the opportunity to do what has traditionally been their father’s jobs but they’ve maintained what were traditionally their mothers’ responsibilities. And so what has unfolded for far too many women is a frantic double shift of work day and night, and this never ends. They so desperately need rest but when we live in this frantic pace, living on adrenaline, trying to be all things to all people, it can have dire physical, mental and emotional consequences.
And it breaks my heart, because these women walk through the doors of my office and they say to me that they scream at their children and they hate themselves afterwards. But they feel like they have no control over it. They tell me that if they don’t do it, it won’t get done. They tell me that they’re exhausted that they’re tired but wired that they can’t cope that they wish there were more hours in the day, that they can’t remember anything, and that they have absolutely no bandwidth left. But we won’t let you see any of that, because we keep our smiles firmly in place.
So why do we do it? We do it, because we care so much for the people in our lives. It comes from such a beautiful place. It comes, because we have beautiful hearts. But even deeper than that, it comes because we made up a story a really long time ago that we aren’t enough the way we are, that we aren’t good enough, tall enough, slim enough, pretty enough, brainy enough, on-time enough, that we’re just not enough the way that we are. And so we spend our lives trying to please everyone in our realm, trying to make sure that they love us and appreciate us so that we never ever have to feel rejected or ostracized.
But it’s not just the physical health consequences that concern me for women. It’s that they live their life so out of touch with those beautiful hearts, and in the cloud of false belief that they aren’t enough. Too many women have lost their sense of place in this world but a return to that sense of place is right at hand, a return to true presence, to true connection, to one another, to our land, a sense of real gratitude, a place where there’s calm, a place where there’s no anxiety, a place where there are no migraines and where there’s no PMT, so that we scream at the people we love the most in the world and regret it afterwards. That time is at hand. It is time for the dawning of a new era for women it has to be and that new era is going to begin right now.
Cavewoman up there on the left: she represents historical woman. And juggling woman on the right: she represents modern woman. Now these two girls, they’re made of the same stuff. They’re both made up of about 50 trillion cells. Now 50 trillion is a number that can go over our head with its enormity. So I’ll use time to paint the picture of just how big that is.
One trillion seconds ago was 32,000 years ago. But we have 50 trillion cells inside our body. And the only way they work: they all want to talk to each other and they need nutrients to be able to communicate. And the only place we get our nutrients from is from our food. And I’m deeply concerned that when we live life at such a frantic pace, we can compromise the way we nourish ourselves and not get enough nutrients for these basic biochemical processes inside of us.
I went to university for 14 years and whenever I say that out loud, I know it makes me sound really thick. But I loved it, I loved learning, I still do. And while I was doing my PhD in biochemistry, I had all of the biochemical pathways of the body mapped out on the biggest pieces of paper I could find, plastered all over my bedroom walls. I was like a Nutty Professor, but it was the only way I was ever going to learn it.
And when you see the body mapped out like that you get such a deep appreciation for the critical role that nutrients play in our body, because they convert substance X into substance Y, might be zinc that’s needed for that. And if you don’t have enough zinc, substance X will accumulate and you might not then have enough substance Y and that might impact your happiness, or your stress hormone production or your ability to sleep or your ability to burn body fat.
But you don’t just get a deep appreciation for the vital role nutrients play. When I saw the body mapped out like that and that’s what I want everyone to see is you see the absolute miracle that we are. Miraculous — if you knew who you truly are, you would be in awe of yourself.
So let’s make that happen right now. So when cavewoman ran, she ran to escape from danger or maybe to pursue her next meal. But juggling woman: she runs with her conscious mind knowing that it’s in the pursuit of fitness but her subconscious mind, the part of her body that she can’t instruct with her own thoughts, the part of her body that she can’t communicate with, it’s the part of your body that governs how quickly your heart beats, how quickly your hair grows, how quickly your fingernails grow. If you cut yourself, you don’t have to stand there and have a conversation for the next three days with that cut saying hurry up and heal. Your body has the resources to send what it needs to that particular point to heal it. And every time I say that out loud it blows my head off my shoulders. That’s miraculous but that’s our subconscious.
But juggling woman — when she runs, she has cavewoman technology, so she is asking her body to create a different meaning for the first time ever in the entirety of human evolution that she’s okay, that she’s running for fitness. Her conscious mind knows it but her subconscious mind creates the meaning that it’s always created.
So science suggests that we’ve been on the planet for about 150,000 years and you can see the blue line over here represents 2000 years ago, so roughly how long we’ve had a calendar. You can see that that’s a blip compared to the other 150,000 years that we’ve been on the planet. The red line right beside time zero represents the last century. So it’s a minuscule fraction of time that we’ve been on the planet, and that’s expanded out here across the bottom so that you can visually see the enormous change that’s happened just in the last century alone, let alone in the last decade.
So in 1914, what was life like for women then? Around World War II, even the postage stamp had started to change what women were about telling us that we could do it as women entered the workforce.
In the 1960s, it wasn’t just that the fashions were changing and our skirts were getting shorter. The media announced the whole world that there was now a birth control pill available to all.
Through the 80s, we showed that we could match it with men in every arena with a woman being the global head of power.
And then in 2014, here’s juggling woman working day and night at this frantic pace asking her body to make a different decision, to make a different meaning from the entirety of human history. And to cope — to get the energy, to do what she wants to do in a day, too many women warm up with caffeine and cool down with alcohol. We forget that our body can do that on its own and when we regularly over-consume those substances, you actually take the edge off your energy, you take the edge off your vitality and you take the edge off your greatness. And you can miss the absolute miracle of your existence and how magnificent it all is.
So this is a transition period. We’ve got to learn how to live in this new way because we’re not going back. We’ve made progress in more areas than others though. So for a couple who are married and they both work full-time and they have one child, research clearly shows that the woman does twice the amount of housework that the man does and she does three times the amount of childcare. So she essentially has three jobs and he has one.
So not only is it the dawning of a new era for women but what dawned on me as I created this talk that brought tears to my eyes and covered me in goosebumps is that it has to be for our men as well.
So what drives juggling woman, block your ears because some of you don’t want to hear this. Because it’s adrenaline, it’s caffeine, leads the human body to make adrenaline and it’s also her perception of pressure. Now you’ll notice I put the word perception in front of the word pressure and that’s because it is.
So when I would ask people many years ago where they felt there was stress and pressure in their lives they would often describe to me a scenario where someone they loved was very ill and they were deeply concerned.
But now when I ask people what stresses you, where do you feel the pressure, they’ll say I had a week’s holiday and now I’ve got 600 new emails in my inbox and I don’t know when I’m going to get the time to deal with them. But again we don’t tend to see it but if you pull back the curtains on that, it’s because you care so deeply, it’s because you don’t want to let the people who have written to you down by not getting back to them. You don’t want them to think that you’re inefficient. You want to please them and you want to look after them and you want to make sure that they feel like you care. So it comes from a beautiful place but it comes from being a good girl.
Most women are raised to be good girls and to please the people in their lives. And when we create that story and we will have done at a very long time ago that we aren’t enough the way that we are. Whatever it is, unfortunately another consequence of that can be that if you don’t believe you are enough, you never feel like you have enough. So you also live your life in the pursuit of having and gaining more and more. So it’s time for that cloud of false belief to end.
So with juggling woman with her nervous system, when she’s living on adrenaline in that fight-or-flight response, with all that intensity to counterbalance that, we want to activate the green zone which is the calming aspect of our nervous system and that’s what a long slow diaphragmatic breath does. That’s how you activate that. And when we are living in that beautifully calm place, we burn our body fat very easily as our fuel. But when we’re living in the red zone, living on adrenaline, your body has no choice but to believe that your life is literally in danger, it needs to power you to get out of that danger and it needs a fuel, it’s got to supply you with fuel to get out of that danger, to take a wild guess between your body’s fuel of glucose and fat which is the fast burning one, it’s always going to be glucose or sugar to power you out of there. So when we are calm, we burn our body fat very readily.
And I’ve seen this countless times with people. A woman completed the New York Marathon and came to see me afterwards, because she’d run between 40 and 90 miles every week for nine months, eaten amazingly and gained 12 kilos; how is that possible, I had my own experience with this.
While I was at university I used to be a mad keen runner, I would run for two hours virtually every day. But then I got a job running a health retreat and I had to get up at 20 past 4:00 in the morning to be at work on time to wait the guests. And by 6 o’clock in the morning, we were doing Tai Chi for 30 minutes with very slow gentle arm movements but you diaphragmatically breath for 30 minutes. And then I would take the guests on a very gentle walk. So it went and my eating remained the same across this period. I went from being little miss crazy, run our burning bucket loads of calories to little miss Tai Chi, hardly burning any and my clothes got looser and looser and looser even though my food stayed the same. And it completely fried my brain because if the calorie equation held true the exact opposite was supposed to happen. And it was that experience that led me to go back to my geeky biochemistry textbooks with the question in my mind: what leads the human body to get the message that it needs to burn fat and what leads the human body that it needs to get the message that it has to store fat. But that’s a story for another day. So understand that when we are calm, we use our body fats so readily as fuel.
The other body system that can be so enormously impacted upon when we are living in this frantic state is our sex hormones. Progesterone in particular — it has reproductive — it does reproductive things in our body but it does other amazing things. It’s an anti-anxiety agent; it’s an antidepressant, and it’s a diuretic. But we make our progesterone in the first half of the menstrual cycle from exactly the same place where we make our stress hormones. And when we’re juggling everything in our world we churn out adrenaline which says our life is in danger and we churn out another stress hormone called cortisol that says there’s no food left in the world. And your body links progesterone to fertility. And so the last thing it wants is for you to bring a baby into the world where it feels you’re not safe and there’s no food.
And so your body thinks it’s doing you a great big favor by shutting down your adrenal production of progesterone. And in my opinion that is the biggest biochemical challenge facing women’s health today. That scenario with low progesterone and too much estrogen, that is chaos for us and everyone around us. Good luck at being patient and kind to the people you love the most in the world when you’ve got that going on.
And I know that firsthand. When my work first got busy, I would stay up until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning doing emails, I would then get up again about half past 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning, get back on emails, go to work and see patients back-to-back all day, then clear the messages, return the messages, then go and buy the groceries, come home, cook dinner, spend some time with my beloved and then get back on emails. And I lived like that for four months before he and I had a conversation that the way I was living was unsustainable.
So even with all of my knowledge and all of my rituals, I still fell into the trap of trying to please every single human in my realm and wanting them to like me. And if you think about that scenario, there aren’t even children in that mix, and that’s because I’m not brave enough to be a mother, because I can’t imagine being the mother that I would want to be while still doing my mission in this world. I can’t imagine how I would do that.
But it was that experience that led me to go back again to my geeky biochemistry textbooks and come to diagnose what I have come to call Rushing Woman Syndrome and we don’t need to live like that. It’s time for us to put our oxygen masks on first. We have to give ourselves the oxygen before we can be of service to others and to allow us to live our missions. And for me that is to educate and inspire and enhance people’s health and happiness and ignite a ripple effect that transforms the world.
It is time for the dawning of a new era within ourselves. Supply yourself with that oxygen. I want you to picture in your mind’s eye a little girl — cute little girl wearing a pretty dress and she’s on her own, in her own little world and she’s spinning around going lalala, she knows that she is precious, she lives every moment from that place, and we were all born with that knowing, but we lose it. And I believe we spend our entire lives trying to feel like that again. Only we do it using means and substances that sometimes harm our health: too much food or not enough food; too much alcohol or caffeine or spending beyond our means, or running ourselves ragged trying to be all things to all people.
Where on earth did it enter our psychology that we need to sacrifice our health to make everybody else happy? It is beautiful to contribute; it’s a win-win but never at the expense of our own health and I do not want it to take a health crisis to wake you up to remind you of how precious life is.
So I want you to begin to explore how you eat, drink, move, think, believe, and perceive. The minute you change your perception, you rewire your entire chemistry. It is time to get back in touch with your breath. It is time to remember the absolute miracle that you are and get back in touch with the magnificence of your existence. Please remember that life is precious, and that you are precious and to treat yourself accordingly.