Entrepreneur Liz Earle created and later sold an award winning skincare brand. Her services to the beauty industry were recognised with an MBE in 1997 and she’ll be discussing her book, Menopause Matters, at Shaftesbury Arts Centre on March 22nd.
ThisIsAlfred met Liz and heard why she is passionate about menopause information and Shaftesbury’s locally sourced food.
Liz Earle has become a trusted source on healthy eating and wellbeing with 36 books, a magazine and TV appearances to her name. She sometimes refers to Shaftesbury in her frequent media interviews. A few years ago she told The Telegraph about a favourite brooch that her daughter had bought in a Shaftesbury charity shop. And Liz’s own charity, LiveTwice, has a local connection – it is based in Semley.
Now Liz is taking the stage at our town’s Arts Centre. She says that the Shaftesbury area has been a constant in her life over the years. “We’ve got family connections. We’ve got some farmland around Semley and my children have been at school locally,” said Liz. “My daughter was at St Mary’s School in Shaftesbury, so we’ve had many happy days here. We used to spend our tea times at Turnbull’s, when it was going, for tea and cake.”
As Liz’s face is familiar to TV viewers, I wondered whether she felt pressure to uphold high standards and avoid giving in to the temptation of eating treats in public. If she saw an eclair in Reeves’ window, would she feel obliged to walk on by, even if she wanted it?
“I used to have a really sweet tooth and I weaned myself off the really sweet, sticky stuff by having more dark chocolate. Chocolate is the richest source of polyphenols. It’s incredibly good for gut health. We just need to eat dark chocolate because that has more of the cocoa solids,” she said.
Liz doesn’t want us to entirely abandon life’s luxuries. “Frankly, a little bit of what you fancy does you good,” said Liz. “My message has always been about moderation and balance. I’m not an extremist. I don’t go in for fads.”
As a health and wellbeing journalist, Liz has seen many food fads fall in and out of favour. She’s proud that her first book challenged popular opinion of the time. “I wrote about high fat foods nearly thirty years ago in a book called ‘Vital Oils’. I wrote it against a background of everybody saying that we had to eat ‘low fat’ or ‘no fat’. The problem is our body runs on fat. Our hormones are made from fat, so you need good fat,” said Liz. “What we don’t need is the rubbish fats. We don’t need hydrogenation and trans. We do need things like full fat milk and whole yogurt, cream and cheese.” We joked that, with a message like that, she could be offered a brand ambassador role at BV Dairy.
Liz says she believes in eating foods ‘in their entirety’. “I’m a believer in cooking from scratch. I try not to have very much out of a packet,” she explained. “I like quality, wholesome, natural foods and not mucking about with it. The more processed foods are, the more money there is to be made by big food companies. They are keen to entice us in with something that’s been overly processed.”
So what is Liz’ general dietary advice? “Low carb, low sugar definitely. But keep up with your good high fats,” she said.
Liz is impressed with the quality and range of food on offer around Shaftesbury. “There’s the Shaftesbury Food Festival and you’ve got local markets and local stallholders. I think that’s increasing,” said Liz. “People are increasingly aware of provenance. My farm supplies some of the local community shops around Semley with organic eggs.”
“I love the local dairy in Semley, where you go with your glass bottle and you refill your milk,” continued Liz. “The farmer gets all the money. It’s £1 per litre. All of that money goes to the farm and there’s no plastic waste. You’re keeping milk tankers and lorries off the roads and cutting down in food miles. It’s eating locally, sustainably and supporting our local rural economy. We produce great food in Britain and especially in this area.”
Liz is a busy and successful woman. This mum of five has launched and managed a business empire and she’s still writing. A lot. So what motivates her?
“I love what I do. I think I’m hugely fortunate to work in the area of wellbeing, feeling good and looking good. That’s what gets me up in the morning. We’re all, hopefully, growing older and living longer, but we want to live well. There’s not much point in having lots of years in your life if you don’t have life in your years,” she said.
Liz says she is not one of those entrepreneurs that has to forgo sleep to fit it all in. “I get a good seven-and-a-half hours. That is supposed to be the optimum amount of time that we need. You don’t really want much more sleep otherwise you kind of kick into different circadian rhythms and different cycles, and you can end up feeling blurry.”
We moved onto her writings about the menopause. It’s a difficult topic for me to discuss, as a man and I tell Liz that I’m not that comfortable. It’s not the first time she has found that people feel awkward discussing the menopause.
“When I first came up with the idea, my publishers were saying, ‘well, that’s very interesting, perhaps we can call it ‘Aging Well’ or ‘Beauty As We Age’. They were quite nervous about putting ‘menopause’ on the cover,” said Liz. “It always astonishes me. It is a little bit like the elephant in the room. In the old days, people used to talk in hushed tones about ‘the change’. I’ve had five children so I’ve seen five lots of midwives, obstetricians, GPS and health visitors. At no point has anybody ever said to me, when you get into your mid-40s you’re going to start to feel a little bit different. You may not sleep as well, you may get some temperature changes, you might feel a bit moody, your memory might go. These are all natural signs of the menopause.”
Liz is not a fan of the comedy character portrayal of a ‘beetroot-faced, elderly, sweaty woman fanning herself in the corner’. She believes that women should be offered better information from health practitioners. “I feel such a strong sense of health injustice that midlife women are being let down often by GPs. When you go through med school as an undergraduate or postgraduate, there’s no specific training on menopause. Think about how much we talk about babies, childcare and pregnancy. Not every woman will have a child, but every woman will have a menopause,” said Liz.
And she’s concerned that the wrong medication is offered. “Many women get prescribed anti-arthritic drugs, when actually what they need to do is top up their oestrogen,” she said. “Too many women are being prescribed antidepressants, when the NICE guidelines are very clear. The first point of treatment for a woman saying that she’s got a low mood or depressive symptoms and she’s over menopausal age, is not antidepressants because she’s not depressed. What’s happening is the oestrogen is falling. Too many GPs are not aware of the NICE guidelines. I hope that I get some GPs in the audience. We actually need to get the message out there to GPs and practice nurses.”
So what would Liz have told her 16-year-old self, knowing what she knows now? “I would have said, when you hit your early 40s, and you start to wake up for no apparent reason or you lack sleep or you find that your memory is going or you’ve got hearing problems or your skin becomes dry and itchy, think about whether it could be hormonal changes. Don’t start treating other things that actually won’t help you, because what’s causing it is this lower level of oestrogen,” Liz said.
Of course, every woman’s experience is different. “Some women will sail through it. 25% of women have no symptoms and they’re the lucky ones. Their oestrogen levels are still falling but they have no symptoms. Let’s go out into Bell Street. 75% of the midlife women there will be experiencing some kind of symptoms. How can we best help them?” she asked.
Liz says that men can undergo a similar experience when testosterone levels change. That can bring mood swings and bring about a beer belly or paunch. Men should be more aware of that and they should understand how menopause affects the women in their lives. “A little bit more understanding and compassion could actually go a long way,” said Liz.
Liz has created a recipe for a ‘menopause cake’ packed with helpful ingredients. You’ll find that on her website. “I’m not going to say it’s going to cure all your symptoms, but it’s high in phyto-oestrogens. We know there is an affinity between phyto-oestrogens in plants so I’m looking at things like flax seeds, linseed and soya. They can help a little bit, not completely, but they can help top up your oestrogen levels. So my menopause cake is actually a great icebreaker. It starts the conversation in a really easy, fun way,” she said.
Liz’s Arts Centre talk will raise money for the Wooden Spoon charity. Her friend, Vivienne Worrall, is planning to play rugby on Mount Everest to raise cash for that cause. “I will probably talk for maybe thirty or minutes or so and then we’re going to have time for questions and answers. Please bring a question with you,” said Liz, adding, Then I’m going to do a book signing afterwards. I’ve got copies of my ‘Good Menopause Guide’ and 10% of all the proceeds from that will also go to the charity. They’ll be a chance to mingle and chat and hopefully continue the conversations.”
Liz says that anyone who can’t attend can get more useful information on LizEarlewellbeing.com. “We’ve got a whole section on the menopause and you can also access my podcasts. There’s lots of ways to get extra resources,” said Liz.
Liz Earle’s talk ‘Menopause Matters’ is at Shaftesbury Arts Centre on March 22nd. Doors open 7pm. Tickets, from the Box Office, are £15 including snacks.