Welcome to season 3 of the Period Story podcast. I’m so pleased to start the new season with Sarah Greenidge, the founder of WellSpoken.
We had a wide ranging conversation about tracking menstrual cycles and symptoms, the important of credible content in the health and wellbeing sector, the value of anecdotal evidence and the importance of diversity and inclusion in the wellbeing sector. Sarah discussed the launch of the WellSpoken diversity charter, which you can read more about here. And of course, Sarah shared the story of her first period!
Sarah shares the very vivid memory of her first period, her shock, overwhelm and shame. She talks about how these feelings changed as she went into high school and having a period became an empowering thing.
Listen to hear what triggered Sarah to learn more about her period and start tracking her menstrual cycle. She says that become knowledgeable about her body has made her more cognisant of how others could be feeling.
Sarah talks about her periods in lockdown and how she saw a shift from what’s normal for her. In the episode, Sarah goes into detail into the symptoms she tracks (with a massive Excel spreadsheet!) and the cues she pays attention to that tell her period is about to start. Listen to hear her top tips on how to start tracking your menstrual cycle.
We talk about why Sarah founded her company, WellSpoken, the importance of health literacy. Sarah says that in the UK, consumer ability to understand health information and then make an informed decision is quite low.
We talk about the importance of diversity in wellness and the health implications of lack of diversity in wellness. Sarah says that race and discrimination play a part in the way people can receive health information and how and if they seek help. Go to to this link to find out more about the diversity charter, which asks brands to commit to improving diversity in the wellness industry.
Sarah says that we need to think of health literacy as a core skill so that we can more informed decisions about our health. I completely agree!
Get in touch with Sarah
After working in healthcare regulation and communications for some years, Sarah broadened her horizons and started consulting for consumer health and wellness brands.
Coming from such a regulated healthcare space, where evidence-based information is king, she was concerned about the quality of consumer content in wellness, and that brand partnerships were largely based on popularity and not necessarily expertise.
After raising these issue to a few people working in the industry, she was met with the response that the industry was ‘different’ and ‘doesn’t need to be as strict with what we say.’
It was here that the mission to tackle this mindset was conceived and a year later The WellSpoken Mark was born.
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Le’Nise: On today’s episode, we have Sarah Greenidge. After working in healthcare regulation and communications, for some years, she decided to broaden her horizons and started consulting for consumer health and wellness brands. Coming from such a regulated healthcare space, where evidence based information is keen, she was concerned about the quality of consumer content and wellness, and that brand partnerships were largely based on popularity, and not necessarily expertise. After raising these issues to a few people working in the industry, she was met with a response that the industry was different, and doesn’t need to be strict with what they say. It was here, that the mission to tackle this mindset was conceived, and a year later, Sarah started The WellSpoken Mark.
Welcome to the show. Let’s start off by getting into the story of your first period. Can you tell us what happened?
Sarah: Yeah. I was 11 years old, and I remember coming downstairs of my parents house… I’ve had the same vivid memory… And going into their conservatory, it’s very specific, I remember this. And I remember feeling something in my underwear, and being really shocked when I looked and saw that there was blood. It was a real distinct memory for me because I was really overwhelmed. I remember just doing nothing for a couple of hours before. Then I told my mom, what had happened. It was interesting, and I question, in terms of thinking back, trying to unpick what that 11 year old Sarah was thinking. I think it was a mixture of shock and interestingly for me, somehow shame, interestingly. Which is why I didn’t say it straight away. I’ve been trying to think about why that was. I can’t piece together that 11 year old mind now, because I feel, obviously so differently. But that was kind of an important part of not saying.
Le’Nise: How long did you wait until you told your parents?
Sarah: It was a couple of hours, definitely.
Sarah: Yeah. My mom was completely normal, and dealt with it beautifully. That was a real internalised feeling because it didn’t match my mom’s response, if that makes sense. But that to me, is really interesting that that is something that I had a view of that for some reason, at 11 years old. Which is sad actually, when you think about it.
Le’Nise: Thinking back on this feeling of shame right now, do you think that it was because of the way periods had been spoken about at the time? Things you had heard at school.
Sarah: Yeah, I think definitely so. At the time, girls were starting to get their periods at school, and for some reason, it was talked about very negatively, within that… So that would have been… I would have been year seven actually, when it happened, which is the first year of middle school or high school, wherever you’re based. At the time, socially, for that group of 11 year olds, it was talked about very negatively.
I remember specifically hearing about another little girl who had her period already, and I remember going on a school trip, an overnight stay, and this girl very, just normally, showing that she had started her period quite early… What I thought was early as an 11 year old. I think she was nine or 10, or something. And the reaction of the girls in the room was really one of, almost shock and horror. And that really stuck with me, then, when that happened to me, I think. It’s interesting even thinking about that because I haven’t thought about that for 20 years. But yeah, actually it was really interesting how in that little, baby, kid society, it was seen as very negative, and I think maybe dirty, I think, without saying those words, because you don’t have that language at 11, but that was the sense…
Le’Nise: Thinking about it now, how long did it take you to move past this feeling? Or, on the other side, have you moved past that feeling?
Sarah: Actually, I think I moved past that by the time I was, probably 13 or 14. The reason is, is that at that point, the majority of the young women I was around at that time had started their periods, and then this stigma, just because everyone had it, dissipated, if that makes sense. There was no longer this… It was just a normal part of our lives. It wasn’t something that we spoke about, but it no longer had that sort of reaction. Then onwards, it was spoken about quite frequently because people would use that to get out of swimming and P.E. class. Then it actually… It became this empowered thing that we’d use to get out of PE: “Possibly can’t do this because of my period.” So, it’s interesting that in two to three years, how the transition happened where… The society I was in, or where I was living.
Le’Nise: Going from being this shock and horror, to being this empowerment and using it as a tool to manipulate teachers.
Sarah: Then there was no problem talking about it, whatsoever. That’s something… Never really thought about that, but there must have been a transition in those three to four years, because I was still in the schooling system at that point.
Le’Nise: Right. The girls were talking about so freely, what about the education in the school around it?
Sarah: I don’t remember, really, anything particularly. There must have been, but I have no memory whatsoever, outside of, maybe when I got a bit older… The first time I remember really talking about periods… Maybe I was in primary school, but it was all very anatomical and I didn’t really understand I think, at that point. Then the next time I really, probably, got education about the reproductive system, I was in college. I was in A level biology, probably. And that’s because I took that course. But I don’t remember, even in… We had a thing called PSHE here that doesn’t exist anymore, it’s kind of like your social class of culture and what happens in the world. And often they talked to you about sex at that point. I remember more distinctly, it being about sex safety and safe sex, than about biological function of your body. There was never really that focus. So, I did all of learning much after.
Le’Nise: So, your own, personal learning?
Sarah: Yeah. Even thinking about my… I don’t even really remember much from learning either. The thing is, I don’t have memory of it, it doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen, but it obviously wasn’t enough for me, to stick into my memory. I think it was brief and fast. So, I think that’s interesting. Then I did my own learning, 16 up.
Le’Nise: How did you learn? Internet? Books?
Le’Nise: I see.
Sarah: At that point… This is when you could get onto… Not to show my age, but this was the start of when you could get internet on your phones. It was the first time… I was about 16 or 17… And it was slow. Just going on the computer and looking. What triggered me to look actually, was I used to get, and still do sometimes but nowhere near as much when I was in my teens and early 20s, really bad headaches around my period time. I didn’t have cramps so much, it was the headaches before I would come onto my period. And because I found those so debilitating… And then, it could trigger a migraine… I was seeking solutions because of that. In which, I then did more learning about periods and reproductive cycle, if that makes sense. But it actually wasn’t because I was looking for information, it’s because I had a symptom I needed to get under control, or think about how I could manage it. I was looking for ways to stop your headache, that kind of stuff, and that’s what prompted the learning.
Le’Nise: So, what did you ending up doing to stop the headaches?
Sarah: It was a lot of trial and error. I did every change in foods and diets that you think of. I then… Well, I started to talk more to my family, and actually what I found out was, that was something that, on my mother’s side, everyone had. From mother, to grandmother, to… Really bad headaches. So where there’s a familiar link of… Perhaps that’s something how our bodies respond, or… To the hormone change. And it made me understand a bit more about what happens before your period, if that makes sense, in that phase. And try and manage those hormones, trying to get more sleep.
Sarah: It was lifestyle changes that I did. To be honest, I did a lot of stuff in my late teens, early 20s, and not much worked. It was a real combination. Then as I started to get older, that started to go away, which, my mom told me it would. She said that that was something that happened to all of them, from their teenage years to their early 20s, and then it shifts. I guess your body goes through a shift in how it manages the hormones. So yeah, that was how I managed it. But I still do get that sometimes, now. It’s very stress related and it’s very sleep related, for me.
Le’Nise: How has it been in the last three months?
Sarah: To be honest, I’ve had… So, I also… On top of the complication, depending on where I ovulate, what side, what I’ve noticed is that depending on the side, I get quite bad cramps and no headache, or on the other side, I get not very many cramps, and headaches. It will alternate the month, for me, actually, on what symptoms I get. It took a long time tracking that.
Sarah: I think over the last three months, I’ve had pretty… Bar the last one, I had pretty bad periods, in terms of quite a shift from my norm, in terms of symptoms… There’s a couple of things I know for sure is, one, I think just a lot of heightened stress, with just this lockdown and all that kind of stuff, I found that I’m working a lot and not able to switch off because I’m working at home, you don’t turn off. So it’s a heightened level of stress all the time. What I have done is… And also, bad sleeping. Also, super bad sleeping. And that has had an effect…
What I’ve really done over the last month when I thought, I need to get a grip on this… Because my headaches can last two to three days… Is, I’ve upped my exercise, quite substantially, and dropped a lot of sugar from my diet. Which, what I’ve realized is the entire time we’ve been in lockdown, I started to eat badly. It compounds, and then it has an effect. Then my last period was much better because of taking quite proactive action, and sleep. And I think that’s the real trigger for me really. And it’s been interesting, I’ve been relatively okay… I would get the old bad period here and there, but I could tell you why that was. Normally I could say, I had a terrible week of sleep, I was just super stressed, or I ate really badly that month. I could really pin it down. So, I think lockdown has a lot to do with it.
Le’Nise: It’s interesting that you are able to… You have such precision now in the way that you track your menstrual cycle, and you can say exactly, well, this is what happened to me in that week, so this is why my period… Or this is like this, or this is how I feel, why I felt like this. Can you talk a little bit about what you used to track, and how you… You said trial and error. So, what were the kinds of things that you trialed to get to that precision and tracking?
Sarah: Awhile back… I, in terms of a career, worked a lot in Pharma, and I actually ended up training to be a sexual health advisor. I worked in sexual health for a long time, and HIV. So, through my work there, I became super aware of your reproductive cycle as a woman, and just more au fait with stuff that I had no idea. That’s the key thing, is that most of us know very little.
Then, I went on to work with some of the big health tech giants who do tracking for fertility, and got into working in fertility and IVF. What was really great with that is, I suddenly became aware of the science behind reproduction, and also, how we as women, can have cues that we didn’t necessarily pick up on.
One of the things that I really did was, first… There’s a friend of mine, many years ago, who told me to do this. She goes, “Every day write down…” This was the before the apps… “Write down how you feel and if you have any symptoms.” Just bullet points, not enough sleep, slept well, what I’ve eaten, if I ate anything unusual, that kind of jazz. It took me about four months of doing that consistently to then start to pull the data and look at patterns. That was commitment. It’s something I did in my mid 20s. I was also then, a data geek, so that helped with finding patterns and sequences.
In terms of the trial and error, there were a lot of things I thought I saw as patterns, that turned out over the years, to not be. And things that I put very little onus on turned out to be, for me personally, and my body, turned out to be big factors into how I am. I think that the key thing that has… The hardest thing for me has been the food, and eating well, because that takes a level of discipline, and you have to… I guess, you have to be so cognizant, and it needs to become a practice that eating something, or whatever you’re doing, to link this in your brain, as a connection to how this can affect your menstrual cycles. And sometimes I don’t have that, to be honest, and I regret it after, I should have thought about that.
Where I have got better is, with the sleep really… Because I seem to function better as well, and also what was really helpful was I tracked a lot of my symptoms pre period, for me to know when I was going to come on. There’s a lot of cues that I now pay attention to that I would think, oh, I’ve just got this ache, or… For instance, I know, about three days before I’m about to come on I struggle with… I know restless leg is controversial, but I feel my legs… I’ve got almost like… Not cramps, but I feel restless in my legs at night.
Sarah: That is that… So I know at that point, that means that my period is coming. So all these little… Whereas before, I would pin that down to, maybe exercise.
Sarah: But actually, I know the difference between a DOM feeling of exercise, and this deep ache, which is slightly different. It’s not painful, it’s more uncomfortable. Then, things like breast tenderness, aches in your back. But it took a long time of writing those down. And not every month was the same, that was a key thing for me. So, it took me quite a long time to work out what… Some months, I’d get something, and some months I don’t. I’m not actually very consistent, if that makes sense, with my symptoms. I know some people are like… When I’ve talked to friends they’re like clockwork on, I get this pain here, and then this happens. Whereas for me, it really much depends on how I’ve lived that month. So, it’s just getting really au fait with my body actually, and get to know my body and then sense what is happening.
Le’Nise: So, this journey of you getting comfortable and more knowledgeable about your body, what else has it changed for you?
Sarah: I think it’s made me much more… Really good question. I think… This could sound strange… In general, it’s made me more conscious as a person, as a weird side effect, because I think a lot of the time, we live life on auto-pilot. We go through and just live… But, trying to stop and be present, and think about what’s happening, has spilled over into other areas of my life, weirdly. I never thought that, that would be a symptom but it has, it’s made me much more cognizant of how others could be feeling.
That sounds strange, but it really has made me think about being more in tune with my body in terms of… Sometimes I feel really flat, some days. Like zilch, nothing, and different phases of my period, I can feel that just absolute numbness, and I’m a quite motivated person, so that’s a real drop for me because of my personality, and I can’t get out of it. But sometimes when I go up to people, and I see them in that mood, it makes me empathetic in a way, because it’s made me think about what they could be going through. Not necessarily menstrual cycle, but in terms of our mental health, and our emotional well being. I think that it’s made me more hyper aware of the mind, body connection, I think, as a weird life symptom of being more in tune with your menstrual cycle.
Le’Nise: Yeah. You said that it makes you more empathetic to what people are going through, does it change the way that you interact with them?
Sarah: Yeah. Definitely. I think one of the things that has definitely come out of… Even trying to manage my own periods and trying to figure out what’s happening, is patience and exercising that, and… I’m somebody that wants the answer yesterday, as opposed to… Actually you can’t do that because sometimes… If I have something that feels a bit odd, I don’t know the reason straight away… And then actually, I would get real frustrated by that. Actually that is indicative of, probably who I was as a person, as a personality, and that’s made me really think about, in the way I interact with others, to have that patience and compassion. That sometimes things are happening and people don’t know why, or people may be having a reaction, or an exchange with somebody that you found frustrating, and to think more about why am I getting this reaction? What is stimulating this? As opposed to being, just immediately reactive.
Le’Nise: Yeah. I want to just go back to the tracking, because I think that it’s something obviously, that I encourage all of my clients to do. You get so much valuable information, data, whatever you want to call it.
Le’Nise: If someone’s listening and they think, yeah, I know I need to do this but how do I do it? What would your advice be based on your experience?
Sarah: First I would say, find the method that works for you, in terms of that is the ease of tracking. Because, I think one of the things that, with tracking, I find important, is that you need to be consistent, otherwise you won’t get that… You’re not going to see the… I say data. But you’re not going to see the patterns if you miss three days. Within a three day period, there can be such valuable information that happens in those 72 hours. So, you need to be consistent.
If you’re glued to your phone, get an app or do it in your notes. If you’re a journaler, write it down. But I find that… When I was doing this years ago, I was doing this manually, which took a lot of effort. Now, there’s loads of apps that allow you to just tick boxes. For instance, they’re picking up the arduous labor of it. So, I think you can track it, and I would encourage people to do that. In that way, you just build that habit.
The key thing is, just try and do it for a month, one month, and that’s… To be honest, is enough sometimes, for you to motivate you further. I think it just brings such valuable information. So I would say, find the way to track. The one thing about tracking, even though I’m a data geek is, I think you need to track what is intuitive to you, as opposed to trying to tick some boxes because…
Actually, when I first started, the best advice I got is just track what you feel, and I know that sounds vague and annoying but, that gave me the freedom to put down things that seemed innocuous, that then turned out to be really important. So, you don’t have to put how many hours that… You don’t have to be that descriptive, I think it’s just doing what works for you. If you just want to track your mood, or you want to track biological physical symptoms, great. I think that, that’s super important, to not be so rigid that you don’t do it, and it becomes to you, labor. Any data is good data in my book.
Le’Nise: I just have this vision of you with this massive Excel spreadsheet-
Sarah: No, there was an Excel sheet. There was. There actually was.
Le’Nise: Brilliant. That is brilliant.
Sarah: What motivated me is because I had… If I hadn’t had symptoms that really annoyed me, where I found it hard, I wouldn’t have had that motivation I don’t think. But because I wanted to really get to the bottom of these headaches, out came the Excel sheet.
Le’Nise: Yeah. Were there pivot tables?
Le’Nise: I want to shift gears and talk about your work and the company that you’ve founded, WellSpoken Mark. Talk to us about why you thought this was necessary, and the steps that you’re taking at the moment.
Sarah: Yeah, sure. As I mentioned before, my career was working in the medical health care setting. I worked with a lot of Pharma companies and NGOs and health care situations, to do work there in terms of improving peoples’ health in, specifically these areas. I then became a consultant at that particular point in my career, and I stumbled into working for someone who needed help with some consumer health stuff.
So, this is the stuff that comes out of the really hard regs that comes around Pharma and medical stuff that is a bit more life and death. And this was more in terms of just healthy living. When I looked at the content people were producing I was really shocked at the standards because, evidently when you have really hard legislation in place when it comes to showing information about prescription drugs, you have to be by the book because, there’s no room for someone to misunderstand a dosing, because the consequences are so huge. Your communication has to work for everybody. Everybody needs to understand precisely what you’re saying.
What I found is, because there wasn’t that rigor, I felt, in the more wellness, consumer field… Because actually, the results and the outcomes aren’t so serious it seems. And that’s why I would say, it doesn’t seem that it’s that serious on the outset. But what I really believe is that health is 360, and I really believe in preventative health, and I think healthy living comes onto that.
And our society is really focused on treatment, rather than prevention, and that reflects in how we treat information about prevention. So, I saw that there was a lot of, just crap and it was chaos. I thought, we need to figure out a way to bring some of the rigor that we have in the medical field, into this field because it equally is important. If you take on a wrong diet regime, or you exercise incorrectly with poor form, you can hurt yourself. So, it’s important.
So there was the spark of where WellSpoken Mark was founded. What essentially we are is, a co-op mark and we work with brands to ensure that the content they’re producing, meets a certain credibility standard before it goes out to you and I in the consumer space. We worked with two universities, one in Barcelona, and one in Sheffield, they’ve both got health information support departments, which is… That’s a whole other world. And that looks at the way that we as humans now interact with health information, especially online and the way that consumer trust works. They may seem like really odd buckets but actually, the way that we engage with health information, our guard is down societally, in a way that it’s not when we deal with let’s say money.
I’ll give you a classic example. I did a focus group and a lady talked to me about, she signed up for a meal prep service that was being advertised on Instagram, loved it, she said she couldn’t wait to get her food, she just wanted to get her macros, and all that kind of good jazz. And she signed up via a promotion on Instagram, she signed up with some influencer’s code, and it was mighty expensive obviously, per month. You’re talking in the hundreds in terms of the cost to do that.
She then said what she then realized is, at the same time she was looking to lease a car, and actually same amount of money per month. But she was going into the fine print of that leasing contract, she was looking around at different vendors to see where she could get the best deal, and her approach to spending her money in terms of a car, was so different to the way that she literally clicked a link and paid hundreds of pounds a month via social media to improve her health as it were. And that’s a classic example of where we are as a society at the moment.
Just the way that we tend to have no guard when it comes to healthy information, which is what a lot of… What we absorb, but all of this information without fact checking credit… It looks glossy on Instagram, we just assume everything is above God. And because of that, and because our health literacy, which is… It’s basically two parts. It’s our ability to understand health information and then make an informed decision with that information. Globally, but in the UK specifically, it’s quite low. Even though we are quite a developed country and strong economically, you would think that those two go hand, and they don’t.
What that means is that, as a consumer base, we don’t have the skills yet. And often, we’re not taught those skills, whether it be in school, or wherever to decipher good or bad health information. We think it’s really important then, if you are a producer of that health information, that you need to take that on board, and you need to think about, how do you… Make sure that your… Whoever’s your audience, doesn’t misunderstand the information you’re putting out, and then doesn’t do something with that information that, then is detrimental.
There was a real big move in terms of clean eating, a couple of years ago and then what you had was, a real spike in orthorexia, for instance. Which is, being obsessive with healthy eating, or you had the… When people talk about mental health, they just move… The naturalist movement to not taking any medication. But actually, if you have a serious health condition, suddenly not taking your prescribed medication because you see this move on Instagram, is not ideal for you. People are making health actions without checking with health professionals because we have this peer to peer learning culture in health, actually that’s great but, there’s some negatives to that. What’s really important for us in terms of working with wellness brands, with all that considered, is them thinking about… When you’re communicating with your audience, you need to think about their health literacy rates, but also what impacts them.
And our next big thing that we’re engaging brands in is, to think about health inequalities when it comes to different socioeconomic groups and actually, race plays a part in that, and we’ve had a lot of talk about the lack of current diversity in wellness. Although, that… From a social perspective, that’s not great in terms of it does not represent part of the community, it actually has health implications, because if you look at the data, health outcomes for black and minority people are much lower than white people, in the UK. And part of the reason for that… There was a real big move in the 90s and early 2000s that, it was due to cultural and genetic factors… I put in inverted commas… But what we now know is, that racism and discrimination plays a part in the way that people can receive health information and how they can seek help. It’s all bundled into one big snowball. If you’re sharing health and wellness information it’s important to think about every one in your audience, not just people that are necessarily wealthy, or highly educated, or have more social mobility.
So, our next big thing is, engaging wellness brands to sign a diversity charter, which makes some commitments to improving diversity in the wellness industry. Which will have, I hope, better implications in terms of making the wellness industry more representative of the population, but also actually, on the content they produce. Bearing in mind that it’s not just for their audience.
Le’Nise: I want to go back to what you were saying about health literacy, and how in the UK you would assume it’s high, but it’s actually quite low. And you talked about this peer to peer learning culture around health, and what’s really interesting is, there’s a lot of statistics that show that amongst black people, trust in doctors is actually quite low. So, how do you connect this idea of low trust in doctors with lack of health literacy, but also this peer to peer learning culture?
Sarah: Yeah. I think… God, that’s a big question… There’s multi layers to it. You’re absolutely right, that is a big ball of chaos because you have all those elements playing at one. I think it’s to… One is to really unpick why there’s this low trust with health care professionals. Often, that’s generationally passed down. I’ll give you an example from my own family, in terms of how that is positioned. It actually does come from a place of personal anecdotal experience, often. That often… If you look at the data, in terms of people’s experiences, what you’ll find is they say they’ve had a very negative interaction with a health care professional, they have perceived that to be because of who they are, and their skin color, and they’ve had poor treatment or poor interactions because of that. And obviously, no one’s going to go back to somewhere that doesn’t engage you or interact with you well.
So, I think on that level, we need to ensure that health care professionals are proactively, and they’re visibly making those changes, to build that trust with those communities. Unfortunately, it’s alive and kicking today. Even when we look at the MMBRACE report, in terms of women dying in childbirth but five times more likely if you’re black, and then even with this COVID situation with band groups who are dying disproportionately, there’s a lot of work to be done there.
I think one of the key things that health care professionals can do is, they need to engage with community pillars. So, have conversations, to bring them into the community to be seen as a safe space. Where it comes into social peer to peer learning, what we have in the community, I think, is some brilliant networks, in terms of people that are connected to each other, sharing information. And health care professionals need to tap in. I think also, the leaders of those networks, or people that are influential within our black community, in terms of… On social media, who are driving a lot of the conversation, I think also need to have a…
It’s a mental move, rather than anything visual, a move to actually not seeing themselves as influencers or just information sharers, and to see themselves as information providers. When you make that shift in your head, there comes a level of rigour because now, as a responsibility, as a person who’s sharing information, and you know that your influence is quite big, and you know that people will take your information and run with it. With that responsibility, then we need to employ some of the practices that we see in other institutions where there’s liability. So that means, providing things like references, moving in from sharing, to education. And it’s a really subtle shift, it’s not necessarily something that you can just do that someone talks about, I think it’s just the way that you communicate, and focus on providing facts and improving someone’s health literacy.
Because when we talk about health literacy, particularly in wellness in general, but also in wellness in the black community, what you’ll see is, people will recommend something and… Because of group think, and the way that we interact in a social setting, people will have an understanding that, this is healthy for me because… Or something. They’re not quite clear when you ask them, why is that healthy? They just know that it is. And then they’ll then do it. But that’s low health literacy because that means that you can’t explain why you’re making those choices.
So, we need to plug where we know those gaps are, to make sure that you communicate to… I always say, it’s the lowest denominator, not the highest… Not the most educated person in your audience, the person that doesn’t know anything, and that’s actually where you need to be based. So, what I’m hoping that in time… It’s going to be a compound move, as opposed to one thing, within the black community. But I think once we… I think there’s a growing acceptance now that… And the science backs us… That this myth that… There are some things that are genetic in all race groups, so not just black community. But, we need to move away as a community to think that everything is cultural, everything is food based, everything is diet based, and once we acknowledge that there are some socioeconomic cultural aspects in play at why our health outcomes are worse, that helps us automatically do better, if that makes sense.
Le’Nise: Yeah. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. You mentioned going from an information sharer to an information provider, and I think what’s really interesting about that is, the idea of referencing is really powerful, but there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that comes out of working with people, and you see a pattern, and sometimes… I just want to talk a little bit about this because sometimes in the science based community you see a lot of negative commentary around anecdotal evidence. Talk a little bit about your opinion about that.
Sarah: Yeah. I personally think anecdotal evidence has a huge part to play in terms of linking that data and clinical decision making, I actually think. Because, anecdotal evidence… A certain level of anecdotal evidence is required for you to see a pattern in your clinical study. So actually, it’s the precursor to what people see as the most rigorous data driven analysis. But, it has to come from somewhere, you’re not plucking it out of thin air. So I think, there’s a move… Can I use COVID as an example? To talk about where this negative connotation of anecdotal evidence has big health implications.
So, one of the things that I really believe is that, science moves faster, and information move faster, than we could ever publish it. So, just because something’s not published doesn’t mean it doesn’t hold truth, we just haven’t had 18 months to run a study. It doesn’t mean it’s not true.
Again, sorry, going back into geek mode. One of the real interesting things for me, in terms of looking at COVID, was looking at how we got to where we were, in terms of big spikes. People were looking for hard data… And actually, if you look at some of explanations from the way that the WHO and… They’re great, so it’s not to criticize them. I think it’s more to do with their culture. When doctors were reporting incidents of these weird cases… Because it was only anecdotal, it wasn’t taken quite seriously enough, until you hit a number, which was deemed to be important enough to take action. Now, I think in terms of that, having markers is super important I think, when it comes to things like medication and things that you’re ingesting or consuming. Because evidently there’s safety concerns that are associated with that.
So I think there’s a real… Still, there’s a place for having very clear parameters before you make claims, around certain aspects of health, that we have to have them, otherwise we’re going to get into people being quite ill. That’s not to say that’s not the case. I think by not having a positive view of anecdotal evidence, we actually rob ourselves sometimes from foresight and looking ahead at where things could be going because we’re waiting for things to hit a marker when we know it’s happening.
I think…I’ll give you an example in terms of more of the wellness field is… One of the things that’s quite interesting… And we don’t have a lot of data on it, but we know it as a trend… Is that, in some meditation practices what we have seen is… From clinical, small studies… Is that certain meditation practices, for certain people with certain mental health conditions, can actually exacerbate those conditions, as opposed to make things better. Now, what has happened is, because we’ve had the universal communication that meditation and mindfulness is brilliant for all… That has been the narrative. Anyone can do it… I’m thinking about all the messaging that we’ve seen from the big wellness brands… One, we didn’t have, in the western world, so many people doing it on mass, so we didn’t have the data. But when we did start to see some negative effects coming out of very niche groups… This was an example of where… Actually, people didn’t wait for 10,000 cases of this before issuing that advice, and we took anecdotal evidence quite seriously, and then made policy change within, for instance, institutions in terms of thinking about peoples’ mental health conditions.
So, this is where there is a role for anecdotal evidence. What I always say to people in terms of… Especially when you’re working in well being, where… Let’s be honest… Because, there’s no funding. Pharma’s not going to fund a well being study in terms of, there’s no product at the end of it. Let’s be honest. You don’t have the data because it doesn’t exist. Who’s going to fund it?
What I always say to people is, those markers are there for a reason, because it’s a safety thing. However, it doesn’t mean that you can’t share. So, I just think what we need to do is, just be clear to our audience that it is anecdotal evidence, and that is the way, I think, we have a good middle ground. Where we can still share the experiences of people, but we say, look, this is what we’ve seen as patterns with the people that we work with, for instance. This is not indicative that this is a health claim that this will be for you, but it’s something to consider. I think it’s about toning down the language all around health claims and absolutes. What might work for someone might not work for you. And then, positioning things that do, especially based on antidotal evidence, is where we just need to be careful. But, there is a place.
Le’Nise: Yeah. 100%.
Sarah: And I think we need to… Once we accept that science is… I know this sounds strange. Science is not all-knowing, and science shifts. I was a microbiologist by trade. It was funny, I was looking at my old textbooks from 10, 12 years ago, they’re outdated. I couldn’t even give that to anybody that’s studying now because the information there is… We know more. And actually, it’s not relevant anymore. So I think, if you see science as an evolving feat, anecdotal evidence has a role to play.
Le’Nise: I want to talk about the diversity in wellness project that you’re doing. It’s a really important topic, there’s a lot of conversation about race and Black Lives Matter right now. When will this be out? And how can people connect with it?
Sarah: The charter goes live on June the 15th, Monday, June the 15th. It’s super important. We know that within the wellness field… You and I have spoken about this before… There is a certain aesthetic, and there is a certain kind of elitism that is class based also. That’s important to say, it’s class, and then race comes under that. And you have a… In the place that’s supposed to be very inclusive, actually has become not very inclusive. So, we challenge that, and to challenge the people that, I would say, run the scene, because they’ve got the money behind it, they’re the powerhouse of the brand. What we’re calling for is, brands to commit to five pledges.
Now, what they cover is, corporate diversity, making sure that they’re internally hiring people that are from different ethnic backgrounds. To widen they’re perspective, especially within health. Education, so when you get the stuff, actually educating them on what we talked about in terms of health inequality and where race plays a role, and how you have to adapt your marketing instructions to a company. Fair pay, making sure that people are paid equally, that’s a problem in this scene unfortunately. Access…
Let me get it out… I missed one, I’m sorry. You might have to edit this, I forgot my five pledges…
Representation, so making sure that people are represented, seeing themselves in the scene. And then the last one is, all around access, so trying to make things more accessible for more people. When you have high price points… Actually, this is done very well in other fields. And it’s not necessarily that you always have a reduced cost rate, for instance. But there’s other strategies, you could pay it forward, there’s lots of ways that wellness brands can… If they are a high price point, think about supporting communities and low income communities that can’t get in. All that kind of stuff.
So, what we’re asking brands to do is, to sign up to these pledges, and then do the work to actually implement those in their companies. So, they way that it will work with us is, if you sign up as a brand, we will do an audit of, where does diversity sit in this company at the moment, what does it look like? And then we will work with them to basically, put a plan together that works for them that’s authentic, that’s organic, that’s not just optical allyship, that’s just not performative, but that actually has meaningful change, and a lot of that, probably we won’t see, if that makes sense. It’s internal changes. And then we will do annual reviews of how those changes are taking place. Because, I think it’s quite a big structural shift.
So I think at the same time, we need to give companies time to make those changes in a really authentic way, and not in a knee jerk way. Because actually, you end up getting things wrong when you do things in a reactionary state, rather than in really considered states.
As for what we’re asking people to do when we launch is… In the link in our bio what we will have is… We’re hoping to do a pincer movement. I think this is what’s going to bring about change. We will have the charter, which we’re directly approaching brands, to sign up to. But then we’re going to have an email template that people in the community, people in wellness can copy and paste and send to their favorite wellness brands and say, “Have you signed up for this charter?” We had over 150 now, as of this morning, black and minority wellness practitioners, or professionals working in the field, sign up and give their support to this charter. So for me, it’s really… It’s of the people and it’s for the people, if that makes sense. This is what we as a community are calling for, and then if we mobilize both ends, it puts the right amount of pressure, I think, on brands, that this is something that consumers want. They want this transparency, and they want things to change when it comes to racial equality.
Le’Nise: And for all of you who are listening, we’ll put all of the links to the charter and the email template in the show notes. If listeners take one thing away from all of the brilliant things that you’ve shared with us today, what would you want that to be?
Sarah: I would say to everybody, think of your health literacy as a core skill of yours. And actually, we all have… As we’ve gotten older, and grown up, come out of school, had to learn about financial literacy, had to learn interpersonal skills, had to maneuver through the world, and often, just the way that society has been, we’ve neglected our health literacy.
My real passion project is to get people to think about that as a core skill of theirs in terms of… Especially if you’re very engaged with your health, it’s really important that you make informed decisions about your health, and that are right for you as a person. We see lots of trends and core things that go on in health and wellness, but the key is deciphering, is that right for you and what’s going to make your life better, and your health better? So I would say, look into your health literacy. We’re shortly going to have a test of how you can test your health literacy. So, either you can see where you are… And it gives you a gage on how you can think about that. So yeah, that is what I would say. Health literacy all the way.
Le’Nise: Brilliant. Thank you so much for coming on to the show, Sarah. Can you just tell the listeners the link to URL of WellSpoken Mark?
Sarah: Yeah. Absolutely. Our website is www.wearewellspoken.com. And on all social channels our name is WellSpoken Mark, so it’s the same across all platforms. You’ll find us most alive and kicking on Instagram.
Le’Nise: Brilliant. Thank you so much.