This episode of Conversations for Health features Gray Area Drinking expert Jolene Park. Jolene stopped drinking in 2014 and has studied the functional impact of food, emotions, environments, and movement in relationship to our physical bodies, which she speaks about in her TED talk about gray area drinking. She founded Healthy Discoveries in 2001 and created Craving Brain private coaching for individuals, the Sober Choice online course for the public, and the NOURISH Method training program for coaches and healthcare practitioners who would like to specialize in Gray Area Drinking Coaching.
In our conversation, Jolene addresses the key characteristics of gray area drinking. She offers tactics for practitioners who are supporting patients and clients as they evaluate their alcohol intake, including the questions to ask patients that will quickly and accurately assess their alcohol consumption. She highlights her personal experience with quitting alcohol, the supplements that helped her through the process, and the positive impact that sobriety has had on her health. Jolene offers resources, information, and encouragement for practitioners as they guide patients through gray area drinking toward a healthier lifestyle.
I’m your host, Evelyne Lambrecht, thank you for designing a well world with us.
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[2:15] Jolene defines gray area drinking as the space between two extremes of drinking.
[4:17] Alcohol use disorder varies from alcoholism in one very specific way.
[6:24] Tactics for quickly identifying patients as gray area drinkers.
[8:54] Key risk factors that contribute to drinking alcohol include stress in relationships, work, or sleep.
[12:05] Inappropriate advice about stress management and alcohol recommendations from therapists.
[15:38] Jolene’s personal experience with quitting alcohol consumption.
[19:00] 80% of Jolene’s clients are healthcare experts including therapists, naturopaths and nutritionists, and doctors.
[20:40] The physiological response to alcohol intake and comparable substitution options.
[25:00] The biggest change that Jolene has seen in her own health since abstaining from alcohol.
[27:04] A comprehensive approach to supporting gray area drinkers in their non-drinking journey.
[30:09] Supporting healthy neurotransmitters with nutrients and supplements.
[33:10] The negative impact of alcohol on perimenopause and menopausal women.
[35:00] Nutrient recommendations including inositol and Jolene’s favorite herbs for anxiety support.
[37:15] Additional tools including Dr. Braverman’s personality questionnaire and tactics for living sober in an alcohol prominent environment.
[44:33] Making connections between anxiety, overall health, and drinking alcohol.
[47:28] Reframing the decision not to drink in a way that makes you feel empowered.
[49:20] Jolene’s personal favorite supplements, favorite health practices, and her new opinion on beans.
[55:00] Jolene’s practitioner training program and resources for practitioners who want to guide patients through gray area drinking.
Voiceover: Conversations for Health, dedicated to engaging discussions with industry experts, exploring evidence-based cutting edge research and practical tips. Our mission is to empower you with knowledge, debunk myths, and provide you with clinical insights.
This podcast is provided as an educational resource for healthcare practitioners only. This podcast represents the views and opinions of the host and their guests, and does not represent the views or opinions of Designs for Health, Inc. This podcast does not constitute medical advice. The statements contained in this podcast have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Any products mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Now let’s embark on a journey towards optimal wellbeing, one conversation at a time. Here’s your host, Evelyne Lambrecht.
Evelyne: Welcome to Conversations for Health. Today I’m excited to talk to Jolene Park about alcohol, gray area drinking, and about how you as a practitioner can support your patients or clients as they evaluate their alcohol intake. Welcome Jolene to the show.
Jolene Park: Thanks, Evelyne. It’s so fun to be here with you.
Evelyne: Yes. We are also going to share our personal stories. This is a topic that I’m very passionate about, because I haven’t had a drink in over three and a half years. And Jolene and I actually have similar stories in that there was no rock bottom moment, and we stopped drinking for the health of it.
Jolene is a sought after speaker and leading authority on gray area drinking. Her pioneering TED Talk has been viewed 400,000 times. She’s a functional nutritionist and health coach who provides a new and revolutionary way to rewire, replenish, and repair the nervous system after quitting drinking. Her NOURISH Method is applicable to anyone questioning their drinking or who has already quit, especially those who don’t have a crash and burn drinking story.
Jolene guides clients through the missing physiological pieces that they need to reduce excessive alcohol consumption, anxiety, and cravings. And she trains healthcare practitioners on the importance of nourishing neurotransmitters and supporting their client’s nervous system in a comprehensive way. So Jolene, let’s start with some definitions. What is gray area drinking?
Jolene Park: Well, gray area drinking is the space between two extremes of drinking. So the first extreme would be that stereotypical end stage rock bottom example. And the other extreme would be an every now and again drinker who drinks a handful of times throughout the year.
And the truth is that most people who drink aren’t in either one of those extremes. They’re not in an extreme end stage, but they’re also not in an every now and again place with their drinking either. Where they are is in between that which is a long and wide gray area, and that’s where the term which resonates with a lot of people comes is gray area drinking.
And within that, some people might identify as a social drinker, a moderate drinker, a problem drinker, even an alcoholic. What is not gray area drinking is someone who needs medical intervention to stop. So there’s a lot of people who drink even excessively, but they can and they do stop without needing medical intervention, which is not a shaming thing. I’m talking about a physiological, they just need that resource and support.
So gray area drinkers don’t need that physical support to stop. They can and do stop. But often, they’re drinking excessively, problematically, and certainly more than is recommended.
Evelyne: Yeah, I just read that the American Addiction Centers estimated that 36 million Americans are gray area drinkers. That was based on a survey of almost 4,000 people done in February 2022. And 23% of the people surveyed said they consume alcohol in excess to cope with emotions. And those are very different statistics from alcohol use disorder. This is such a larger group of people. Can you talk about the term alcohol use disorder, and how it differs from alcoholism, and how alcohol use disorder is really the more correct term?
Jolene Park: Yeah. So that’s the newer term that in 2013, they changed it to alcohol use disorder. That’s the recognized term in the DSM. However, like I said, all of those terms… Let’s back up for a minute. The Lancet medical journal in 2018 has put out, that’s the article that practitioners need to know about, and it’s in that medical journal has said there is no safe or healthy recommended intake level of alcohol. That was 2018. In 2020, the Cancer Society has said from a cancer risk, they don’t recommend any alcohol. So there is no safe or healthy recommended intake.
And now the terms are getting even tighter, where we’re actually starting to quantify with an actual number. And there’s rumblings and rumor on the street just of this weekend, some articles have come out that in 2025, that there very well could be a real definitive line in the sand saying that any more than three or more drinks in a week is too much. So when we talk about that every now and again drinking, we’ve always danced around it. It’s been ambiguous, it’s been a little vague. What is that?
And the line is starting to get pretty clear that it’s two drinks a week max. And if it goes over two drinks, then that gets into the self-diagnosis. And some people will diagnose or identify as a normal drinker, social drinker, moderate drinker, alcohol use disorder, mild, moderate, severe, or an alcoholic. All of that goes under the umbrella of gray area drinking, unless somebody needs medical intervention to stop. That’s not gray area drinking. But all those terms are under the umbrella at this point of gray area drinking.
Evelyne: And how would a practitioner potentially identify someone coming in to their practice? And maybe they themselves don’t realize that they are drinking too much, because it is just completely socially acceptable in our society. And often, we as practitioners, we ask the question, or when you’re filling out the intake at the doctor’s office, we get asked, “How many drinks do you consume per week?” So what do you like to ask to identify gray area drinkers in your practice?
Jolene Park: Yeah. So I’ve been training coaches and practitioners on how to work with their client base around gray area drinking since 2018. And I find the most telling question, both for the practitioner and for the patient and the client is not, how much are you drinking, but has there been a period of time where you haven’t been drinking? Tell me about that.
So that is very revealing. It’s a really good data point. Again, both for the practitioner and for the individual, of have you gone a period of time without alcohol? Because a top characteristic of gray area drinkers is they can and they do stop drinking.
So what you want to hear then in client stories, patient stories, is where has been that time and times where they aren’t drinking, because you’ll hear it. People who are in this gray area are often listening to the podcast, reading the books, doing online searches on social media. There’s a conversation around the sober curious, the gray area, stopping for the health of it. They’re very aware of that. They’re aware of the dry January’s, the sober Octobers, and participating in some online programs or reading books where they on their own, they stop, because they can stop and they do stop.
So as a practitioner, you want to hear that. You want to hear when those times are, as opposed to somebody who has never had a stop. That’s also really good data. It’s very good data of if somebody can’t go a consecutive 30 days and not stop drinking, I’m not going to diagnose that. I need more information. I need to really hear the story about the person. But it’s very good data if someone can’t go 30 straight days without drinking alcohol.
Evelyne: What would you say are some of the risk factors?
Jolene Park: Well, stress is the top one. So often, patients will report… Again, I’ve clinically been working with patients full-time for seven years and training practitioners. So I hear a lot of that on the front lines, boots to the ground work with individuals around the alcohol conversation. And often patients will say in one way or another to that practitioner, “I’m stressed. I’m not sleeping. Something’s going on with a relationship. There’s worry with kids or work.” In some form or fashion, that comes out in the conversation.
And also what individuals will report is sometimes the practitioner will be like, “It’s just been a season. You’ve been carrying a lot. It makes sense. You have been a little overstressed,” so quickly brush that off. If people are talking about stress, the next question then is, “Tell me about your alcohol use. Are you drinking?”
And usually when the door is open like that, people want to talk about it with their practitioner. They have told me many times, “I wish my doctor, my therapist, my coach, my trainer would’ve just said, ‘You’re drinking too much. You do know the recommended amounts,’” which it’s a very narrow line before it becomes too much. And so the first and foremost kind of risk is when people are self-reporting, stress, insomnia, anything with relationships or work.
Another big risk piece, the demographic that I work with is women 35 to 55. So that perimenopausal, menopause time. I work with neurotransmitters, learn that myself actually in a Designs for Health workshop, weekend workshop in 2016 was where I really dug in as a functional nutritionist and did a deep dive into neurotransmitters and then continued to learn.
But women who are in perimenopause, as many of those listening know, there’s that synergistic relationship with GABA with progesterone. So as progesterone starts to drop, GABA starts to drop. When both of those hormones, when the neurochemical is low, we start to feel more anxious, have more difficulty sleeping. And there’s a lot of women self-medicating as their neurochemicals go down, as their hormones go down. So stress, hormone response in that perimenopause age.
Certainly trauma, adversity. And that early adversity, if you know about that history, if there’s current adversity, any kind of loss. A recent miscarriage, a loss of a relationship, a loss of a job, a loss of a dream. Certainly it can be a death, but just that some loss of a move, or a career, or financial loss. Often that’s also where there’s an uptick with people’s drinking.
Evelyne: Thank you for sharing that. I want to talk more about the physiological effects, and we will definitely dive more into the neurotransmitters. And I also wanted to share on the piece about mental health a personal story. I think I’ve told you this one before.
I was seeing a therapist in maybe 2018 or 2019, I don’t remember exactly. And I said something about how I was drinking wine, and the therapist said, “Well, sometimes we just need that glass of wine.” And at that time I had already… It must’ve been 2019, I’d already started reading about this sober curious movement. And I just thought, “Oh gosh, no, maybe that’s not the answer.” So it’s interesting that even as a therapist, that healthcare practitioners are just not trained in this.
Jolene Park: I hear that, your story all the time. It’s a really, really, really common story. And it becomes confusing to gray area drinkers, which again, most people who are drinking are drinking in the gray area.
And so when they’re looking to health authority, their personal practitioner who will say, “It’s okay to have a glass of wine here or there. Takes the edge off, it helps you relax.” Or, “Don’t worry about it, you’re worrying too much. It’s not like you’re an alcoholic or anything.” All of those things certainly are coming from a very compassionate place and benign place.
But the problem is that if we haven’t really sat down, and heard people’s drinking timelines, and heard their stories, it can be very confusing for gray area drinkers. Because that’s another characteristic, is externally, they don’t look like they have a problem. Especially to friends, families, therapists, doctors. Things externally aren’t necessarily happening that look bad on the outside. But internally, there’s a struggle, there’s a question. There’s some fretting and worrying.
So when a practitioner says, “Don’t worry about it,” without knowing if there’s a real story there, because we can present externally, but we really don’t know internally, people’s drinking histories. It can set people up to continue to drink for many years where they’ll look back and say, “I wish I would’ve just stopped that. I wish somebody would’ve just said, ‘You’re drinking too much.’” And again, now with the data, we’re not saying that from, it’s not a moral standpoint. It’s not a personal opinion or kind of holier than thou judgment, or any kind of spiritual, legalistic thing. It’s truly what The Lancet is saying. It’s from a cancer prevention. We know seven cancers are connected with alcohol. And like I said, we’re starting to really draw a line in the sand. It doesn’t take much if it’s more than three drinks or more in a week, it’s too much. That’s where the science is.
Now, that’s not saying everyone who drinks more than three drinks has a problem and they shouldn’t drink. It’s not saying that at all. But for the ones who are silently worrying, fretting, going back and forth, putting the conversation out to the practitioner, we do have some really hard and clear lines of, it doesn’t take much to be too much. And I think we owe it to our clients and patients to let them know.
Evelyne: Yeah. And Jolene, you have a personal story too. You stopped drinking, nine years ago?
Jolene Park: Yeah, it’ll be nine years December 2023. I stopped drinking December 2014, and I certified in functional nutrition in 1999. Was going to functional medicine, functional nutrition conferences early 2000s. I mean, so much of my training and background is in the weekend conferences. Many of the designs for health conferences.
Worked in corporate wellness. Took this information and worked in corporate wellness for many years, did some one-on-one nutrition consulting. And love it, still love it. Still love the study of the physiology, everything that always comes out as nutrition changes and evolves, and always will, and a lifelong learner with it.
And on the weekends, I was out with my girlfriends in Denver, girls night out, and book clubs. And again, there was nothing about my drinking that someone would’ve pointed a finger externally and said, “Whoa, she really has a problem.” But internally, I knew I was drinking too much. I would pour a glass of wine, and then pour another and another. And it was very easy to drink a bottle of wine on a really frequent occasion. Nothing external, being pulled over by the police or things like that ever happened. But I just knew it was too much for me.
And that was even before these numbers, and the Lancet report, and all of that. But I had gone back and forth so many times of I would quit and then say, “I don’t need to be so restrictive. I can drink socially.” And I’d go back to drinking, and then drink for a while, and regret it too many times, and I’d quit. And it was that back and forth Groundhog Day that I just said, “It doesn’t change and I know it’s not going to change, and I’m just going to stop for good.” And it’s been almost nine years now.
Evelyne: That’s amazing. Yeah, actually you know my story. But I first did a 30-day experiment that turned into 80 something days and then I thought, “I could drink moderately.” And it’s amazing, you realize when you do that, how much headspace it takes up to have that conversation with yourself like, “I’m only going to have two drinks tonight,” but then have more, and just the 4:00 AM wake up with the existential dread, which I didn’t even realize is so common among people.
And then a couple months later, after I basically was right back where I was before, I tried another 30 days. Then it was January 1st, 2020 when I said, “Okay, I’m going to go 100 days.” And then I haven’t had a drink since then. It’s interesting with us being in the health industry, and if you’re listening to this and you also identify, there is a lot of drinking. And as health professionals, we eat organic or we do all these things, but then we’re drinking, this level one carcinogen. And there’s a lot of cognitive dissonance. I think that’s the hardest thing, right? You want to stop drinking, but you don’t want to at the same time. And I will say just having now not had a drink in almost four years, it’s just so much easier to not drink.
Jolene Park: Yeah. In my private practice, I’ve been working with clients one-on-one since 2016. The majority of my clients are in the healthcare industry, because I speak from the nutrition standpoint, from that health perspective. So organically, I didn’t necessarily set up my marketing that way. But what has happened over the years is who I’ve worked with individually with, about 80% of my clients are therapists, and naturopaths, and nutritionists, and doctors, and nurses, and social workers, and other coaches, because it’s kind of that white elephant in the room that one of a big drinking population is the healthcare population, which makes a lot of sense.
I mean, we’re giving and extending our energy out. There can be that compassion fatigue, some of the burnout working with clients. And how are we replenishing, how are we refueling? We love the topic, we love wellness and everything around health. But how are we regulating our own nervous system, and discharging, and downshifting at the end of the day? And alcohol has been very socially acceptable. We would talk about the antioxidants in red wine, and those components that can go into the functional nutrition. But it’s also been a little bit of an elephant in the room, is connecting some of these health fairs, and practices, and practitioners, that there is drinking that’s happening in these industries as well.
Evelyne: Yeah. Let’s talk about what happens on a physiological perspective, because you’ve now hinted at it a few times. What is happening when we take a drink, when we take that sip of wine? And why does it actually relax us, and what then can we do instead?
Jolene Park: Well, it has an initial effect on neurotransmitters, where it feels like a GABA effect. That relaxing anti-anxiety downshift, turning the mind chatter off pretty immediate within a couple minutes. And a lot of women I work with will say, “I didn’t realize how anxious I was and how much I was using alcohol to push down that anxiety.”
So that’s one of the first things is the neurochemical effect. Some people can get an energizing effect, more of a dopamine hit. It just depends, individual biochemistry. So some people will drink and they’re the energizer bunny. They can crank out the rest of the evening, the laundry, the emails, whatever. Other people, it’s that GABA relaxing impact.
So that’s the initial, seemingly positive effect. But the problem then is those neurotransmitters deplete. The alcohol just depletes them even more. So then we want more alcohol for that feeling, that effect. And then it becomes a vicious cycle of trying to get that natural neurotransmitter effect. But as far as what alcohol does in the body, I mean pick a system.
So the neurological system, the hormonal system, the digestive system, as far as just the gut microbiome, wrecks havoc on that. Cardiovascular system, too much alcohol. I know there has been the question of a little red wine, good for the heart, but it doesn’t take much to be too much.
I was just talking with a new client today saying in her menopause of waking up with just… I mean, it feels like her heart is coming out of her chest after a couple drinks. And so any system, nervous system, neurological, digestive, hormonal, the ramifications are not good of raising the cortisol, raising the adrenaline, and the state that alcohol puts the system in pretty quickly in a negative state.
Evelyne: I think so often as a practitioner, when you’re seeing a patient or client, and they come to you for whatever, and you identify it’s gut or hormones, and we know things relate back to the gut. But I think we’re not looking at alcohol as a cause. We’re not treating it as the important contributor that it is. And it may just be the one thing that a patient or client needs to eliminate to get to that next level of their health.
Jolene Park: Well, I would say I absolutely agree, and have said for anyone working with clients or patients on anything physical or mental and not addressing alcohol, they’re missing a huge piece. And just like you’ve mentioned, whether it’s gut health, or adrenal health, or hormonal health, sleep health, and not asking, again, “Has there been a period that you haven’t had alcohol?” And what did people notice then with their sleep, or with their gut, or with their energy levels when they didn’t drink? So as you’re working on those pieces, or even the emotional pieces, the anxiety, the depression. To not bring alcohol into the conversation, it just misses a huge piece.
Evelyne: Yeah. And because of all those downstream effects on the hormones, on the microbiome, on everything else, I feel like for me, the biggest change I’ve noticed is actually in my mental health. I feel like my baseline level of joy, of happiness is higher than it used to be. And I think even taking things like saffron and some other supplements has bumped it up another level. But I really do feel a difference that’s beyond just situational in terms of giving up drinking. And I’m curious, what has been the biggest thing for you that you’ve noticed?
Jolene Park: I think similar, on the same lines about just that window of tolerance, that zone of resilience. With alcohol, we’re not able to complete the emotional loop, so things just keep looping. And when we’re not drinking, we’re able to go through that innate process that our bodies know to do, and to discharge emotions. Whereas when we’re always drinking through the emotions, they don’t discharge, and it keeps us in that loop.
And so not drinking builds what we call that window of tolerance in the nervous system, so that there’s more of a pause. I’m not as reactionary. There’s more of that reflection of anything in my life. But also physically, I think there’s that component too of settling the adrenal, settling the hormone system, that there’s just more zone to work with, when alcohol isn’t in there interfering and poking at all these systems.
Evelyne: Maybe more people don’t need to cold plunge, but just can cut back on the classes of wine.
Jolene Park: Yeah. It is. All the fun bio hacks, I love cold plunging, but it’s just looking at the basics first, and it covers a lot of bases. And one of the primary fundamental basics is alcohol. And again, sometimes people don’t always report exactly how much they’re drinking, but just to let them know that just a couple glasses a week can really affect whatever it is that you are working with them on.
Evelyne: Let’s talk about your NOURISH Method, and since you have been supporting gray area drinkers for many years now, how do you support them in continuing to not drink?
Jolene Park: Well, I work comprehensively. And so my NOURISH Method represents that comprehensive approach, that it’s not just what we eat, although I love nutrition and love nutrient from a functional perspective, using nutrients that way. And it’s not just how we move, although we need to move. Resistance training, and walking, and all of those things are fantastic. But sometimes, we get the vital nutrients also from community. And the leisure playtime, service, the spiritual side of things. So I’ve always kind of looked at that comprehensive approach, and that’s what NOURISH kind of encapsulates.
And so what it stands for is notice nature, observe your breath, unite with others, replenish with food, initiate movement, sit in stillness, and harness creativity. And I’ve kind of taken that comprehensive approach of looking at different things, and different recommendations, the different studies that I’ve done. Again, whatever we might be looking at, if it’s mold, or anxiety, or weight loss. Across the board, you start to find as those listening know, some of these universal threads that go through. And those things are nature, and our breath, and resting in good sleep and good food, and movement creativity.
And so that’s where I work with clients. Once I really hear their timeline, their whole story, to get an assessment and understanding of what’s happening metabolically within their own stress response around alcohol. Working some biochemically, working some emotionally on that adversity stress response that the body is over firing or collapsing under, like a fight flight collapse, and have a support the stress response there. But then also, that spiritual support too.
So we are body, mind, and spirit, but really comprehensively feeding all of those areas. Whether it’s with nature, or certain nutrients, or a creative practice, or a spiritual practice. And when we take alcohol out, it’s big. So now everything from there, we want to bring things in and add things in, of finding where the depletion has been. Where have we felt deficient, or know we’re deficient with lab tests and things? And so we want to fortify that, nourish that on a really comprehensive level that involves nutrition, but it also goes beyond that.
Evelyne: I love that, and I love that you have a very experiential approach. And that’s also what you teach healthcare practitioners is to give their patients and clients resources, have them try them, and actually see what they notice.
I want to dive specifically into supporting the neurotransmitters a bit. And since you mentioned that you trained with Designs for Health years ago on this, I obviously love talking about supplements. This is my jam. So I’d love to hear a little more about how you support the different neurotransmitters, and just health in general when somebody is stopping drinking.
Jolene Park: Yeah. So when I quit drinking in 2014, that was the first place I went was to the nutrient side for myself. I just kind of put together a little protocol from the few things that I knew, and some of the herbs to boost GABA.
I had done a neurotransmitter urine test. I knew that my GABA was low. That was the most deficient neurotransmitter for me personally. I’d also done a quiz to kind of type as well, dopamine, serotonin, acetylcholine, and GABA, to see how I fell in the quiz. And the quiz matched up with the urine test as well. So low GABA.
So knowing that, I used GABA boosting herbs like lemon balm, and some inositol, nutrient, and really worked biochemically first on myself, protein on a really regular basis throughout the day. So those things to get the amino acids back in the brain, rebuilding my system, that first 30 days of not drinking.
And then from there, it depends on the season where I am with what’s going on in my life. But after I got some of those nutritional pieces back in place to support GABA, about four months into not drinking, I did some of the somatic work personally. And so worked a little bit more with my own fight, flight, and collapse components of my stress system. And that’s where that noticing the somatic, noticing what’s working when I add things in nutritionally, but also just emotionally for that support.
And then over the years, like I said, there’s different things that I’m adding right now. It’s cold plunge, which I’m really liking for my nervous system. There’s been times where knitting has been very regulating to my nervous system. And then I’ll go back to a real top focus with nutrition. I mean, right now, I’m really prioritizing getting my protein up as a postmenopausal woman, to really be conscientious about 30 to 50 grams of protein breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And again, I’m almost nine years out from not drinking. So I’m not in an immediate, “I want to drink every day.” But just keeping my hormones really nourished, and healthy, and balanced is always going to support my brain as well.
Evelyne: Let’s talk a little bit about perimenopause and menopause. Just from your own experience and also from working with clients, we know that alcohol is more detrimental to women, because of the way we metabolize it. And women are drinking more than ever, I think especially since the pandemic. So can you talk a little bit more about that?
Jolene Park: Well, I’m really glad that I personally didn’t drink through most of my perimenopause years. I quit drinking at 43, and today I’m 52, so very grateful. And I learned as I went along. I didn’t know a lot of that in my early thirties, but alcohol certainly does not help the perimenopause and menopause years. So what was your question about, just alcohol and perimenopause?
Evelyne: Yeah, alcohol and perimenopause and menopause, but specifically how alcohol affects women.
Jolene Park: Well, I think one of the big things is the cortisol response. So when we drink, there’s that immediate release of cortisol. Because the body sees it as a toxin, which it is. And so it’s releasing cortisol as an anti-inflammatory, because alcohol is also very inflammatory. And so when we’ve got that surge of cortisol, then it depletes dopamine.
And so there’s just such a connection with cortisol, with blood sugar, with our neurotransmitters, and with the sex hormones. Estrogen, progesterone, testosterone. And when you take alcohol out of the mix, it lets all those hormones do what they need to do as they’re cycling through the perimenopause, menopause state. So it just makes it harder for the body to go through that natural process when a lot of alcohol is in the mix.
Evelyne: Definitely. I want to go back to some of the nutrients you mentioned, just as a general guideline. Because I know with inositol we can take smaller amounts. But I know in anxiety for example, they use much higher doses of inositol. I’m just curious, generally, what do you recommend your clients take as an amount?
Jolene Park: Generally around 2,000 milligrams, two grams of inositol. And I might start even lower at 500 milligrams, and then work up every couple days, add a little bit more. But most people, including myself, feel a nice benefit from around 2,000 milligrams of inositol.
I don’t go over 8,000. And again, I consider that getting pretty therapeutic. I really don’t do that with clients. I’ve tried it with myself before. But I’d say for most clients with a little bit of anxiety who are using alcohol for anxiety, tend to notice a nice support and effect at around 2,000 milligrams of an acetol.
Evelyne: And what are your favorite herbs? You already mentioned lemon balm. What are some of the others?
Jolene Park: So lemon, passion flower, and holy basil are my three favorites. Inositol I really like. L-theanine, I really like to support the GABA and anxiety, and also a good magnesium.
Evelyne: Yeah. All things that are very important anyway, especially the magnesium. I love herbs too, as an herbalist of course. And yeah, holy basil. Tulsi is wonderful. Passion flower, I really love for anxiety, and in general because passion flower is also great for the caretaking personalities, which as healthcare practitioners, we are. And I also think of the patients you’re seeing, a lot of moms, a lot of caretakers. And especially in this age group that we’re discussing, probably taking care of children, and perhaps also taking care of parents. So I think passion flower is just a really nice herb, in addition to just the physiological effects almost from that energetic perspective. So speaking of neurotransmitters, one of the tools that I learned from you was this questionnaire to identify which neurotransmitters are low and how we can support those. Can you share more about that questionnaire?
Jolene Park: It’s the questionnaire from Dr. Eric Braverman, which I learned about in the Designs for Health workshop, weekend workshop in 2006. So I’ve used his work. It’s in his published book. The questionnaire is there, so it’s available to anyone. It’s also online. You can Google it.
But I find that it’s helpful for just kind of a general… It’s obviously not a complete diagnostic. They’re two false questions. But my understanding of it is that the urine tests tend to match up pretty frequently with the quiz. So it’s a way to give people a sense or an idea. And people kind of instinctively know if they’re more anxious, if they’re more depressed, which way they kind of lean. But this just helps to affirm what people tend to already know.
Evelyne: Yeah. I found that to be a really, really useful tool. I also frequently get the question, and this can go for both healthcare practitioners who maybe are drinking themselves, or to support patients and clients, and I know this is some of the stuff that you teach. But how do you actually deal with living in a society where drinking is so common, with mommy wine culture, with book clubs, sporting events, social situations?
And I do think that because you and I probably live in a bubble, because we’re surrounded by people who are either in the health field, or we surround ourselves with healthy people. And so I think it can be harder. Not everybody is surrounded by people who also really care about their health. So what do you suggest for functioning in social situations? Some people just can’t understand that you stopped drinking just because, and that nothing really bad happened, and that you didn’t do something stupid, you didn’t hit rock bottom. Can you talk more about that?
Jolene Park: Yeah. My experience over the years and working with clients is that, first of all, don’t try to get people to understand. And what I mean by that is if we go into a space, and make a big declaration, and a big announcement, and bring it up, and frontload it in the conversation, it sets them up for explaining, debating, justifying the whole piece.
My experience is that when I and when clients don’t bring it up, don’t front load it, don’t make big announcements, big declarations, nobody else does either. Nobody notices. So that’s the first thing about, first of all, just that notion of getting people to understand.
Usually people… And there’s always exceptions. But for the most part, in most situations, most people don’t go up to other people who aren’t drinking alcohol and say, “Help me understand this. What’s going on here?” Most people don’t do that. Most people don’t realize what’s actually in the glass that you’re holding. I mean, for all they know, it could be a vodka tonic. They don’t know that it’s just a tonic. And most people don’t inquire and really drill people about, “What’s in that drink? Is there alcohol in that drink?”
So I just want to level that playing field of if we don’t go in trying to explain and make people understand, people aren’t asking for an explanation or understanding. That’s first and foremost. And the second, and really again, my experience, people don’t notice and they don’t care if we don’t bring it up, if we’re not drinking alcohol.
The second thing is being in this space, we have a bit of an edge. Being practitioners, being in health and wellness, working with clients who potentially do also really care about their health and wellness too. People do respect other people who are doing some sort of challenge, like preparing for a marathon, or doing a 90-day meditation thing, or a yoga challenge or thing. So people do respect and admire when people are doing healthy things. They often want to know more, they’re like, “I’ve kind of been thinking the same, tell me more.”
And so it never has to be a heavy, kind of associated with the problem. There are people who quit drinking because they’re running a marathon, and they’re just not going to drink through their marathon training. Their drinking story could be one of many things, but they’re training for a marathon right now.
And it can be the same way. It can be you’re doing a fitness challenge, you’re doing a wellness challenge, you’re working with a naturopath and really dialing your sleep in, and having great effects, and you don’t want to break the streak. You’re loving how you’re feeling. And right there, that can be it. There doesn’t need to be any more explanation, or anything about this dark heavy problem story around alcohol. It can really just be if people do inquire that you’re doing some health challenges, working on a health challenge, feeling really good, and you want to stick with it, end of conversation.
Evelyne: Yeah, I love that. And I’ve found that people actually respond positively when I do bring it up, and I don’t push it on anyone. It’s just if it happens to come up in conversation, people actually are very curious and ask more questions. And I say, “Do you want to read my blog post that I wrote about it? I’ll send it to you.” And so I actually have gotten a few people who have stopped drinking, because I shared it somewhere.
But it took me a little while to even share that for the first time. I think it wasn’t until this time around when I had my first 100 days that I shared it for the first time on social media, and people were very positive. And the feedback was really great.
Jolene Park: And we all have, early on when we’re thinking about this and dipping our toe in, a little bit of that sober curiosity. And there is that nervousness about the anticipation of, what’s this going to be like socially? But the reality of what it’s like socially is people have respect for it. They want to hear more, they want to know more. And they will tell you. You’ll be surprised actually, how many people will say, “I’ve been thinking about this myself. I have been considering doing this as well.” So you’ll be surprised that, I think we fear that there’s going to be pushback or we’re going to get hassled. And the reality, the truth is that people want to know more, because they know themselves that they want to do this, and they need to do this as well.
Evelyne: Absolutely. I think also, I was just having this conversation with a friend, and she said to me that some of the symptoms that she was having, she just didn’t previously associate them with alcohol. And it’s just so much easier to be more resolute in not drinking and to share that with someone, when you share all of the positive benefits that happen both to your physical health and to your mental health. And she specifically talked about the inflammation and water retention associated with alcohol, as well as anxiety, and just didn’t make the connection between the anxiety and the drinking. And I guess until you actually try giving it up for 30 days, you may never notice that, because you’re just in this loop, even if you’re not drinking every day. So I think it’s very, very interesting.
Jolene Park: And I think that’s an important piece too, about that forever question. Because it can feel really daunting about, “Oh my gosh, am I really never going to drink again?” And what I would say to those listening practitioners, or for yourself, or as you’re working with clients, we don’t know forever on anything.
So it’s not about signing off on the dotted line and making this commitment to forever no alcohol. But it’s an exploration, it’s a curiosity experiment. 30 days goes by in the snap of the fingers, but it gives us a lot of data. A lot can shift in 30 days, and a lot of insight can happen, both emotionally and physically.
So it’s not a lifelong commitment that you’re signing off on or encouraging your patients to sign off on, but it’s a curiosity experiment. And a lot of data, a lot of insight can happen when we take 30 days minimum, but longer as well, to just really notice what happens when you don’t put alcohol in your body and brain.
Evelyne: Yeah, I love that you brought that up. I actually wanted to ask you about that. And I think that’s one of the differences with approaching stopping drinking this way, versus maybe the approaches that practitioners traditionally know about, like rehab, and detox, and AA even is with this approach… And I’ve never done any of those, so I don’t know. I’m just speaking from what I have read about those approaches. But I guess the idea is that this is something that you’re fighting every day. Whereas for me, it’s something that I don’t really think about. And this is something I learned from Annie Grace is I can have a drink whenever I want, I just choose not to. And there’s so much freedom in that statement. It doesn’t feel like I’m fighting something. So I wanted to share that as well.
Jolene Park: Yeah, there’s a real reframe on it and what’s happening today, this movement. I did a TED Talk on it five years ago, and this alcohol-free movement, it’s not going away and it’s just getting bigger. And here we are five years later, and I’m still saying this alcohol-free movement, it’s not going away. It’s just going to get bigger and bigger.
And it is a reframe on alcohol-free for the health of it. And choosing to not drink, not because we have to, but it’s a choice. The way we make choices about these other things for our gut health, for our hormone health, for our mental health. And it’s liberating, and there’s a whole movement. I mean, it’s not a minority that’s doing this. It’s a global movement.
A couple of years ago maybe, we were more on the fringe, but not today. If there’s a time to jump into this, now is the time. It’s becoming more and more just a regular conversation. People are aware of this sober, curious gray area movement. And that’s why as practitioners, I am just really passionate that practitioners need to know about this, need to be trained and informed about this movement.
Evelyne: Yeah. I’ve noticed even in the last few months, the alcohol-free movement has grown. Going into a Sprouts last week, they had a whole mocktail section. Whereas before that, I mean, they had one alcohol-free wine, but now it’s so many options for drinks. And I feel like the first year I tried a lot of those, and occasionally I’ll try them, but I just prefer water these days. But there are so many more options as you transition, so I think that’s great.
I have three questions for you that we ask every guest on Conversations for Health. And you may have sort of already answered one of these, but what are your three favorite supplements for yourself that you take?
Jolene Park: Right now, and I cycle through, just like I do with my practices. Fish oil is top of the list for me. I am back on my regular teaspoons two teaspoons of fish oil every day. I’m a big, big fan of fish oil. Gosh. It’s like I’ve got turmeric on my counter, and magnesium, and B6. Just kind of throw all the things in.
But I would say fish oil, I am definitely taking every day. Magnesium I take every day. I’m trying to think of one that’s a little more fun and kind of off the path, but I don’t know that… I do take the lemon balm capsule. So I took that early on when I quit drinking, and then didn’t take it for a while. But I do take that at night, along with… Like I said, all the things are on my counter.
Evelyne: Yeah. And what are your favorite health practices, I guess, in addition to the cold plunge, that keep you healthy and resilient?
Jolene Park: So cold plunge, I resisted it for so long, and just started a couple of weeks ago, and I just love it. Nervous system. It just pulls that heat and adrenaline, and it’s so relaxing. I love the feeling. It’s not fun when you first get in, but I love the after effect of cold plunge.
I love walking on the beach. I’m in Charleston, South Carolina. I love the early morning sunlight, going for sunrise walks on the beach. And I would say my spiritual practice is a favorite practice for me, and very regulating, and calming, and just really feeds me each day to have my prayer and spiritual practice.
Evelyne: That’s beautiful. And what is something that you’ve changed your mind about through your years in practice?
Jolene Park: Do you know what I’m going to say on this one?
Evelyne: No, I don’t.
Jolene Park: Beans. Have you heard me talk about the beans?
Evelyne: Yes, I have. Because I didn’t even mention, I actually did your training program in 2021, which we’ll touch on after this. Yes, I know your love for beans.
Jolene Park: So you and I come from the same backgrounds, with the functional nutrition, functional medicine. Like I said, I certified in 1999, and really feel like I got my nutrition education in over a decade of Designs for Health and these types of conferences in the early two thousands.
And so my background is very paleo. That was my training. And it still is. I mean, I’m a huge advocate and I feel good when I keep my protein up, my vegetables, my good oils, and hydration. However, I have come across Karen Hurd and her work with beans. And I’m pretty fascinated, and I’ve changed my position, because my earlier years it was like, “Beans are an anti-nutrient. I get gassy. I can’t digest them. I really don’t want to eat them.” I think kind of the common thinking about beans out there. But I’ve found quite the opposite. And I’ve been really intrigued with her interviews, her research especially about just sopping up, not scientific word, but adrenaline and cortisol in the system.
So she really talks about the soluble fiber binding with the bile. That as the bile is, where our metabolites, our hormone metabolites, the toxins from the environment, everything that goes through the bile, the bile mops it up, and it continues to circulate about 95% through the system. And then, we keep drinking caffeine or whatever we’re putting in the system, keep circling it through the bile. But that soluble fiber from the beans binds it up and moves it out through the colon.
And at first I was like, “I don’t get this science.” I hadn’t learned this earlier, but again, I have listened to Karen Hurd if you search her and Bean Protocol, and I’m a fan. And just personally, that whole somatic work of try it and then notice what happens, for me for balancing my blood sugar, feeling like it really does bring that adrenaline. I’ve always been that adrenal burnout, running on adrenaline type. And the beans, they settle my nervous system, they balance my blood sugar. Moving things, moving the bile, everything out of the colon. I feel good when I eat a cup and a half of black beans every day. But I’m very surprised, very surprised that I have switched tracks. Because I know some of the thinking around being an anti-nutrients, and the lectins, and all of that with beans. But I would say, check out Karen Hurd and her research, and notice what you notice, putting her research together when you start eating some beans.
Evelyne: I love beans. I don’t know why I haven’t been eating them lately, except in the occasional Mexican food. So I need to get back on that train too. They’re just a great source of fiber and protein.
Jolene, before we wrap up, can you share about your practitioner training program, and also some of the resources that you have for practitioners specifically who want to learn more, who want to be a better guide to their patients and clients around this information?
Jolene Park: Absolutely. So I’ve been training coaches and practitioners since 2018 on how to work with and support their gray area drinking clients. Again, if you’re working with clients, you’re working with gray area drinkers.
So my training is a seven-week training for certified and licensed coaches and practitioners, and it’s not a general coach training. So people come in, they’re already working with clients, they already have their business, they’re familiar with the foundational pieces.
And then it’s all focused on the physiology of working with a gray area drinker. So how to do that assessment. Has there been that period of not drinking? Some really key questions to ask that are different than general coaching questions, or even as a naturopath or a medical doctor, to really assess and work with your drinking clients. And then to set up from there action steps, resources. And then each week is really supporting you, the practitioner, with those resources around the neurotransmitters, around the nutrition specifically to support not drinking.
The somatic work, the polyvagal work, that fight, flight, freeze, working with the nervous system in the stress response. Looking at some of the trauma research, the early adversity research, and then some of the behavior psychology of the amygdala, the animal brain. That emotional limbic brain that wants the cookies, the bottle of wine, that type of thing. And putting all of that together to really support your patient and client.
I’m working on one other product that if you don’t want to go into the full fledge coach training for seven weeks, that it’s just a turnkey product, a primer on gray area drinking for both you and your staff in your office, that you can also share with clients. So it’s a primer all about gray area drinking. It includes my 30-day sober choice of taking people through the first 30 days of not drinking. And then a NOURISH Method challenge of what to do each day around nature, around breath, around replenishing with food. And then some nervous system regulation techniques specifically for each neurotransmitter. So to boot, some exercises to regulate your nervous system for low serotonin, low GABA, low dopamine, and to tone the polyvagal nerve. So all of that is coming in a bundle that practitioners can just share with their client base and audience.
Evelyne: That’s awesome. And having studied with you, I absolutely love your work. I love that it is so comprehensive, so thank you so much. And as soon as I knew that we were doing this podcast, I knew I wanted to interview you, because I’m so passionate about this topic. So thank you so much for being here today, and for everything that you do.
Jolene Park: Well, thank you for having me and giving voice to this, because it’s just so important. And I’m so passionate about other practitioners hearing about the gray area drinking and learning more. So thank you.
Evelyne: And where can practitioners find more about you?
Jolene Park: All of my info is on my website, grayareadrinkers.com.
Evelyne: Wonderful. Thank you so much for tuning into Conversations for Health. Check out the show notes for the resources from our conversation today. Please share this podcast with your colleagues. Follow, rate, or leave a review wherever you listen. And thank you for designing a well world with us.
Voiceover: This is Conversations for Health with Evelyne Lambrecht, dedicated to engaging discussions with industry experts, exploring evidence-based, cutting edge research, and practical tips.
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