Female hormones are always regarded as "extreme" and "unpredictable." But what if you could outwit them by treating your body like a predictable baby-making vessel, prone to moves so obvious it may as well be the hormonal equivalent of a Hollywood ending? One woman tried. And succeeded.
In a piece over at the Telegraph called "Sex, Spots and Career Satisfaction: A month living by my hormones changed everything," we learn that reporter Beverly Turner tried out something called the "Hormone Horoscope" for a month, which promises that, by following it, "you can predict what your day will be like based solely on where you are in your monthly menstrual cycle."
The site was created by Gabrielle Lichterman, a journalist on the health and lifestyle beat who researched hormones and their impact on behavior for nearly two decades, and published a book with Dr. Scott Haltzman in 2005 about the results.
Her basic position is:
1. Our hormones impact virtually everything we do! The hormones in a woman's monthly cycle affect nearly every aspect of our day—brain skills, mood, energy, libido, cravings, shopping habits, chattiness, voice, taste buds, extroversion, confidence, pain sensitivity, chronic illness flare-ups, skin health and much, much more.
2. Our hormones can actually help us predict the outcome of our day! While our hormonal affects change day-to-day, these effects repeat in the same pattern cycle after cycle. Which means that healthy, naturally-cycling women can use their hormone cycle to predict what every single day will be like with scientific accuracy!
Lichterman's conclusions, and resulting peppy website, daily 'scopes and other assorted bestie-style tips, create the impression that rather than an unpredictable scourge, hormones are in fact, something you can get out in front of, alleviate the effects of in advance, and even thwart or exploit, at least in the sense you can acknowledge them and use them to your advantage, or avoid situations where they might put you at a disadvantage.
And that's what Beverly Turner, a 40-year-old woman with three kids and a healthy skepticism, found.
Turner writes in a representative sample of her month-long diary:
Week 2 Day 8 to Day 14 (ovulation)
Ever noticed that you feel a bit flirty once you've put your tampons away? Here's why: oestrogen climbs toward its peak in week two. And when we release an egg for fertilisation it gives us a rocket-boost of energy. Basically, Mother Nature is desperate to get us up the duff.
We become less inhibited and more impulsive. Drunk on our own invincibility and sexuality, we are at greater risk of having an affair.
Without knowing it, we walk more slowly ahead of men and swing our hips.
Normally, I would be unaware of this primal posturing. Now I use it to my advantage and turn on the charm. The guy in the coffee shop gives me a free muffin, the car mechanic offers to pump my tyres (not a euphemism) and my husband thinks I'm fabulous. Sex is never better than during week two.
Elsewhere, she savors chocolate more thoroughly once she discovers it won't taste so great during weeks outside of week one, thanks to rising estrogen. She schedules a job interview during week two, when she's told she'll be more smiley and confident. She makes the most of the high energy during this week by getting organizational at home and work. It might be predictably hard to unwind during this time, Turner notes, but NBD — she just takes a relaxing bath to wind down at night. And since she's anticipating ovulation by tracking her cycle, and she knows she's the sort who feels actual pain during ovulation, she can take some painkillers and chill to reduce it before it even strikes this time around.
In week three, she knows she is supposed to be prone to get snappish, so she makes a more concerted effort to spare her loved ones. And all around, she's just winning at all the things in terms of overall body care and mental well-being and relationships:
At the same time, progesterone (a sedating hormone) is rising. This has all sorts of implications, making us risk averse (in case we've got an embryo to protect) and forgetful. Intrigued I look back over my diary and am bowled over. Messages I forgot to pass on and errands I forgot to run pop up regularly in my 'week threes'.
This time, it will be different, I write lists of all the things I need to do. It feels a bit like wading through treacle, but nothing slips through the net.
I also discover that progesterone gives us the "hunger crankies" by increasing our sensitivity to blood sugar dips. So I make an effort to snack. It works. I feel genuinely calmer.
It goes on! Adding more fiber and water at the right time offsets the classic constipation during this stretch, which helps dodge bloating too. She leans in at home with her husband by making a date during this time, knowing the commitment surge during week three will be tested in a matter of days. And, get this: By exfoliating at the right time, she manages to skip, for the first time ever, the clockwork acne that typically strikes.
There's so much more, and again, read her account.
My initial reaction to this was a mix of unbridled awe and pure skepticism — have we been doing it wrong forever? COULD THIS REALLY WORK? Why has it always seemed so hard to anticipate all this shit? Were there always a million steps we could be taking to dodge hormones, we just didn't know it?
IS THE ONLY WAY OUT REALLY THROUGH!?!?
When I pitched this story to my editor, Erin, this morning, she responded:
no one is the boss of me but money and the need to earn it
I am hesitant to admit hormones are the culprit of my various and sundry woes. But maybe we are just haters. Or was my sour reaction totally due to the fact that I was just about to get my period (YES)?
So I messaged my friend, Alexis Paulson, who is a women's health practitioner, and instructed her to please poke holes in this. HELP ME DISMANTLE THESE LIES.
"It's honestly a little hard for me to poke holes in," she said. "This whole thing is a bit cheesy, but not totally wrong. It would not work if you are on hormonal birth control, though."
She added, "I think it's valuable info for women, especially to remind us to give ourselves a break for a lot of these things we can't control (except with pills)."
But something about the way it's presented regards the female experience as a bit too chocolate-devouring, lady-magazine monolithic, and we aren't, so how could this work? And again, aren't lady hormones supposed to be "unpredictable"?
"But they're not if you have a normal menstrual cycle, are ovulating normally, and not on any meds that would affect your cycle or mood," she responded. "They are quite predictable."
She noted that everyone is different in terms of how many days their cycle is, of course. (Might I add that everyone has a different bitchy resting level, too). And of course, some people don't get acne or feel bloated or have better memories at various times in the cycle, she said. "But a lot of people do."
I explain that perhaps my skepticism is more about the fear that if we admit we get all this shit because of hormones it makes us seem like unpredictable crazies, because for ages, it's been used to discredit us in relationships and the workplace. It makes us unfit for office, people who shouldn't be taken seriously because it's not us saying it, it's our hormones. Every woman I know is loathe to think of herself as in the throes of chemical signals, because it's all part of the insidious character assassination used against us as incomplete she-beasts.
But this may be conflating the wrong things.
"Well I think the question is does acne or bloating or bitchiness affect your ability to do your job or be a good partner/mom, etc?" she asked. "And in the majority of cases, the answer is no. But other women have been acquitted for murder due to PMDD."
Sounds like a great idea to revisit in week three, eh? OK, so maybe there IS light at the end of this tampon-filled tunnel. And that light is that you can do a ton of stuff to not be so beholden to hormones.
"I recommend birth control pills or SSRIs," she said. "Also acne medicine, fiber, hydration, exercise, healthy diet, etc."
Or as week four wound down and Beverly Turner predictably got her libido back, and noted that her energy, health, relationships and career were all on the uptick, she became convinced:
Our hormones impact everything we do.
There are few things worse than blokes writing women off as 'hormonal.' But what's better – to deny how mammalian we really are, or work with it?
And that was that. You know, except for all the batshit comments under the article. However, knowing how sensitive some of us are likely to be today, I'll spare us.
Image via Shutterstock.