Skepticism is not an excuse to ignore your health

“First of all come great dreams, then a feeling of laziness, and finally a witty or clever excuse for remaining in bed.” – Kierkegaard

A few years ago, I interviewed Pamela Peeke for a U.S. News piece about exercise. I’ll never forget our conversation. She had a husky voice and swore like a trucker, and I liked her instantly.

While the current mood of health advice is tender — we acknowledge that exercising and eating healthy are hard and “every little bit counts” — Peeke’s advice is to pull your head out of your ass and save your life.

Getting healthy “isn’t just to fit in your skinny jeans or run a 5K,” Dr. Peeke said during our call. “Let’s get down to the brass tacks: if the building was burning, could you get out?”

Peeke once hosted a Discovery miniseries called Could You Survive?, where average Americans were faced with “wild ass obstacles” (her wording) like scrambling up a rooftop to escape a simulated fire. All “died.”

Despite regular attendance at yoga and tango classes, I’m pretty sure I would be among the dead.

“You can’t just kick back and expect to slip-slide through life,” Peeke told me. As we age, “everyone, sedentary or not, will need to get creative” about how we preserve ourselves.

This seems obvious — we know that continual adaptation is the basis of survival. Yet, oddly, most Americans aren’t making much of an effort to survive. In fact, we often spend more time applying our creativity to coming up with reasons to do nothing at all.

Some write off dedicated diet and exercise regimens as a superficial preoccupation with physical appearance.

Some scoff at those who flaunt their socioeconomic status and/or buy into left-wing quackery by shopping at Whole Foods.

While I’ve managed (through considerable effort) to see beyond these stereotypes (sometimes), I’m guilty of another prejudice: automatically assuming that all diet and exercise fads are stupid.

But aren’t these just excuses for laziness? Regardless of whether organic foods and CrossFit are a guaranteed golden ticket to health, they’re worth a try. Or at the very least, the possibility that they might be inessential is not a reason to buy food with chemical residues and bury your kettlebells in the garage.

And this is where my anti-inflammatory diet adventure began… (more…)

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How to stick with healthy habits when you’d rather dip Doritos in cottage cheese and watch crappy movies every night

When life gets you down, it tends to get your health habits down, too.

Which brings me to a point I’d like to make on this blog: I’m not one of those health writers who flaunts perfection. In fact, I’m probably one of the most hedonistic people you’ll ever meet.

Italian restaurant instead of cooking at home tonight? Good idea! Drinks at the bar instead of yoga? Count me in. That barstool nearest the bowl of chips at a party? It already has my name on it, so you’d be wise to back off.

If I had an Instagram account, you’d be looking at one big slideshow of #whiskey and #cheese.

Although I’ve been a health and fitness writer for almost five years, I still have moments of weakness.

Knowing the keys to health and knowing the keys to our own stupid behavior are, as I think we all know, two different animals. So even though I’ve managed to corral myself into getting pretty fit over the years, I still make *minor detours*.

I’m not exactly sure when the latest detour started. Or perhaps “bacchanalia” is a better word. (more…)

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Why are health magazines dumbing down content for women?

Is popular women’s health content written for today’s modern woman… or Barbie?

Among the web and print pages of chick health media, there’s a conspicuously high volume of pink. There’s also Hollywood gossip, beauty advice and ample sex tips — which often figure more prominently than health advice.

I noticed all this before stumbling upon the Shape website last week, which managed, in one 4-second homepage load, to bring all of these elements together. Right down to the Barbie weights:

health = sex blog


If we weren’t sufficiently engaged by the pink, sprinkles and phallic fruit in women’s health content, don’t worry. The editors will capture our flighty feminine attention with a hyper-emotive headline. (more…)

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Do we put too much faith in health guidelines?

This week, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson gave a lecture at the University of Utah on “Science as a Way of Knowing.” He cautioned against the devaluing of science in our society, and everyone had a laugh at a slide that showed many Americans still rejecting the theory of evolution. In the face of scientific evidence! he gasped.

But for those of us who have embraced science as a way of understanding the world, are we in the clear? Or is science in some ways our new religion, where we accept things like medical research and health advice on blind faith?

For example, how much of the details of medical studies do we actually see? The general public – little or none.

We trust the word of the institutions, news sources and experts that seem the most credible. (And perhaps also the most confident and attractive.) But can our Dr. Oz’s really have all the answers?

After all, research is complicated. By its nature, it is — and on top of that, there are many factors that lead to unconscious and conscious bias. Researchers want to come up with new findings in order to keep their jobs and gain tenure. Journalists need “news.” Medical experts make mistakes. And drug companies can’t afford for their drugs not to work.


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McDonald’s Photoshopped burger video went viral… and people are still eating this

So McDonald’s advertisement burger is Photoshopped.

This is old news online, and to anyone who’s ever eaten an actual McDonald’s burger.

Yet, despite publicly airing the fact that its ad burger is both digitally altered and made from completely different ingredients, McDonald’s is still flipping more burgers than any other fast food chain.

In fact, people seemed to enjoy the behind-the-scenes video that McDonald’s marketing department created to show how its photo shoot burger is made. It went viral, and not in any debunking kind of way. 

Maybe it’s just me, but their “transparency” — or rather, apparent smug glee over getting away with telling the world they make a high-quality ad burger while continuing to sell the limp stand-in — seems a little weird.

The weirder thing is that they’re getting away with it. How? Probably a few advertising tricks and nothing more.


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Starbucks Ritual

Is the “ritual” you enjoy at Starbucks a figment of everyone’s imagination?

When my dad used to pick me up on weekends as a kid, we had a tradition of going to a Mexican food place down the street and ordering a combo meal for the candy.

For years, though he was long gone, I kept going back to the restaurant and collecting the candy. It made me feel good to have a ritual to continue to lean on.

Until one day, in my late teens, I opened the shoebox full of Kit-Kats and Smarties and Dum-Dums and thought, Why the hell do I have this? It didn’t make me feel connected to him anymore. If anything, it was a burden and clinging to this old ritual was making me sad. I threw it all away.

I remembered about this shoebox of candy the other day when I was thinking about food rituals — how they start, and how we don’t notice when they’ve stopped working for us. Until one day, we open the metaphorical box, see the thing clearly, and think: what is this still doing here?? 

Sometimes we create food rituals with family and friends, or as part of a time we carve out to spend in solitude, perhaps with a book.

Other times, marketers create them for us.

Do we notice when the feeling isn’t there? Do we let ourselves notice? Humans are bad at detecting when we’re unhappy, one of my friends, a philosophy professor, remarks.

More often, it seems easier, gentler on our sensitive souls, to pretend we are happy.

And this is the only way I can explain my seven-year loyalty to Starbucks pumpkin spice lattes. (more…)

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3 signs your exercise plateau is mental

The world may have been watching Felix Baumgartner overcome his fears and plunge 120,000 feet through the sound barrier toward earth…

But chances are, almost no one is watching whether you ace your workout.

For my latest U.S. News piece, I talked “exercise hang-ups” with Michael Gervais, a licensed psychologist and expert in sports performance. As coach to top athletes including Baumgartner — the daredevil BASE jumper who jumped from the stratosphere in 2012 — Gervais is just the person to help us recognize and conquer limiting beliefs.

If you’re struggling to take your workout to the next level, the culprit could be performance anxiety, perfectionism, or egoism — the false belief that other people actually care about your gym gaffes. 

Full disclosure: I suffer from all three and this topic was inspired by my own nauseous terror of going to the climbing gym when there are more than two other people on the wall. So I’ll join you in taking Michael’s advice…

For more, please visit the full post over at U.S. News Eat + Run blog


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Why the promoters of healthy behavior should act like marketers, not lawmakers

This week a friend showed me the video of Louis C.K. talking about cell phones. He jokes about how we fiddle with our phones because we don’t like standing around in line, and we especially don’t like to feel alone.

And it made me wonder: is this the reason mandatory menu labeling isn’t working?

Because most of the time, consumers aren’t making conscious health choices. In the fast food line, we aren’t calorie counting or hunting down nutrition info… we’re busy trying to fix boredom and fill our inner void.

So, does this make reversing the downward spiral of American health impossible? Does it make government calorie labeling a colossal waste of $537 million in compliance costs?


Someone suggested that I’m “trying to dumb down Americans” in a post I wrote for U.S. News, where I argued for less focus on menu labeling and more focus on subconscious nudges toward healthy eating. The dissenting comments were in the Yahoo version.

It’s not that I think nutrition facts should be kept hidden. Rather, it’s that the best use of government spending in order to influence public nutrition is probably to fight fire with fire.

Marketing principles = fire. Calorie counts ≠ fire. Americans’ still-widening waistlines seem all the proof we need. (more…)

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Actually, consumers don’t need more nutrition info on restaurant menus

When it comes to influencing what Americans will order at a restaurant, a picture is worth a thousand words — or roughly six billion dollars, which is what restaurants spent on advertising in the U.S. in 2011, according to Kantar Media. We should consider that for a moment.

It’s largely believed that education is the answer to our ever-widening waistlines. There’s a push to help adults and children better understand nutrition principles, and to make restaurants disclose more details about the content of our food. But is it helping?

With nutrition advice dispensed from every lifestyle magazine, TV news program and relative’s lips, one would guess we have enough facts to fuel a lifetime of spinach omelet and Greek yogurt restaurant orders.

Yet we continue to struggle with smart choices when dining out.

Despite copious free nutrition guidance, despite a real desire to eat healthy and despite increasingly mandatory calorie counts and recommendations on menus, we’re still tugged toward the pancakes afloat in maple syrup.

Nutrition information is important, but it’s only one piece of the healthy eating puzzle — usually, the piece that’s easiest to ignore. We can take a cue from marketers on this one: What we need is not more facts. It’s more pictures.

Why Unhealthy Food is Winning

When it comes to choosing which sandwich to have, there are two mental processes in effect, explains Debora Thompson, an associate professor of marketing at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. One is our conscious attention to the sandwich. The other is our non-conscious “gut” response to it. Pictures, she says, tend to trump facts in both processes.

For more, please read the full post over at U.S. News Eat + Run blog


Chelsea Bush on Google+

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Stop buying food just because the package *looks* organic


The consensus on my suspiciously hyped-up London Fog Tea Latte was that it wasn’t exactly a nutrition hazard. (And that I should stop spoiling everyone’s fun.)

If we fall for “form over content” in a tea beverage, after all, is it hurting our health? Not really.

But here’s one example of how visual hype might be sneaking unhealthy food into our mouths: natural looking wrappers.

While many organic looking packages may indeed contain good stuff, we might be inclined to unconsciously assume they all do.

How else to explain every company jumping on the artisinal packaging bandwagon.


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