Do we put too much faith in health guidelines?

cult leaderThis 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 guidelines 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.

… Keep reading

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

burger adSo McDonald’s advertisement burger is Photoshopped.

It’s 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 expository 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.

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

… Keep reading

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

pumpkin spice 2When 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 five years 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. … Keep reading

3 signs your exercise plateau is mental

burly weight lifterThe world may have been watching Felix Baumgartner struggle to 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. Such complexes are common, Gervais says.

Want to reach new heights of athleticism in the New Year? Forget looking for the next burly workout trend, and work out your exercise insecurities instead: Read more on U.S. News 

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

“Standing in Line at Sandy’s,” futurowoman /CC BY

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

And it made me wonder if this is yet another reason that 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 fiddling with our phones and trying to fill our inner void.

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 to fight fire with fire. (Marketing principles = fire. Calorie counts ≠ fire.) … Keep reading

How organic-looking packaging is sneaking junk food into our mouths

Pretty Sugar Package

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.

… Keep reading

Climber Nathan Williamson says we can all be badass — here’s how

NathanThe “No Excuses” Series :: Interviews with Regular People Who Are Insanely Fit

One of the questions that keeps me up at night (or rambling at pub night) is this: how is it that 90% of us are stumped about how to incorporate exercise into our lives, while the other 10% are bloody doing it?

This seemingly superheroic 10% also have jobs, kids, school, significant others. How have they developed fitness obsessions on top of other major life obligations? And HOW CAN WE?

This profile series is dedicated to stripping these folks of their secrets. Hey, we want to be rugged too!

First Up is Trango Athlete and Climber Nathan Williamson 

As a professional climber who also works two jobs, Nathan climbs “at night, days off, whenever.” He’s dedicated. He’s ripped. He climbs ’til his finger pads split. And he has a message for us: we can all be fit.

Well, those of us who are willing to rethink our priorities, physical limitations and how much time we spend in chairs. … Keep reading

Another reason to kill your treadmill

climbing moes valley

Time flies when there’s a lunging blade, roundhouse kick or tango dip around every corner.

For a recent U.S. News piece, I took a look at why complex workouts deliver better fitness results than regular ol’ running and cycling.

Not only does a workout challenge keep us engaged, it continually enhances our ability to strategize, according to performance coach George Hanshaw — and this might be the clincher.

That growing prowess is addicting.

While it’s hard to reflect on a stair-stepper session with triumphant glee, there’s something about a perfectly-timed jab and hook that keeps us coming back for more.

(Or in my case, climbing a techy bouldering problem without falling off the rock — as a friend put it — like a “gangly calf.”)

For a mentally stimulating workout, try climbing, mixed martial arts or parkour. These are three sports guaranteed to prevent exercise boredom. More tips on how to pick a challenging workout here: For Better Body Results, Pick a Workout That Challenges Your Mind.

Irrationally tasty (cough Teavana cough)

irrationally tasty (2)

“It’s a Zen moment, and the cup should reflect that,” said a Starbucks creative director to Fast Company recently.

She was talking about Teavana’s new pristine tea cup design with disguised sleeve (instead of the old cardboard option), and it sounded like total bullshit. 

“Zen moment”?

But in truth, I’m not any more rational when it comes to judging a drink by its cup. Not long ago at a local coffeehouse, I gazed up at a charmingly-chalked menu board and ordered a “London Fog Tea Latte.”

It arrived on the counter in a porcelain cup with saucer, four lavender seeds arranged in a fleur-de-lis in the center of the froth. The barista gave me a bestowing nod, and sure enough, it was the best tea latte I’d ever tasted. In fact, I found myself thinking “Mmm” before the cup even reached my lips…

And then I felt shame. As a marketer and consumer behavior journalist, how could I have been so swayed by aesthetics? Shouldn’t I have known better than to fall (as a guy I dated liked to say) for form over content? … Keep reading


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