It’s a peculiar phenomenon: humans are simultaneously trying to survive and kill ourselves off.
Exhibit A: WebMD has millions of viewers a month.
Exhibit B: Cheetos.*
Albeit funny, and kind of odd, I also recognize the tragedy of our dual drives to survive and self-destruct. Because deep down, I think most of us probably want to live — as long as possible, without debilitating illness.
If only we didn’t have those dreadful obstacles in the way.
So this is my area of inquiry, and it’s why I started this site.
My interest in the obstacles to health arose when I was writing for U.S. News’s Eat + Run blog. They were nice enough to let me ditch the “top 4 things” posts and write about increasingly obscure topics, like smellvertising and gymphobia. I also wrote for IdealShape, a weight loss and fitness company, for six years. I interviewed dozens of their customers and listened to tales of struggle, frustration, triumph.
My curiosity deepened. I was hungry to understand the hidden forces that shape our health.
I was also hungry for chips, all the time, and I could put away a whole bag in one sitting. Sometimes I still do. It’s awful. Advice in women’s magazines to “crunch on carrots instead of chips” made me want to snap the advice-givers’ fingers in half. OBVIOUSLY CARROTS ARE NOT CHIPS. I CAN EASILY STOP AT ONE CARROT. But perhaps I could chalk up the chip addiction to a salt and chemical loaded formula — and maybe some clever marketing — and if so, I might be empowered to break their hold on me… to fight back.
Cheeto fingers aside, I was also motivated to get in on the research action. There was so much great research I came across while reporting, but so much more I wanted to know that no one was studying. I wanted to see if I could help fill some of the gaps.
This (and my own anti-survival instinct to sleep less and drink more?) ultimately drove me back to graduate school, which is where I am now, at the University of Utah.
I’m studying persuasion in a health context — things like psychological reactance and message effects — building on the insights I absorbed through years of working in magazine publishing, journalism and marketing copywriting.
I’m also a member of the Health Communication and Technology lab at the U of U, where our focus is on cancer communication research. (Here’s what we’re working on.)
And, since I want to be better-equipped to decode studies before turning around and reporting “the science” to others, I’m torturing myself with quantitative methodological training. I’ve survived three stats classes to-date.
I still have one foot on the journalism side. Because what good is gleaning all this knowledge, if it doesn’t spread beyond the ivory towers?
I RECENTLY CO-WROTE A BOOK
In 2015, Craig Ballantyne, the creator of Turbulence Training, asked me to join him in writing the Great Cardio Myth, a book that examines what the exercise research of the past 60 years has really been telling us, and how it’s been misinterpreted and distorted.
I first spoke with Craig back in 2011 when I interviewed him for an article about how women need to ditch cardio and lift heavier. But I’d been reading his stuff in Men’s Health for a few years before then.
The 2011 article got posted in the Yahoo news feed and had tens of thousands of likes and tons of comments… a good sign that women were more than ready to put away the Barbie weights.
Then I met Craig in person in 2015 at his Turbulence Training fitness summit in San Diego, and the timing was right: he’d just been contacted by a major publisher to write a myth-busting exercise book building on his anti-cardio philosophy.
Several months and 300 footnotes’ worth of research later, we’ve produced an excellent book. It’s available for pre-order on Amazon and hits the shelves January 2017.
If you’re looking for a good excuse to skip the treadmill, this’ll be it. ;-)
DESPITE MY CHIP HABIT…
I’m fairly healthy. I follow a strict gluten-free diet, which has been an adventure, but one with some nutrition perks. My go-to workouts are climbing, yoga, bodyweight circuits, tango and dog walks. I do at least one of those things every day. (And it’s true what they say: Argentine tango is addictive.)
Anyway, what health mysteries are you itching to solve?
*I have a Cheeto addiction, and I’m not alone. Consider also: the rise of coronary heart disease and metabolic syndrome, contributed to by the Western diet and sedentary lifestyles.
P.S. WANT TO CONTACT ME?
You can reach me at chelseawriting (at) gmail (dot) com, follow me on Twitter or add me on LinkedIn. Additionally, you can view some of my published articles here. And my small but growing pool of peer-reviewed research articles.
Or just read this, one of my favorite posts, about Starbucks rituals.