When it comes to health, not believing everything you read (and perhaps half of what you hear) is probably not a bad idea. How many times have you had a friend tell you that one food is good for you, and another trusted source tell you that was all wrong? Or conflicting information regarding how to work out, or concerning sleep, or alcohol consumption … the list goes on and on.
Timothy Caulfield is here to here to help inform, debunk and educate. In The Cure for Everything, Caulfield provides data, evidence, as well as thoughtful and humourous analysis, about what we are all told about wellness and fitness. Caulfield has written a Freakonomics for the health industry – or, the only honest health book published in recent memory. The one that tells you that there are very few single true answers for all people.
But let’s let Timothy tell his own story. We’re pleased to share this blog from Timothy himself:
When It Comes to Health, the Twist is Everywhere!
I’ve been working in the area of health policy my entire academic career – almost two decades of researching everything from genetics to stem cell research to obesity. But I learned more about what truly makes us healthy in the one year I spent writing The Cure for Everything. I think this is because I took a very inclusive approach. I considered the evidence from a wide range of perspectives and disciplines. Also, the fact that I tried to “live” each chapter brought unique insight (e.g., I had no idea I’d have so much trouble going without my beloved M&Ms!). It was a fascinating journey, packed with surprises about both my own lifestyle and what the available scientific evidence actually says about things like fitness and nutrition.
Since completing the book, many friends and colleagues have asked me what was the biggest revelation. It is difficult to pick just one, so I am going to cheat and provide two that are really broad themes rather than a revelation about a particular health myth.
The twist is everywhere! I remain astounded how many forces twist what we are told about health. I’ve long known the obvious stuff, like the influence of Big Pharma on how research results are reported. But my research for the book revealed so many perverting influences that I find it miracle that the truth ever surfaces. A twist on the facts, often inadvertent, is introduced by the scientists doing the research, by the media reporting the results, by the companies marketing the products, and by the health care providers who recommend the remedies. It is one big cycle of hype and misinformation! One of the big goals of the book is to provide some guidance to on cutting through all the crap.
Don’t believe the hype! My second revelation is that there is no revelation. Sorry. I put in a great deal of effort trying to find some kind of diet, fitness routine or remedy that has a powerful, but as yet unknown, positive impact on our health I can say with a good deal of confidence that, sadly, they don’t exist. Zero. Zip. Zilch.
Now, many may find this depressing. But it isn’t. It is, as I argue in the book, truly liberating. We can all relax. We can ignore all the advertisements, magazine covers and too-good-to-be-true health promises. When you sift through to nonsense circulating in popular culture, it turns out that you can adopt a few simple (albeit challenging) actions that will have a profound impact on your health and, perhaps, happiness.
While the book is packed with advice on fitness, dieting and healthy living, I am going to take this opportunity to provide you with a short list of words, phrases and promises that you can use as baloney detectors. If you see one of the following words in an advertisement, in a headline, on a magazine cover or on the package of a product, you can be pretty sure there is little evidence to support the associated claims.
- Detoxify (ridiculous, your body does this for you.)
- Cleanse (ditto.)
- Energize (like coffee?)
- Tone (can’t be done without major weight loss.)
- Tighten (ditto.)
- Natural (what the heck is “natural”?)
- Metabolism boosting (again, like coffee?)
- Medical breakthrough (a vanishingly rare occurrence.)
- Align (there is, generally, nothing that needs “aligning”, other than the facts.)
- Supplement (for most, a healthy diet is all you need.)
Thanks to Penguin Canada for facilitating this blog, and to Timothy Caulfield himself for sharing it.