I Call Bullsh*t: Fear Mongering and Pushing Perfectionism in Health Articles

I’ve spent a long time being a voracious consumer of health research. My interest began after my Celiac diagnosis and continued unabated for years. I (metaphorically, and with pun intended) gobbled up anything I could find on nutrition, disease prevention, and healthy living. But, as I found recently, the more I read, the more I became…scared sh*tless.

I didn’t even realize it until my health-panic reached critical mass a few weeks ago — but prior to this epiphany, I’ve spent untold amounts of time vigilantly avoiding everything that I’d read was harming me: canned food, tap water, non-stick pans, plastics, household cleaners (hence the article I wrote about it last spring/summer, when I realized that a lot of products are seriously no bueno), grilled meat, non-organic foods…the list goes on.

While all those habits are definitely good, I didn’t realize until recently that they’ve fed into a growing reservoir of “holy crap you guys everything is poison and I’m going to die an early and painful death because THE ENTIRE WORLD IS MADE OF TOXINS AND DOOM.”

 

DoomThen, a few weeks ago, the reservoir breached its banks. I was reading yet another article about the horrors of drinking water, even though this is a generally venerable habit: tap water is horrible for you, and bottled water is apparently no better. The proposed solution is to buy some sort of reverse osmosis uber-filter and install it in your sink, but since we live in a rented apartment and can’t exactly take apart the plumbing without getting into a heap o’ trouble with the property management office, the alleged “only solution” isn’t viable for non-homeowners like us.

Cue the panic: “Omigod. The bottled water is toxic. The tap water is toxic. I can’t install the filters they say will keep the water from being toxic. I DRINK A LOT OF WATER AND IT’S ALL TOXIC AND IS GOING TO KILL ME OMIGOD.”

Then, a few seconds later, just as I was about to weep and curl up in fetal position beneath my desk, I had another thought: “I do the best I can with the resources I have and the circumstances I’m in. Why do I feel so scared that I’m not doing enough? Why do I feel that despite all my effort, I’m totally doomed?”

A few more seconds later: “Wait a minute. This is bullshit.”

EpiphanyThen I took a brief tour through some of the articles I’d read in recent months, and you know what? According to pretty much everything I read, THE WORLD IS MADE OF TOXINS AND EVERYTHING IS GOING TO KILL YOU.

Here’s a small recap of all the things that are going to lead to you being sick, miserable, and probably dead: being tall, your bottled water, your tap water, your tea, your food, the air in your home, your air freshener, anything plastic, getting angry, taking vitamins, flying, insomnia, your antiperspirant, and, wait for it, pretty much everything you own.

Oh, and BTW: being stressed or anxious about the fact that everything is going to kill you is, in fact, also going to kill you. However, be forewarned that using modern medicine to treat your anxiety is going to kill you even more.

Now, I’m prone to freaking out about, well, everything — but these articles had the collective effect of making me nearly crap my pants in sheer panic. The fear-mongering, as I realized with my highly scientific (cough, cough — sarcasm — cough, cough) meta-analysis, actually looks pretty epic. “Scary,” “could kill you,” and “is killing you” are some of the most common themes that cropped up, over and over and over.

Now, there’s a definite difference between actual scientific studies saying that X (for example, height) is correlated with Y (in the case above, cancer) and the outright fear-mongering pieces that tell you to be afraid, very afraid, of everything. But even in those legitimate study results, I realized that no one ever brings up the fact that correlation doesn’t imply causation. Just because two things are linked, it doesn’t mean that one causes the other. But no one ever says that when writing about studies linking X and Y, which then leads the reader to draw the conclusion that X actually causes Y. And let’s be honest: these studies usually correlate everyday things, like your height, with really scary, life-altering/ending sh*t like cancer. Which is terrifying.

Brandon — AKA The Rational One — has occasionally called me on my panic-induced BS, noting that our water is fluoridated (ergo, my fit of freak-out, which happened after I read some terrifying article about the dangers of fluoride in toothpaste, was really just an exercise in futility), and that the whole antiperspirant-breast cancer link has been resoundingly debunked. (Which is good, because my brief foray into all-natural deodorant sans antiperspirant led to me schvitzing right through my sweaters, thus yielding sweat stains the size of watermelons. I despised it.)

Deodorant without antiperspirantI also noticed that along with these prophecies of doom, there are ample recommendations on what you can do to prevent horrible health outcomes from befalling you. What’s the best way to prevent being killed by everything you own, touch, or ingest?

According to all the health literature I’ve read over the years, it’s simple: adopt this easy 80-step, time-sucking process to propel yourself into vibrant health!

  • Spend 20 minutes per day doing oil pulling. And no, it doesn’t matter if you usually barely have 2 minutes to spend brushing your teeth.
  • Make your own toothpaste, shampoo, body wash, lotion, and all personal care products, only using fresh spring water that you retrieved yourself and carried on your head in a fair-trade, non-GMO, certified organic clay jug.
  • Similarly, craft your own non-toxic stone ware out of fresh clay that was found in a sacred clay deposit after the rainy season in Sedona.
  • Cut gluten, dairy, meat, vegetables, sugar, fruit, grains, and beans out of your diet, because they’re all toxic. Subsisting on air is the way of the righteous.
  • If you do choose to consume food (because you don’t love Mother Earth), don’t buy almond or coconut milks from the store — they have carrageenan, which will kill you! Instead, make your own from scratch. Please note, though, that it must be infused with unicorn saliva, or else it will be unhealthy and still likely to kill you.
  • You must cook solely from scratch, using only organic produce that you foraged from your local forest/city park/vaguely terrifying remote wilderness populated only by militiamen and aspiring Unabombers/whatever.
  • Get at least one hour of exercise per day. And, as one of my track coaches used to say, if you’re not on the brink of barfing or passing out, you’re not working hard enough.
  • Meditate whenever you’re not actively oil pulling, foraging, exercising, cooking, making toothpaste using your artisanal mortar and pestle, or hunting down unicorn saliva.
  • Never allow yourself to experience stress. Always be filled with serenity, gratitude, happiness, and positivity. Horrific tragedy is no match for the power of positive thinking!!!1!
  • Make every effort to be the perfect parent. Not doing so will irrevocably screw up your kids for the rest of their lives. Having screwed up kids will stress you out, which will kill you.
  • Sleep at least 8-9 hours per night.

 

Unicorn SalivaBasically, it comes down to this: 1) at the end of the day, most people are just doing the best they can with what they have, and 2) scaring everyone into doing 80 kajillion more things to keep our lives from killing us probably isn’t going to help.

Yeah, I get that “scary” and “this everyday thing could kill you” make great click-bait – it appears that in the health world, fear seems to sell far more than sex ever could – but after my “this is bullsh*t” epiphany, I’ve become acutely aware, and exceedingly tired, of fear-mongering headlines and articles.

But look: we can’t all take the time to make a bajillion DIY products, 8-9 hours of sleep is sometimes outright impossible (shout-out to all those with newborns or, hey, any children under age 12), and there are plenty of times when people really do need anti-anxiety/depression medication. Ain’t no shame in any of it, folks. You play the cards you’re dealt.

So, in calling bullsh*t on a lot of the aforementioned fear mongering in a lot of health literature, I’ve decided that I’ll continue doing the best I can with what I have. Buying mostly organic, using glass food storage, and using non-toxic household products and cosmetics wherever possible? I’m on it.

However, I’ve decided to quit freaking out about drinking the bottled water at work (plastic bottles > lead pipes), the occasional serving of canned soup, my store-bought shampoo and body wash (Pantene and Dove 4-EVAH, yo), the absolutely necessary antiperspirant, my beloved almond milk, and the fact that it saps all my personal willpower and discipline just to make myself floss regularly. (To my dentist: Sorry, dude. But it really is onerous.)

After all, trying to add oil pulling, detoxing, and DIY almond milk-making to my schedule would make me totally lose it.

And that would probably kill me.

Updates Galore

Since it’s been a while (cue Aaliyah! “It’s been a long time/we shouldn’t have left you/without a dope beat to step to”), I figure I owe y’all a an update on the various goings-on over the last few months.

In my last post before my long hiatus, I was waxing poetic about how much I miss Colorado. Thankfully, Brandon and I were able to head out there a desperately needed two-week vacay in February, which was awesome. What wasn’t awesome was the weather, which was predicted to be in the 40’s and 50’s and gorgeous, only to be revised (on the day we arrived, no less) as highs of 3 and wind chills of -20.  So, while we didn’t get to hike much, we did get to watch a lot of movies — and we got to see some of my favorite people, which made me sublimely happy. I did get one very brief hike in, juuuuuust as the weather improved before we flew back to DC — and of course, I had to take pictures for posterity. This is from one of my favorite local trails:

 

Bear Creek Trail

Oh, and the Broncos lost the Super Bowl. Guys, I knew it was doomed from the moment I saw that first fumbled snap. I’m not a big drinker under normal circumstances, but I made a considerable dent in my dad’s GF beer supply during the course of that game. As soon as the snap was fumbled, my dad and I exchanged one of those “oh, sh*t” glances and helped ourselves to a few adult beverages. (In case anyone is wondering, Colorado has some awesome GF beer.) To illustrate how much I love my Broncos, on the Friday before game day, I wore this shirt to work:

 

Broncos Country
I think this solidifies my candidacy for upper management, does it not?

 

While Seattle obviously played a great game and Seahawks fans have every right to be thrilled about the outcome of that particular massacre, I’m not going to want to talk to any Seattle fans about that game for a very, very long time. In fact, probably not ever. As the game concluded, I put up a PSA on Facebook to let everyone know that if any Seattle fans talk any trash to me, ever, about this game, I will summarily de-friend them. Because my devotion to the Broncos obviously comes before human relationships. I’m nothing if not logical, folks. (As an example of my irrational sports fanaticism, I still loathe the University of Michigan after they beat my beloved Colorado College hockey team, in double overtime, for the NCAA national championship…in 1995. Now I rabidly root for them to lose in all sports, all the time. But I don’t carry grudges, I swear!)

Once we got back to DC, we were met with equally frigid and snowy weather as what we’d experienced in Colorado. The good part of this was that we had a bunch of snow days off from work – yay! – but the bad news was that once we did return to the office, my bus stop looked like this:

 

Bus Stop with Snow
To give you a sense of scale here, the ice was up to my knees. It was fun times.

 

I mean, who doesn’t like a treacherous, icy schlep to work in the mornings?! They’re beloved by everyone, obviously. Thankfully, winter fiiiinnnaaaalllly seems to be releasing its vise-grip on DC, since today is supposed to be gorgeous and warm. Despite the incoming pollen-bomb, my inhaler and I are totally going to take advantage of the sunshine by going for a run outside this afternoon. I may be a wheezy, sneezing mess by the time I get back, but I think it’ll probably be worth it. (Albuterol, don’t fail me now.)

Lastly, and most exciting, two weeks ago I had a re-biopsy to see where things stand with my endometrial cancer treatment, and the results look good! Things aren’t totally back to normal, since the cells have regressed into a pre-cancerous stage — but this means that a) the cancer itself is gone, and b) the meds are working. HAPPY DANCE!

 

image
Colbert + Kermie = best happy dance ever

 

The state they’re in right now is basically a half-way point: when endometrial cancer develops, cells go from being normal to pre-cancerous to cancerous — so in treating it, the meds are supposed to make it go in the opposite direction. Since the meds are doing exactly that, my doctors are really encouraged that a bit more time will hopefully knock this out for good. I’ll remain on the progesterone treatment for another six months before we re-biopsy, and hopefully by then things will have returned to normal. My fingers are crossed — but, should you feel compelled, please feel free to light a candle/say a prayer/sacrifice a goat to add some oomph to my cause.

So, that’s a recap of the most notable goings-on during my blogging hiatus. I hope all you lovely people have been doing well!

Oh, Hai!

Oh hai!

Well, after swearing that I’d never go AWOL from blogging again, I totally did exactly that. (We all know what they say about the road to hell and good intentions and yadda yadda yadda.) Forgive me, por favor?

In the interest of full disclosure, I wasn’t blogging for a handful of reasons – the most notable being that I felt like my brain had been drained of any and all creative mojo. I think the last year, which involved more trauma and upheaval than I imagined possible, caught up with me over the last few months. Whenever I tried to sit down and write, nothing – zip, zilch, nada – would happen. Much like my skin during the winter (am I the only one who feels like a parched iguana from December through March?), my creative juices had dried the hell up. My brain was *so* not having it. Writing about normal, everyday topics felt trivial when I’d spent so long in survival mode, and so anything I managed to eke out was basically drivel.

And I don’t want to publish drivel. Soooo…I just didn’t publish anything.

Adding to the whole “I have nothing but drivel” motif that kept me from blogging, I also have often felt overwhelmed by all the things blogging entails — but mostly replying to comments here and leaving comments elsewhere. Guys, it’s muy time consuming. My schedule already feels like it’s at max capacity when I incorporate writing a post into my daily routine, and adding to that fragile balance leads to a sense of overwhelm that quickly snowballs into, like, an abominable snowman of Sh*t I Have to Do.

Lastly, I’ve generally put a lot of pressure on myself to make my posts perfect before putting them up on the internets. I’m a recovering perfectionist in, um, pretty much every facet of my life. (I’ve been late for work because I’m determined to flat-iron into submission the one section of my hair, in the very back of my head, which insists on being wavy. No lie. Because priorities.) I’m gradually getting better at it, but since writing feels like the closest thing I have to a baby at this point in my life, I’m prone to spending waaaaaaay too much time fine-tuning my words, finding the perfect graphics to break up the blocks of text, making sure the formatting is exactly how I want it to look, and so forth. But really, that needs to come to a screeching halt, because…

 

 

So, I’m going to test-drive a new policy:

First, I’ll write what I can, when I can, and I’m going to work on being ok with a less than perfect post. That last bit is going to be a big – nay, colossal – challenge, but, being that perfectionism and obsessively worrying about random crap I can’t control are my biggest strengths (and by strengths, I mean weaknesses), I feel like it’s probably something I’d benefit from.

Second, I’ll comment and reply to comments when I can, but please know that even if I don’t get to it, I love all you guys and I love your posts. Hearing about what you’re up to, even if I’m just lurking in the proverbial shadows (and I mean that in the most non-creepy way possible), makes me smile and send loads of mental hugs and warm fuzzies out to each of you. So, even if you don’t hear from me often and I become the Lame Lurking Blogger, I still love all the awesome things you guys have to say.

So, with that, here’s to imperfect posts and Lame Lurking Blogger tendencies!