Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection by A. J. Jacobs; published April 2012 by Simon & Schuster
Some of you might know A. J. Jacobs as the man who read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica and for a year lived according to the Old Testament Levitical law. He’s been on a kick of self-improvement: first the brain, then the soul, now the body. In this book, Jacobs details his attempt to become the most healthy person alive, chronicling two years spent wading through health information to try to figure out what actually works.
The chapters are divided by body part: the stomach (3 chapters on this!), the ears, the heart, the nervous system, etc. As he discovers how to keep each body part healthy each month, his to-do list becomes longer and longer. Wear noise-canceling headphones to limit hearing loss, drink green tea, run intervals, write his book while walking on a treadmill, do breathing exercises, get rid of all toxins in the house, and on and on. At times I felt sorry for the poor guy. Being healthy became his full-time job. Look at this picture:
In fact, Jacobs started to suffer from a touch of orthorexia, or “the mania for the correct diet,” which plagues many people. The symptoms include:
“When you stray from healthy food, you’re filled with guilt and self-loathing,
“You become socially isolated because it’s hard to eat at the same table as less conscious friends,
“Healthy eating has become your replacement religion, making you feel virtuous.” (88)
What Jacobs learned is that you can’t do absolutely everything your body needs to be perfectly healthy. There isn’t enough time in the day, and you miss out on other important things, like time with family and friends—which is also a healthy thing. As he said,
“It’s all about weighing costs and benefits. To be totally safe, I could avoid cell phones. But the stress of living a cell-phone free life? That might put me in an early grave. You have to choose your toxic battles.” (190)
What’s really nice about this book is that Jacobs tackles some common health myths and misconceptions and comes up with very practical advice about what habits are actually healthy. For example, Jacobs had heard (as had I) that blueberries are a superfood because they have an abundance of antioxidants. It’s true that they have many antioxidants and are very healthy and you should eat them, but they’re no more amazing than other fruits and vegetables, all of which contain very important nutrients and should be eaten. This is great news for me, since I dislike all foods ending in -berry.
A great point he makes is that half of the battle is simply being aware of your own body. Most of us eat while watching TV or reading or playing Angry Birds on our iPhones. We don’t pay attention to what and how much we are eating. A healthy habit to take up is taking all distractions away when you eat and put a mirror in front of you. You’ll be forced to watch yourself eating, which I’m sure would be scary and eye-opening for many of us. Or you can do what Jacobs did: find a website that takes a picture of you and shows you what you’ll look like in 20 years. The old version of you can help motivate you to make smart decisions.
Honestly, most of us already know how we can be healthier: by moving more and eating less. But this book does illuminate more healthy habits you can take up. He might not have become the healthiest man alive, but he’s done the best he can and learned that some things are out of his control. And sometimes having ice cream with your son is more important that running three miles.