Stop Worrying About Everything Killing You.
There seems to be a new article every week praising the life-prolonging benefits of red wine, warning about the dangers of fried eggs, or touting the magical superproductive nature of Tibetan champignons (or something like that). But that’s why it is foolish to revolve your life around this research.
Literally. Each. A week. Just yesterday, we wrote about “muscle building supplements” – the latest, possibly grim reaper . But this black and white approach to food is completely useless. Instead, it simply leads to the usual but meaningless game of “maximizing life”. The rules of the game, coined by fact-based attorney Dr. Brian Chung , go something like this:
- If that – that is how – or risk killing you (through obesity, cancer, spontaneous combustion, and so on), to avoid this thing.
- … there really is no other rule.
Now all you have to do is wait and hope that the game will prolong your life. Of course, like this overpriced herbal supplement featured in yesterday’s episode of Dr. Oz, you’ll never know if it actually worked.
But this is a really dangerous game. Not only does it stop you from living a happy, fulfilling life, it can actually kill you in the long run because some of the best solutions for your health are in direct conflict with the aforementioned studies.
These studies are useless: correlation is not causation
Studies that collect large amounts of data and try to establish relationships between their variables are known as epidemiological studies. They examine correlation , the relationship between two variables that may not be unambiguously explained.
Using a few silly examples, such as the correlation between margarine consumption and divorce, or between sour cream and motorcycle accidents , you can see that pure correlation doesn’t necessarily tell you anything about cause and effect. This does not mean that correlations cannot be potentially significant. They simply require further research to further explore causation.
Let’s say you’ve heard that eating lots of fruits and vegetables prolongs your life, based on some observational studies in a sample of the population. Indeed, they contain a number of important vitamins and minerals, but there are other factors as well.
Perhaps those who actively try to eat the prescribed portions are likely to be people who are generally health conscious – they exercise, sleep well, drink less – all of which can affect longevity. Or maybe the wealthier part of society can afford to eat well much more easily, while still being able to afford better education, health care, jobs and living conditions. Again, these are important factors when it comes to determining your lifespan.
These studies often become popular. Whether it’s the media deliberately sensational for them to get the attention of viewers, or just bad science, many fall prey to what they report without properly understanding the difference between correlation and causation. A great example of this is the study that found that people who eat chocolate tend to lose weight. Weighty Matters has done some pretty good analysis here .
The result is a confused group of consumers looking to categorize foods as “superfoods” and “cancer-causing killers.”
Your body is a complex system
Research such as epidemiological research or animal research is simply stepping stones to a better understanding of humans and does not necessarily imply that it will be acted upon. Unfortunately, when the public hears about them, they often include them in health decision-making.
Let’s say a person has health problems, and his doctor tells him that this is primarily due to his weight. I cannot tell you how many times I have spoken to the client below:
Me: How much soda do you drink?
Client: I drink about 5 carbonated drinks a day, but I really like soda.
Me: Could you switch to a diet soda? This will save you about 600 calories per day and you will lose one pound per week.
Client: Not really … I’m very concerned about the health effects of aspartame and diet sodas in general.
Failure to lose weight could well kill this person. But instead of making a simple substitute that could help them achieve life-changing results, they are too busy worrying about the untested and often discussed sweetener effects. They focus on the second order problem, not the first.
Likewise, you may be trying to avoid dairy products that you enjoy. Unfortunately, you’ve heard somewhere that “drinking cow’s milk is unnatural.” But it also contains many important nutrients and minerals, not to mention the emotional satisfaction that you get from a package of chocolate milk. Of course, smart ads can present certain products as one-dimensional, good or bad. But that never happens.
The game of “maximizing life” breeds a dangerous misconception: every little thing adds up. The problem is that we make all of these decisions on the assumption that they fork in isolation.
But health does not work that way, becauseit is a complex system in which each decision influences the other. Health Points cannot be simply collected like Pokémon. This will prevent you from getting out of the first forest because the trees have flooded you.
It is important to distinguish between actual risks, such as smoking, and potential risks, such as aspartame. We are certainly not telling you to keep smoking. Rather, you better not think that everything is going to kill you, because you can focus on a few important decisions rather than wasting your mental resources on a million little ones.
Instead, learn that health is entirely up to you as an individual, and every action pays off with an investment in health.
These studies cannot accurately predict your death.
Dr. Brian Chang has a brilliant article titled ” You Are Going to Die, ” in which he talks about the problems associated with long-term correlational studies of mortality. In it he says:
If we accept the principles that each of us has limited willpower to achieve our goals, that our bodies do not discriminate between physical and non-physical forms of stress, and that death is inevitable and individually unpredictable, then we should all stop paying attention to long-term correlation studies. mortality, because the very construction of all-cause mortality and its decline is laughable.
Ignoring research that suggests potential health risks may seem counterintuitive at first, but it makes logical sense. You are betting on correlation, which can be a mere illusion, not to mention that it is completely taken out of context for your needs. In fact, “constantly preventing death” can prevent you from using your energy to live our lives and improve our health. Dr. Chang elaborates:
Any energy expended in eliminating or adding a specified food or intervention is energy drawn from that limited supply of willpower that can be used to live your life rather than trying to get around death. Any stress caused by trying to preserve a specified food item or interfering with or outside of our lives is stress based on the mistaken concept that death can be avoided and somehow controlled (or at least somehow predictable). and therefore also ridiculous.
Of course, no one wants to be killed as quickly as your favorite character in Game of Thrones. We all want to live long and healthy lives. But spending all our energy on avoiding perceived risks not only gets in the way of fulfilling a fulfilling life, but also prevents us from distinguishing battle from war when it comes to improving health.