Like many people, professor, researcher, and self-proclaimed science geek Tim Caulfield thought that he was as fit and healthy as he could be. An athlete and exercise devotee since age 12, Caulfield worked out regularly and ate what he thought was a balanced diet. But in writing his new book, The Cure For Everything: Untangling the Twisted Messages About Health, Fitness and Happiness, Caulfield found that even he wasn’t immune to the various lies and misconceptions that are keeping people unhealthy and unhappy.
What initially started out as a book designed to clarify the various mixed messages about health and fitness became a journey for Caulfield, who consulted a team of experts, sought out a Hollywood trainer, and eventually ended up making a change that resulted in a new, healthier lifestyle (and some weight loss).
But, he says, it’s not all about losing weight–to be a healthier society, what we need to be focusing on is the difference between things that are supposedly good for us, and what science has shown really is actually good for us. Like exercise. And portion control. Caulfield isn’t trying to cure us all of our ailments–though his message can do that–it’s also trying to cure us of our delusions about health and weight loss.
I wanted to ask Caulfield, who emphasizes exercise mostly as a way to help your body function the best it can, a little bit more about why he decided to write the book, what messages seem to confuse people–and why we’re so hesitant to hear things like “eat less” or “you can’t be healthy without some kind of exercise,” even when it’s become clear that obesity is taking a toll on our health. Here’s our conversation:
Can you tell me a little bit about what set you on the path to cure everything?
Well, it’s funny–it actually started out as more of an academic book. I was going to write a book about all of the twisting influences of science, generally. But I’ve always had an obsession with the fitness side of the equation. And I’ve always noticed that those twisting influences play out in the context of fitness, so I thought, “What if I wrote a book that explored all of those influences in the context of health and fitness?” And then as I started working on it, I had that epiphany. “You know what? I’m going live this book. I’m going to live every chapter. And that’s when it kind of started to take on the shape that it has.
And the other thing is that I’ve always worked in these really high-tech areas. My day job is stem-cell research and nanotechnology, and genetics. And healthy living is really where you get the most bang for your buck, both on a population level, as well as on a personal level. So I thought, “What a great message to send out.” And also, and I hope this comes across in the book, it’s also a bit of a love letter to science.
Definitely. I’m also a big science nerd, and I feel like health and fitness and science are so interconnected, and they get separated so often.
So how do you feel that your public health and science background help shape your views of health and of fitness and of obesity? Because I feel like that’s not an angle that a lot of people come from.
You know, there are a couple of interesting things about it. This wasn’t just a book–it was really a personal revelation, too. I’ve spent years and years reading through studies that come across my desk, and using that data for whatever paper I’m working on, or whatever policy I’m working on, so I think that I always had those skills. So I thought “Let’s apply that in the context of health.” And also with remedies and genetics–let’s apply that kind of approach to figuring out what we need to do.
There are also personal aspect. I didn’t realized how much I ate during the day, despite the fact that I’m swimming in this information all the time. I didn’t realize how poor everyone–myself included–is at figuring out how many calories they put in their mouth. So once you start looking at this evidence and looking at yourself, I think clarity finally emerges.
One of the things you just mentioned, and it’s in the promotional copy for the book, too, is that your new lifestyle involves eating substantially less. Which conventional wisdom says is kind of obvious, but so many people are looking for some other answer. Do you think people just don’t want to hear that eat less (and better) is the solution?
For sure, people don’t want to hear that. People don’t want to hear that they want to work hard–and I don’t blame them! I don’t want to hear that either. And if [someone's telling you] that you can have your cake and eat it, too, why wouldn’t want to hear that instead? So, I think people want that message, and they search for that message, and then when they hear it, they’re more likely to gravitate toward it.
But at the same time, I feel sorry for the public–and again, I fell for this myself. Messages telling us to eat more are everywhere. Absolutely everywhere. So yes, there’s a personal wish, but also, we’re humans, and we can’t help but be influenced by that. So one of the big messages in the book is to just ignore all that stuff. Don’t even worry about all the nutrition science–I mean, follow it if you want, it’s fun to follow–but don’t really worry about it. If anyone ever comes up with a new diet technique that really can allow you to lose weight, you’ll know. You’ll hear about it.