Book: Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection by A.J. Jacobs
Genre: stunt memoir
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: April 2012
I want to do everything on my list because my quest isn’t just to be a little bit healthier. My quest isn’t to lose a couple of pounds. My quest is to turn my current self — a mushy, easily winded, moderately sickly blob — into the embodiment of health and fitness. To become as healthy as humanly possible.
Drop Dead Healthy is the story of that quest, taking place over two years plus a little. It’s also the funniest book I’ve read in my long term quest to read books that support my healthy lifestyle.
Thoughts: Of course, any effort by an American to make himself healthier is going to involve food. A.J. Jacobs confesses to a starting point of no green in his meals, unless he counted Rolling Rock. Since one of the initial problems he needed to solve in his quest for bodily perfection was to lose a significant amount of dangerous abdominal fat, Chapter 1 is “The Stomach: The Quest to Eat Right.” After trying the Vice Diet (coffee, wine, and chocolate are all good for you, after all), he focused on portion control and mindful eating.
Chapter 6 is “The Stomach, Revisited” where he talks about orthorexia –an unhealthy obsession of healthy eating. This is the chapter where he covers the debate between the plant-based diet and the low-carb, high-protein diet that keeps coming up in my reading (most recently in last week’s Weekend Cooking post: Book Review: The Hundred Year Diet by Susan Yager). Since his whole approach is scientific, he goes with the preponderance of science on this and leans the plant-based direction, while taking heed of the low-carb advice to avoid simple carbs.
Later in Chapter 6, Jacobs takes a lovely walk through a Whole Foods with Marion Nestle. In the produce section, he learns that she doesn’t believe in superfoods:
Nestle thinks that we have an outsize obsession with ranking our fruits and vegetables….This type of thinking leads us to believe the idea that the fruit with the most antioxidants is the best. It makes us overlook all the nonsuperfoods — what one writer called “Clark Kent” foods–such as apples and oranges, which are perfectly healthy. Antioxidants are just one of dozens of good chemicals in food. (p. 97)
Chapter 16 is also titled “The Stomach, Revisted.” It takes a lot of revisiting to be a healthy eater in America while not developing orthorexia. In this chapter he tries three of the more rigid diets for two weeks at a time — raw food, low-carb / high-protein, and no sugar. All had positives and negatives, but he didn’t stick with any of them once the two weeks were up.
Appeal: I focused on the food bits for the Weekend Cooking crowd, but this book covers lots more — exercise, stress reduction, and toxins in our environment. Anyone looking for a well-researched but humorous look at issues impacting health in the modern age will want to read Drop Dead Healthy.
Lots more Weekend Cooking adventures are gathered at Beth Fish Reads.