I've been writing constantly since I was old enough to hold a pencil, so nobody was surprised when I grew up to do it for a living. But if you told me in my twenties that my main beat would one day be health, I would have been shocked. Back then living it up definitely took precedence over healthy living.
As a writer and then an editor at Cosmopolitan magazine I focused on fashion, beauty, decorating, dating, and helping readers understand themselves better via probing, insightful stories with titles like "What Does Your Favorite Lingerie Color Say About You?" Working at a magazine like Cosmo in my youth was every bit as fun as it sounds. Meetings often found us doubled over with laughter over some ridiculous-but-genius coverline we'd dreamed up; plus we got to do things like duck out of the office to try the latest spray tan booth (on assignment!), have reps from liquor companies come and mix us trendy cocktails (after five o'clock, usually), and do important research in the "beauty closet," which is an entire room lined with shelves packed with makeup and lotions and hair accessories that were pretty much free for the taking.
At night we'd hit restaurant openings, movie screenings, perfume launch parties—there was always something more fun to do than go to the gym, eat a homemade meal, or get the recommended hours of sleep. I eventually started writing and editing health stories for Cosmo but I kept the focus on the "bikini health" that interested readers in our demo, think breast self-exams, STD prevention, and birth control. Long-term, holistic health and wellbeing was not a subject I wrote about, or thought about.
But as the years piled up, and my friends and I began to suffer health crises big and small, and I had children and realized that I needed to stay healthy for them, and my parents and my friends' parents started to age, some better than others, I became fascinated by health and its many mysteries. Like, for example:
- Why do some people get sick and others don't?
- What can we do to prevent illness and feel great both now and far into the future?
- If things that we used to believe about health are wrong, how do we know that today's accepted advice is right?
I think of health and medicine as a real-life detective story with incredibly high stakes. Despite amazing, mind-boggling advances in medicine in the past century, even the most esteemed MDs still know very little about what causes illness and how to prevent it. So, once I left the 9 to 5 magazine world (10 to 8, more accurately) and started freelancing, I shifted my focus to personal health, though I still write about beauty and style sometimes, too. My gig as a writer for Health Goes Strong is a dream come true—I love the chance to report on the latest health-related scientific studies and interview health experts who run the gamut from traditional and academic to super-alternative.
Three Things I Know Now that I Didn't Know at 20
These are the core beliefs that guide my approach to health, both in my reporting and in life:
- Health is wealth. If you don't feel good it's pretty hard appreciate whatever else you've got or get much done, let alone live life to the fullest; so it makes sense to do absolutely whatever you can to achieve and maintain good health. Which brings me to a key corollary to this belief: Caring about your health does not make you neurotic or self-absorbed. There will be voices (usually in your own head, but sometimes belonging to others) that imply or outright say that it's silly to obsess over eating well, irresponsible to leave work early sometimes to exercise, or self-indulgent to get acupuncture or a massage. Don't listen to them, any more than you would listen to somebody who told you it was silly to ask for an overdue raise or self-indulgent to take a perfectly legal tax deduction (but nobody would ever think those things about money, so why do we think them about our health?).
- Evidence isn't always all it's cracked up to be. In America, "evidence-based" medicine is considered the gold standard—meaning that doctors aim to give us only treatments, tests, and recommendations that are backed up by solid scientific research. I agree that that's a great philosophy for the medical system as a whole, but on an individual level I don't think we should always let evidence guide our health decisions. For one thing, "evidence" can often only be found when there's money to be made—double-blind, placebo-controlled trials are expensive, and drug companies can afford to sponsor them, while makers of herbal remedies usually cannot (since traditional remedies can't be patented, margins on them are small). That's why my posts on HGS frequently feature topics, experts, and treatments that your family MD might consider on the fringe. If you have reason to believe that a herbal remedy, diet change, or other non-evidence-based treatment could cure what ails you today, don't wait around for evidence to back it up. I'm not saying you should try every trendy supplement out there (if I took every pill and potion that holistic health experts have recommended I'd be so busy washing them down that I wouldn't have time to write; plus, I'd be broke) but it's worth it to do some research into and experimentation with "alternative" remedies.
- Ultimately, you have to cross your fingers or pray (if you do that). While I think obsessing over your health is a good thing, you have to accept that to a large extent your health and longevity are out of your control. It can be hard to prioritize being healthy (good!) without worrying about your health (not good; stress is bad for your health!). When I find myself crossing that line into anxiety, I redirect my attention to specific actions I can take that I know are good for me, and relieve anxiety at the same time—like going on a long walk (ideally with a friend), planning or preparing a healthy meal, or watching The Daily Show (thankfully Jon Stewart's monologues are always a few clicks away on YouTube).
My Favorite Posts on Health Goes Strong
- The interview I did for Lose Your Wheat Belly finally got me to stop gobbling up my kids' leftover sandwich crusts and slicing slivers off of their quesadillas—thank you Dr. Davis!
- Thyroid disorders are so common, especially among women at midlife, and it's one of those areas where patients really need to do their research, so I loved reporting Stop the Thyroid Madness and The Hypothyroidism Diet, two non-traditional takes on thyroid treatment.
- I am somewhat fixated on reducing my family's exposure to potentially harmful chemicals—I've got the water filter, the air purifier, the organic everything! So I love writing pieces like How to Detox in 3 Days, which reveals that we're not necessarily as screwed by all these chemicals as I might think.
- Somewhat related to my paranoia about environmental health, I love a good conspiracy theory, so I really savored writing The Diet Tip That's Total Bull and the Meatless Monday (Mini) Scandal, two wild examples of the government writing (or not writing) dietary advice based on what business interests want them to say, not on what's actually best for us.
- This post on Fecal Transplants is definitely the most disgusting thing I've ever written, but also a perfect example of why I love writing about health—I mean, who would have ever thought that such a thing would be a safe and effective medical treatment? And yet it is. Who knows what they'll discover next? I can't wait to find out.