Don't kill yourself trying to stay healthy

Originally published in The Ottawa Citizen December 31, 2002
Original Title: Book Review: Eat, Drink & Be Merry

I first heard Dr. Dean Edell while driving with my family to St. Louis by tuning into his radio talk show. His no nonsense approach to medical claims and treatments were on the mark. Never condescending and always open to new ideas, he bases his opinions on solid research and evidence. He says that he most appreciates difficult questions because it forces him to evaluate the available data and evidence to find a credible answer.

This is evident in his latest book Eat, Drink & Be Merry: America’s Doctor Tells You Why the Health Experts Are Wrong. The book, written in an easy flowing narrative, is not peppered with medical jargon. He reviews topical newsworthy areas of health that are ever changing. He challenges the common beliefs of health pundits with an eye to assure people that they need not kill themselves to remain healthy and happy.

Divided into ten chapters, he covers myths, truisms and misconceptions about diet, exercise, germs, nutrition, alternative medicine, drugs, weight, sex, health prevention and mental health.

The chapter Trust the Media at Your Peril rightly points out that our society now boasts one of the longest life spans in human history. Yet we constantly worry about our health. The media’s obsession with diagnostic nightmares has created a society convinced that their headache may be due to a brain tumor. Sections entitle “The Terror Hit Parade” and “A Cure for Cancer! More at Eleven!” reflect his view on the media’s biased, poorly researched presentation of medical information.

He expresses concern that the reporting of medical issues tends to be superficial, sensationalized and targeted to foster anxiety and paranoia. Sound bites are de rigueur instead of content-rich information. Equally important is the notion that some research is better than others. He uses many examples to illustrate the point; all of them compelling.

Women have been bombarded by Madison Avenue to attain a body shape that is unrealistic and unhealthy. In The Truth About Your Weight he assails the diet, modeling and women’s magazine industry for the big con. Women have been made to run on the treadmill to “perfect health and fitness” pursing an impossible ideal. When they ultimately fail to reach these unrealistic goals they see themselves as failures. He blasts the fad diets and products designed to promise nirvana but instead delivering purgatory.

There is an excellent review of how the body uses and stores fat. The information is empowering for the reader because it provides a sensible approach to achieving and maintaining a realistic weight. Edell believes that a little jiggle is good for you having been this way for thousands of years.

One of my favourite chapters is Would You Fly on a Plane Without Wings? Edell in his youth rejected conventional medical practice and embraced the New Age phenomenon. He witnessed his friend’s and colleague’s ignorance regarding their diagnosis of medical conditions. He eventually rejected alternative medicine when his friend, a holistic doctor prescribed a fruit juice fast to a baby with fever and chest infection. Three days later the child died of pneumonia.

Using tried and true evidence-based analysis he points out the problems with some therapies and indeed admits that there is some merit to others. Importantly he uses reliable referenced sources for his critique. In short he presents a cogent approach to evaluating medical claims.

I am reminded of Dan Gardiner’s excellent series on the war on drugs when I read Edell’s synopsis on drug abuse. He concludes, using carefully reasoned arguments and a wealth of data, that it is foolish to outlaw plants and natural substances and imprisoning the people who use them. He sees this as not a crime but a public health problem.

Using common language Edell challenges preconceived notions about health and wellness. His view is that we should be enjoying our lives instead of continually worrying about the next great scourge. His common-sense approach to living is refreshing. By all means do what is necessary to prevent disease and stay healthy. But if it becomes an all consuming monster what is the point? This book is a must read for all health professionals and patients alike. It contains a wealth of no nonsense information that can literally lift that weight off your shoulders.

© Dr. Barry Dworkin 2002

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