Ottawa Citizen

Untangling health and fitness (dis) informatio­n

Stretching is a waste of time, and other shocking revelation­s

- CHARLIE FIDELMAN

The Cure for Everything! Untangling the Twisted Messages About Health, Fitness and Happiness

By Timothy Caulfield, Viking, $32 When an offer of a two-for-one special on colon cleansing landed in my email box recently, I laughed aloud and thought of Timothy Caulfield.

Tired of faux-science spins on health claims, Caulfield, a healthlaw professor at the University of Alberta, went on a quest to find out what really makes us healthy.

He spent a year looking at weight loss and fad diets, alternativ­e remedies (like colon cleansing), genetics, the pharmaceut­ical industry and fitness.

Caulfield, an exercise-obsessed health nut, science nerd and former sprint cycling champion, turned himself into a guinea pig. He tried several experiment­s, had his genes tested by sending vials of spit to a lab and signed up for a boot-campstyle exercise for celebritie­s with a Hollywood trainer.

The result is a book called The Cure for Everything! Untangling the Twisted Messages About Health, Fitness and Happiness.

Good science informatio­n is out there, Caulfield writes. But folks with vested interests, from Big Food to Big Pharma, distort this, he says. Informatio­n is “perverted” by social, ideologica­l and market forces driving health claims — as well as our own sets of beliefs and predilecti­ons.

In his quest to find the truth and expose manipulati­on, Caulfield interviews experts and culls academic studies for the best available evidence-based science.

Some of his findings are dishearten­ing. For example, he details the pharmaceut­ical industry’s influence. But Caulfield’s book is not the earnest tome one might imagine.

Some of his conclusion­s may shock believers. For example, he says that yoga is all about marketing, stretching is a waste of time and exercise is useless for weight loss. Physical activity is great for many things like reducing chronic illness, but in weight loss, he says, the diet part is about 80 per cent of the battle.

The food industry, Caulfield notes, has a strong interest in maintainin­g the idea that inactivity is the root of obesity. It’s no coincidenc­e that companies like Coca-cola sponsor major sporting events.

One of Caulfield’s favourite fitness myths involves muscle toning, which he says is nearly impossible. Muscle definition appears with low body fat.

In his pursuit of health and toned muscles, Caulfield called on three nutritioni­sts. He lost 25 pounds in three months, dropping his body fat from a decent 18 per cent to an impressive and ultra-lean 10 per cent. There were no fad diets, colon detox sessions or special foods. He simply cut the junk and ate less. In restaurant­s, he ordered appetizers and skipped the main courses.

As for the science behind colonic irrigation­s, there is none. Ugly “sludge” does not need to be removed from the intestine to somehow “detoxify” the body. Pristine innards are not the cure for anything, Caulfield says. Drinking a glass of water is just as effective and probably much safer, because — and this is science speaking — the colon is self-cleaning.

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