Should You Buy It?

When companies and news organizations peddle fear, should you buy it? As we’re bombarded by information that may be less than reliable, it can be hard to discern which messages to trust. Unfortunately, the medical community also peddles fear. So how do you determine whether you should buy the product or message?

  • If a spouse/partner wants you to buy a pair of shoes that hurt, should you buy them?
  • If a doctor consistently advises the most extreme treatment, should you get a second opinion?
  • If a news organization edits video that changes perception of a situation, should you base your opinion on partial information?

Determining whether or not to buy or buy into something has some commonalities:

  • It ain’t easy!
  • It’s time consuming!
  • It probably won’t be fun.

I say this, not to discourage you, but to prepare you for a task that is less than desirable but still important to your health, well-being, and quality of life.

Those of us who are avoiding gluten may be tuned into health messaging and labels more than most making us especially vulnerable to the constant bombardment of fear-based messaging.

Let’s make things easier by starting with a few things you can stop worrying about:

Gluten in shampoo or cosmetics – The gluten molecule is too large to be absorbed through your skin. (If you have an allergy to wheat, rye, barley, or malt as opposed to an intolerance, this may still be of concern.) Also, don’t eat the cosmetics. Ingested gluten is still a problem.

Longstanding childhood vaccines – These are safe, effective, and have all but eliminated suffering from smallpox, polio, and tetanus. With any medicine, there is the potential for an adverse reaction in a small number of people. That’s true of antibiotics, birth control pills, and over-the-counter pain relievers. Check ingredient list for allergens & look for recalls. Barring those, get vaccinated.

MRNA vaccines – They do not change your genetic makeup. They do not contain microchips. They do not produce severe adverse reactions in most people. This type of vaccine is easy to adapt to a variety of viruses. That means we will most likely see more and more of these. Adopt with the level of caution you approach any medication, but there’s no reason to dismiss these out of hand.

Taking nutritional supplements – If you are healthy and eat a well-balanced diet, there’s no real benefit to taking supplements.

Eating eggs – While eggs contain cholesterol, they don’t seem to raise blood cholesterol and are a near-perfect food. They may also help with nutrient absorption when eaten in raw salads.

With those out of the way, how can we determine what to embrace or leave behind?

Develop a list of reliable sources – Twitter has been a great tool for this. You could follow experts in any field to get their take on infinite topics. Now it’s a bit more dicey but look for doctors and researchers who are well respected by other scientists. Look for news sources that feel balanced. Watch for bias. Don’t give too much credence to the most visible faces on TV or those who speak for politicians. Look at track records. Get several opinions about any product or issue. Do some background research to see which of those opinions align with rigid, well-controlled studies; reflect verifiable facts; and are not reactionary.

Learn the difference between fact and opinion – It’s common to see someone online ask a “what if” question that leads to a whole narrative based on nothing but flight of fancy that’s treated as fact. And news networks often have “experts” offer lots of opinions based on zero facts. You can tell the difference, but you must listen carefully.

Beware of magical thinking – As humans, we’re always tempted to take the easy way out. We want immediate results and miracle cures. But just because we want something to be a quick fix doesn’t mean it is. Or it could mean we’ll only see short-term positive results. If you find yourself leaning into something because it sounds easier or faster than something you know will work long-term, question yourself.

Today’s example would be using a diabetes prevention drug strictly for weight loss. It’s all the rage! But we also know that once you stop using one of these drugs, the weight comes back. That means a temporary “cure” at best. And we don’t know the long-term health effects of using these drugs. That’s a risk you’re blindly assuming.

Never assume you need anything just because an ad says so – Advertising isn’t about education. It’s not about public service. It’s about getting you to buy a product or service. It may do a public service or educate at the same time, but that’s not its primary purpose.

If fear or shame is involved, beware – It’s unfortunate that companies or professions use emotional manipulation to accomplish their goals. If you feel yourself compelled to buy or buy into something because you’re afraid or feel ashamed, take a minute. Your emotions may be undermining your best judgement. Wait for the feelings to pass, then reevaluate.

Ask questions – Someone in a particular field will have a depth of knowledge you do not. Feel free to ask questions. Most are happy to share their expertise. If you hear them say, “that’s not how this works,” believe them.

The most important thing is to allow yourself to learn and shift. Sometimes new information will challenge a long-held belief. If this NEVER happens, there’s a problem. It’s statistically unlikely that you will be absolutely 100% correct all the time.

Even if you’ve carefully researched your opinion, science will advance; policies will result in unintended consequences that are not acceptable; drugs will be recalled; new facts will be revealed. All of these require adjustment.

Sometimes this means you should no longer buy something that was reasonable yesterday. This can be true in the universal sense. It can also be true on a personal level because we change, our situations change, and our health changes.

There can’t be an absolute answer to the question, should you buy it. And sometimes, we’ll make decisions we regret later. But if we’ve gathered the most reliable information we can find, reflected on potential consequences based on that information, and made a decision that we are willing to reevaluate if necessary, we’ve done all we can do. It’s okay to lean into a plan and feel good about it.

Odd Man Out

Sometimes taking care of your health means being the odd man out. That can be uncomfortable. But that doesn’t make you wrong.

I suppose a need to conform is generally helpful in society. It makes it easier to enforce laws and have an expectation that most people will follow social norms. This can create a sense of security. It can also help us blend in so that we don’t attract unwanted attention.

And we need to balance our emotional needs with our physical needs. But sacrificing physical health to appease or please those who may not have our best interest at heart sounds like a losing proposition. Yet many of us do this over and over for years.

So, how can we become more comfortable with being the odd man out? Here are a few things to try:

Prioritize Health – Whenever someone suggests you stop working out or eat something that hurts you or overextend yourself or ignore pain or go somewhere that might expose you to pathogens, remind yourself that your health is the most important consideration. That may mean you have to say no or suggest an alternative.

Practice Saying No – The more you say no in uncomfortable situations, the easier it gets. With practice, discomfort diminishes over time.

Explore Why You Feel Bad – Not everyone feels bad making unpopular decisions. If you know someone like that, observe them. Mimic their behavior a time or to and explore the memories or feelings that trigger a different response when it’s you.

Use An Authority to Support You – If anyone tries to pressure, shame, or manipulate you into an unhealthy situation, invoke the authority of your doctor or physical therapist or nutritionist. Say something like, “I’d love to, but my doctor strongly advised me not to and I feel like I should comply.”

Build Stamina – It’s easier to make good decisions and stick to your guns when you’re well-rested, well-fed, sufficiently hydrated, and relaxed. You can build stamina for being the odd man out by facing difficult situations with all of these conditions in place.

Don’t Scare Yourself – Things are rarely like we imagine they will be. Instead of focusing on potential negative reactions to making an unpopular decision, focus on being kind to yourself.

Celebrate Feeling Good – Don’t forget to celebrate every decision that leads to you being healthier. Cumulatively, these decisions lead to feeling the absolute best you can. Obviously, this deserves a big celebration, but celebrating along the way just as important!

Claim Your Life – There will be many people who are happy to advise you on what you “should” do. Listen, then sort through what feels right to you and what doesn’t. This is your life. It can be anything you choose it to be. Yes, you will have limitations of genetics, talent, situation, and physical ability. But you get to choose what you will do within those limits. Don’t let someone else choose for you.

Find a Role Model – Each time you’re tempted to conform to your own detriment, think of someone you admire who has chosen a unique path. They’re all around us. Many have achieved monumental things. If you look closely, it could be because they were willing to be the odd man out.

Help Someone Else – When you take the best care of yourself in spite of pushback, you model that decision as acceptable for your children, your relatives, your co-workers, and your friends. This has a tremendous positive effect that can help many people.

Today, I’ll be the odd man out in a mask because that is the best health decision for me in the situation. I don’t need to explain it, but I will if someone asks. And I won’t absorb any judgement someone else may make. It is fine for them to feel however they feel, but that won’t affect how I view myself.

I accept that sometimes I must be the odd man out.

Is Bias Affecting Your Decisions?

Ever wonder how bias is affecting your decisions? It’s hard to make healthy decisions, especially these days. We have access to a ton of information. We also have access to a ton of disinformation. Bias enters the picture to add further complication.

We can carefully vet our sources, but even information from credible sources may be biased. And once we absorb information, it is subject to our own bias.

All of us are biased. Our brains use prior experience as a shortcut to form a perception of reality in the moment. If bullets have pelleted my home in a drive-by, my perception of the sound of gunfire may be quite different from someone who has only heard that sound at a gun range. Or, if I’ve only heard gunshots on TV, I may perceive a gunshot outside my home as a car backfiring.

We often remain unaware of our biases or those that have long persisted within our culture. This is as true in healthcare as it is in other areas of life.

For example, you may have had a health professional recommend a low-fat diet to improve heart health. This sounds logical, reasonable, and is a widely issued recommendation. It is easy to assume that research backs up this advice. And yet, that’s not the case.

According to a study published in 2015, a relationship of causation between fat consumption and coronary heart disease was never established. In spite of that, guidelines for fat consumption were established as if causation had been established. The guidelines were included in the 1977 McGovern report and persist in many doctors’ practices today.

Bias in policy and decision making has been on daily display during the pandemic, resulting in a mishmash of barely discernible pieces of fact-based guidance. In fact, public health guidance has been such a nightmare to navigate that I’m not going to try to decipher it here.

Instead, let’s focus on personal bias. Here are a few things to watch for when attempting to determine whether bias is influencing a decision:

Judging Yourself – Judging yourself may prevent you from recognizing bias. It can be difficult to isolate personal bias if you judge all bias as bad. Remember, bias assists your brain with processing information quickly. We are wired for this. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t interrupt the circuit. Some bias creates real harm. Still, having bias is not, in and of itself, inherently evil.

Feelings of Danger – There is no real danger in questioning beliefs. Questioning is how we progress and grow, but when we hold a belief so closely it feels like part of our internal workings – part of what makes us, us –  it can feel dangerous to question that belief. If we look too closely, we may find our sense of reality shaken. It can feel better in the moment to turn away from danger rather than face potential bias.

Lack of Perspective – Without perspective, we may not be able to turn an issue around to observe whether our view is informed, balanced, fact-based, or reasonable and whether it affects us in a positive or negative way. Further, we may not be able to see the effect our position on an issue has on others. It is hard to gain perspective from the middle of something. That’s why we have the cliché – you can’t see the forest for the trees. We must sometimes invent a way to increase distance from an issue so we can see it more clearly.

Defending the Status Quo – Discovering personal bias requires internal examination. Sometimes when we feel uncertain, we ask for another person’s opinion. External observations may be helpful when exploring the layers of a belief but substituting another’s opinion for your own assessment won’t necessarily result in ferreting out bias. In fact, relying on someone else’s opinion of your process or position may tempt you to defend the status quo.

Allowing the Past to Prevent Progress – Bias is often defended overtly and tacitly by explaining that we do things according to tradition or the way they’ve always been done. Using the past to determine the future can feel grounding and safe. And there’s no denying it’s important to learn from the past. But holding onto beliefs just because they’ve been around a long time and are widely accepted can perpetuate unhealthy bias and prevent progress.

Human nature urges us to present ourselves in the best light. Discovering bias in our beliefs and/or actions may require some detective work. It can also help us determine whether bias is influencing our decisions.

Ultimately, recognizing and eliminating bias can lead to healthier life.