Worried for Nothing?

A review of Timothy Caulfield’s new book, Your Day, Your Way.

Posted Dec 30, 2020

Back in college, I used to row on our crew team. It was a pretty intense experience, and I had this habit of tensing up my shoulders, which in turn had the effect of draining some of the power in my rowing stroke. My coach, who would follow us along in a small motorboat, was quick to notice this flaw but unfortunately had a particularly untherapeutic method of getting me to fix it: yelling at the top of his lungs, “Relax Rettew!” with a BULLHORN.

My interest was thus piqued when I saw the book Relax Dammit!: A User’s Guide to the Age of Anxiety which goes in the U.S. by the title, Your Day, Your Way: The Fact and Fiction Behind Your Daily Decisions. The book is written by Tim Caulfied, who also is a lawyer and professor at the University of Alberta’s Health Law Institute. 

Caulfied is known as one of pre-eminent dragonslayers of pseudoscience, having targeted the likes of Goop in his previous book Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong about Everything?, as well as hosting and co-producing the Netflix series A User’s Guide to Cheating Death. (This was before Goop fought back, but that is another story.)

Your Day, Your Way continues in the tradition of debunking dubious claims made in the name of health and well-being, tackling both serious topics such as getting enough sleep and perhaps less vital but just as vigorous debates like men putting the toilet seat down in the bathroom. 

The central theme of the book is that most of us needlessly fill our brains with worried thoughts based on misinformation peddled through social media or encouraged by companies looking to cash in on our anxiety. As a result, we count the number of glasses of water we drink each day, beat ourselves up over that extra cup of coffee, and fret over not getting that golden 10,000 steps each day. In a light-hearted and entertaining way, Caulfield lets us know the many times these health fads vastly outpace the science and when, sorry, it really does matter. For parents sure that the 5-second-rule was grounded in hard science, you may be a little disappointed.

In reading this book, it is astounding how much reliable science one can learn without it feeling like you are learning science. This is due to two main factors. The first is his writing style, which is friendly, humorous, and grounded in humility. The second is the clever way the book is packaged: Your Day, Your Way is organized into the schedule of someone’s typical day with sections divided into Morning, Afternoon, and Evening. Topics come up as they might be naturally encountered: For example, the question of fluorinated toothpaste being harmful for you or not appears in the “Morning” section. 

Each subject is delivered in an easy-to-manage morsel that doesn’t drag on or bog down in the technicalities of individual studies. There are no footnotes or citations in the main text to slow you down. (References given at the end of the book.)

At times, the amount of text devoted to one topic vs. another seems a bit haphazard, even whimsical. More attention, for example, is given to the raging debate over the “boxers versus briefs” underwear choice than about the utility of taking vitamins (the latter gets just about a page, with some of it being a haiku poem). Coffee gets a good solid discussion but tea gets no space, because the author doesn’t like tea. These concerns aside, however, readers will enjoyably increase their knowledge on the science behind dozens of everyday topics while being reassured in many cases that there is nothing to fear but pseudoscience itself.