Couch Potato to 'Drop Dead Healthy'

After Scare, Scribe Turns to 'Chewdaism' to Change Life

By Lisa Amand

Published May 05, 2012, issue of May 11, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

During a recent visit to a cafe on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, A.J. Jacobs is doing all the things he rails against in his latest book. Instead of eating slowly and mindfully, the journalist and author is juggling a laptop, phone and fork while wolfing down kale and quinoa salads. He isn’t using his portion-control plate, and he’s not masticating each vegan-organic-kosher bite at least 15 times in accordance with his “Chewdaism” philosophy.

Choosing ‘Chewdaism’: A.J. Jacobs decided to start living healthier.
lisa amand
Choosing ‘Chewdaism’: A.J. Jacobs decided to start living healthier.

In “Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection” (Simon & Schuster), Jacobs experimented with myriad regimes, exercise routines and gadgetry, attempting to turn back the clock on a dangerously sedentary lifestyle. “I was a champion sitter,” Jacobs said. “I would sit for 16 hours a day, and that is just so bad for your heart.”

Jacobs, 44, decided to change his unhealthy lifestyle in 2009, after he landed in a Caribbean hospital with pneumonia during a family vacation. His wife, Julie, laid down the law. The devoted mother of three boys — 5-year-old twins and an 8-year-old — was not about to become a young widow because her husband was chained to his desk, munching on Snackwell’s cookies.

Jacobs is the editor at large at Esquire magazine and the author of “The Know-It-All” and “The Year of Living Biblically.” He is known for immersing himself in his subjects (a process called “experiential journalism”). For “Drop Dead Healthy,” he did just that. Faced with improving his health, he decided to try anything and everything — and to write about it. He gathered an advisory board of medical and fitness experts, attempting to improve every organ and bodily system.

Jacobs fought through a germophobic aversion to gyms for workouts (he still runs home to shower), checked into a sleep clinic (he ended up buying a didgeridoo, an Australian wind instrument, to cure his snoring), tried a trendy juice fast and practiced both raw food and Caveman diets. From pole dancing to “strollercizing” to tossing boulders and running barefoot through Central Park, Jacobs enrolled in every class he could find, taking a break on the Sabbath. Some Saturdays, instead of working out, he walked and shot hoops with his boys.

The goal was not weight loss, though he’s 12 pounds lighter than when he started as a 172-pound, 5-foot-11-inch “skinny-fat” guy. Jacobs was hunting for truth amid our country’s highly charged obsession with health. What he discovered changed his life.

Exercise and staying in motion became paramount. “When I talk to my sons, I squat down and then I pop back up. So I do 50 squats a day just talking to my kids,” Jacobs said.

And when he’s not working on a desk that he jerry-rigged over a treadmill, he’s constantly fidgeting, officially known as “incidental physical activity.”

“Fidgeting is wonderful. Moving in your chair, tapping your foot, you can burn 250 calories a day,” he said. “My goal is to stop the negative image of fidgeting and bring it back to its proper place.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • It’s over. The tyranny of the straight-haired, button nosed, tan-skinned girl has ended. Jewesses rejoice!
  • It's really, really, really hard to get kicked out of Hebrew school these days.
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.