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!
  • The rose petals have settled, and Andi has made her (Jewish?) choice. We look back on the #Bachelorette finale:
  • "Despite the great pain and sadness surrounding a captured soldier, this should not shape the face of this particular conflict – not in making concessions and not in negotiations, not in sobering assessments of this operation’s achievements or the need to either retreat or move forward." Do you agree?
  • Why genocide is always wrong, period. And the fact that some are talking about it shows just how much damage the war in Gaza has already done.
  • Construction workers found a 75-year-old deli sign behind a closing Harlem bodega earlier this month. Should it be preserved?
  • "The painful irony in Israel’s current dilemma is that it has been here before." Read J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis of the conflict:
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • 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.