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The Wellness Habits We Love Too Much To Investigate

FiveThirtyEight spent last week writing about our science resolutions for the new year, testing whether our habits and hobbies are backed by evidence. That was all well and good, but there’s plenty of stuff that we don’t want to know the evidence behind. Even in a newsroom as obsessed with evidence as ours, there are some things too near and dear to us to risk investigating. A handful of brave FiveThirtyEight staffers have come forward to share their willful blind spots with you. Enjoy!


Julia Wolfe, visual journalist: When a product’s main selling points are to “detoxify your pores” and “encourage cell turnover,” I am fairly confident it all adds up to a whole pile of nonsense … unless we’re talking peel-off face masks. There is little quite as soothing to me as smearing goops of polyvinyl alcohol all over my face and 15 to 20 minutes later pulling it (and usually several wayward hairs) off. I’m fairly confident these do nothing for my skin, but they’re not doing any harm either — so long as I don’t try to create my own.


Jody Avirgan, FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast host: When I wake up in the morning, I usually have to pee. But I always drink a full glass of water before I pee, out of some notion that I’m somehow preserving my overall hydration. I doubt this is scientifically sound, and sometimes it’s really hard to pull off (because I really, really need to pee), but I’m sticking with it.


Ella Koeze, visual journalist: Years ago, an aunt told me that my blood type meant my ancestors were “herders” and my body is best suited to consuming dairy. My aunt has no scientific background that I know of, and I’m pretty sure this idea is garbage, but ever since, when I eat dairy, I feel a deep and abiding sense of well-being.


Walt Hickey, chief culture writer: Once every couple of weeks, I go to the Russian-Turkish baths on 10th Street for a shvitz. I don’t know exactly what it does, but I feel like the sauna and steam make my skin better. But I have literally nothing to prove it. I can’t speak to the medical efficacy of being beaten by oak leaves in the Russian room by a professional, but it certainly chills me the hell out.


Andrea Jones-Rooy, quantitative researcher: I drink kombucha almost every night. It costs $4 a bottle, and I’m sure it’s just sparkling water with light flavoring that I could make myself for about 3 cents. But the packaging says it gives me things like “probiotics” (OK, I think those are real), “enzymes” (I’m not sure what those are, but they sound good) and “vitality” (which surely doesn’t mean anything at all). I almost exclusively drink a multigreen version because it has spirulina and blue-green algae, which are two things I am convinced will cause me to live forever, even though I have been unable to explain to anyone what they are or why they’re good for me (and I have been asked).

I originally got hooked on this stuff because I read somewhere it had vitamin B12, which is hard for vegans (like me, sorry) to get, and because the maker used to make it for his mother who had cancer. Four dollars seems like a fine price to pay to not get cancer. If nothing else, it keeps me from drinking wine.


Oliver Roeder, senior writer and puzzle editor: My daily morning routine centers around the New York Times crossword puzzle and strong coffee. It’s enjoyable, delicious and energizing. Plus, if I googled “crossword puzzles” and “mental health” right now, I’d see headline after headline trumpeting the puzzles’ benefits. But I dare not investigate further. Perception is reality, and I cling dearly to this little anti-dementia talisman. (Coffee’s good for you, too, right?)


Sara Ziegler, general editor: I take a zinc tablet every time I feel so much as a hint of a cold coming on, and it really seems to work. I knew that it could just be a placebo effect, but when I heard a colleague talking about doing a story to examine the effects of my homeopathic zinc tablet of choice, I realized how much I don’t want to know the truth.


Hilary Krieger, Washington editor: I was told that a good way to stave off a hangover is to drink a glass of water and take two Advil before going to sleep. So I do that when I’m not too drunk to remember.


Linda Tran Tutovan, senior designer: I eat a banana before working out to prevent cramping. I don’t remember who I heard it from or where I might have read it, but something about the potassium in the banana helps relieve cramps? Maybe? I tend to forget to grab my banana. But my husband is religious about it, so I sometimes steal his because I’m hungry. I guess it works. Plus a bit of sugar for energy helps. Or at least so I’ve come to believe.


Galen Druke, podcast producer and reporter: I take homeopathic medicine when I get sick. I have zero expectation that it works, but my philosophy is that I hate being sick so much that if there’s even a slight chance it works, I might as well cash in. I’ve never really done research on whether things like zinc, elderberry and oscillococcinum have any proven effects. My guess is that science says no, but there’s always the placebo effect, right? I would not suggest my approach to others.


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