Tag Archives: Don’t Worry Be Healthy

Don’t Worry Be Healthy: 1,3,7-Trimethylxanthine – Part III: Red Bull

-Marissa Tomko

If you follow “Don’t Worry, Be Healthy,” you’re probably well aware of the fact that I love caffeine. After all, you know what they say, you should write about what you know!

So far, I’ve talked about the way caffeine works and given a little bit of background on coffee. But what’s next you ask? Here’s a hint: it gives you wings.

If you’re not a college student, have never taken a long drive, or have never been into a 7-11, then maybe there’s a chance that my hint means nothing to you. But as for the rest of you, you know what I’m talking about—Red Bull.

I have been a fan of this beverage since I was a freshman, and in the past two and a half years, I’ve heard it all: “They’re full of sugar,” “You drink too much caffeine,” and “Did you know you don’t need that much taurine in your diet?” I am fully aware of all of these things, and my guess is that you are too. I could write about how energy drinks are bad for you, and list the negative health effects you may or may not experience when drinking them. But what I find to be more interesting is why we still drink them, despite what we know about them. It all comes down to one thing: killer advertising.

In my opinion, Red Bull has one of the most effective advertising campaigns out there. It doesn’t sell a drink; it sells a lifestyle. The brand appeals to the adventuring, extremist, free-spirited athlete in all of us. The Red Bull website has next to nothing to do with that skinny silver can that I love to drink from; it’s full of sports videos, action photography, and the latest remixes. Red Bull’s Twitter profile is slightly more geared toward the actual beverage, but its main purpose is still to sell a persona. The bio on the social media site reads: “Red Bull is the only Energy Drink that #GivesYouWings. Likes: F1, racing, skate, surf, snow, moto, BMX, MTB, X Games, wake, music, art, culture, gaming. Fun.” The feed is full of inspiring thoughts, crazy videos, and has snow-covered mountains as a background picture—that right there sold me!

I know, I know—you think I’m a sucker for advertising. And maybe I am. But this campaign does more than sell a product. It taps into the person inside of us that we love the most: the fun-loving, dancing, carefree one that we wish we could be all the time. Even though drinking a Red Bull doesn’t make that come true when we’re studying or driving home on the interstate, it is sure to remind us that that person is still there, and that the possibilities are endless.

Don’t Worry Be Healthy: 1,3,7-Trimethylxanthine – Part II: Coffee

-Marissa Tomko

There was one dark spot in my otherwise bright and sunny morning today—and I liked it. It sucked me in as I sleepily stumbled down my stairs toward its bitter lure, welcoming the way in which its steam burned my face. Black as night, I consumed it: my morning cup (or should I say pot) of coffee.

Legend has it that coffee was first discovered in the thirteenth century by an Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi. As the story goes, he noticed that his goats were especially energetic after eating the berries that grew on a certain type of tree. He spread the news to the nearby monastery, where monks used the coffee berries to prolong their prayer time. While the credibility of this story is questioned, the origin of coffee can certainly be traced back to Ethiopia.

Since those spunky goats, coffee has become a profitable crop grown around the world in what is called the bean belt. It lies between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, with Hawaii being the only state in the US to grow the bitter bean. Be that as it may, the US has turned coffee into a $30 billion industry; CNBC estimates that our country drinks 400 million cups of coffee a day.

Mayo Clinic suggests that 200-300 milligrams of caffeine a day isn’t bad for you, but that drinking upwards of 500 milligrams is not healthy. To put that into more comprehensible terms, consider that a grande-sized coffee from Starbucks has 330 milligrams of caffeine. I don’t know about you, but when I do the math, I exceed my recommended dosage. In my defense though, I spread my intake throughout the day, save a recent work experience where I downed about 565 milligrams in twenty minutes. Needless to say I learned my lesson.

Coffee addicts often hear about the negative consequences of their habit: insomnia, anxiety, withdrawal headaches, and blood pressure spikes. But what about the positives? I will never forget the moment I read in a Newsweek article that claimed that women who drink four cups of coffee per day reduce their risk of becoming clinically depressed by 20 percent. Upon further investigation, I learned that those four cups also decrease my risk for liver cirrhosis by 80 percent, particularly alcoholic cirrhosis. While I drink alcohol responsibly, I interpreted this as a sign to drink my favorite caffeinated beverage with reckless abandon (thus my overdose in the workplace).

Sometimes you wake up smiling on the right side of the bed, and sometimes you don’t. In any case, I urge you to take a cue from those crazy Ethiopian goats, and kickstart your day with a fresh cup of joe.

Image by puuikibeach from http://www.flickr.com/photos/puuikibeach/3299635718/

Don't Worry Be Healthy: 1,3,7-Trimethylxanthine – Part I

-Marissa Tomko

The list of things that I love more than caffeine consists of one item: my mom. If you aren’t her, then I’m sorry if that was harsh and unexpected. I guess I’m just at a point in my life where I’m honest about my priorities.

Unlike my mom, whom I’ve relied on since, well, forever, I’ve had a dependency on caffeine since I was 17 years old. Most of my sweatshirts are dribbled with coffee stains, and you can usually bet that the straggling Red Bull cans around my house after a night out are mine. In the past four years, I think I’ve gone a total of five days without caffeine, and when I think about them, all I can recall are screaming headaches, hostile moods, and a life of reclusion under my duvet.

I’ve always been aware that my addiction is unhealthy, but even the most disapproving conversation or accidental overdose during a long day at work hasn’t even slightly swayed me into thinking that I need to change. I have a healthy diet, I exercise regularly, and I don’t smoke. What more do you want from me?!

But even after hundreds upon hundreds of daily pick-me-ups, I still don’t really know how caffeine works or what it’s actually doing to me. That’s why I’ve decided to write a short series on the caffeinated beverages in my life. I want to know where they come from, what they consist of, and the different effects they cause. Will any alarming discoveries deter me from my ritualistic drinking? Probably not, but at least I’ll be an informed citizen.

In this introductory post, I’m just going to give a quick rundown on how caffeine works: Our bodies produce energy because of a chemical called adenosine. By connecting to phosphates in the body, it creates adenosine troposphere (ATP). When that molecular bond is broken, energy is released. When adenosine connects to its receptors in the brain, there aren’t any available to create ATP, and we get tired. When we ingest caffeine (the molecule shown above), it bonds with the receptors, thus forcing adenosine to hang around with phosphates, which boosts the energy in our bodies!

That’s not all though! Caffeine also effects the pituitary gland by telling it to emit the hormones that create adrenaline. This quickens your heart beat and causes you to feel kind of crazy and energized. The pituitary gland also produces dopamine when it senses caffeine, which is the chemical that makes us feel good and happy—I’ll drink to that!

Don’t be latte for my next installment on—you guessed it—coffee!

Don't Worry Be Healthy: You Are What You Eat – Unhealthy Healthy Foods

-Marissa Tomko

The day I figured out that eating healthy food actually does make you feel better was a bittersweet day for me. I missed my Kraft Mac and Cheese so much—I lived for that stuff. But how could I go back to my sketchy diet when it felt so good to eat right?

Eating healthy is key to a sustainable lifestyle, but sometimes our alleged healthy choices are actually no better for us than an order of fries or a candy overdose. I’ve found the five most commonly-mistaken “healthy” foods around so that the next time you go to grab a snack, you grab the right one.

Protein Bars

Protein is vital for the repair of muscles and is a main player in the overall health of the body. So when you’re in a hurry and running from class to the gym, a protein bar might seem like a quick and healthy way to get the protein you need, right? Wrong. Many protein bars contain as much sugar as a candy bar, and have more crazy artificial ingredients. Don’t make a habit out of snacking on this “healthy” energy boost. Instead, add more protein to your meals. Beans and brown rice make an excellent choice, as does a tasty serving of roasted chicken.

Frozen Yogurt

If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me to get frozen yogurt with them, I’d be living on my own private island. Somewhere along the line, people seem to have picked up the idea that because this alternative to ice cream is often “non-fat,” it’s not bad for you. But did you ever wonder why it still tastes so good? It’s because it’s still packed with sugar. If you’re thinking of grabbing some fro-yo because you want to be healthy, don’t. Just have a normal serving of ice cream once or twice a week.


Sushi has become a cool and trendy way to catch up with friends. Not everybody likes sushi, but if you do, it’s generally an obsession. If you’re ordering a basic roll, you’re probably treading in healthy waters—a single serving roll with salmon, rice, and seaweed is about 120 calories according to Forbes. But what about “westernized” rolls? If your go-to dish has cream cheese, mayo, or is a tempura roll, you’re looking at a 500 plus calorie dish—and none of those are coming from raw fish.

Trail Mix

It’s easy to see why trail mix is associated with health. When you think of trail mix, you think of the outdoors, hiking, and cool, organic, “granola” people. But there are several factors that lessen the healthy effects of this snack. First of all, if you aren’t eating it to energize yourself during a hike, you’re in danger of eating for the sake of eating. Snacking on trail mix is hard because you generally lose track of the serving size. Instead of eating a a handful, we eat three or four. And I don’t know about you, but any trail mix that I’ve ever enjoyed isn’t entirely made up of unsalted nuts and raisins.  It’s chalk full of sugary dried fruit, chocolate, and salty morsels. Instead of buying pre-made trail mix, try making your own with  mostly unprocessed ingredients and just a touch of the good stuff.

Reduced-Fat Peanut Butter

This “healthy alternative” to peanut butter is not going to make your PB&J better for you. People are afraid of the real thing because it’s high in fat and calories. While this is true, reduced-fat has more sugar in it than the real thing. Ever heard of everything in moderation? I’m pretty sure they made that up after peanut butter was invented. Instead of snacking on this condiment right out of the jar with a spoon (not that I’ve done that or anything…) stick to a tablespoon or two on your morning toast or a banana for an energetic start to your day!

Don't Worry Be Healthy: While You Were Sleeping

-Marissa Tomko

My name is Marissa, and I have an addiction.

I’ve had it since I was a senior in high school, and I push away anyone who tries to help me. But I can’t do anything about it—I need to feel that buzz. Because let me tell you something, I never feel more alive than when I have a cup of coffee in my hand. Wait—what did you think I was talking about?

In the college life I lead, sleep has taken a back-seat to almost everything else that I do. I just don’t have the time for it, so I cope with caffeine. Usually, I can handle it because I’m too busy to think about how wired I am and too wired to think about how snappy I should be due to my lack of ZZZs. But every once in a while it catches up to me and I ask myself if there could possibly be a better way. Sure, I could sleep a full eight hours every night as opposed to the five or six that I usually pick up, but I’m not really willing to slack in school, club meetings, or my social life. I just need more hours in a day! Is that too much to ask? Apparently, it’s not.

Enter the Uberman sleep schedule, a polyphasic sleeping cycle that increases your awake time by 25 percent. Thinking about what I could do with six extra hours a day makes me giddy; I could finish my to-do list, work out more, and be able to hang out with anyone or anything that isn’t my homework. But at what cost? After looking into it, I believe the cost would be my sanity. The Uberman cycle is nothing short of ridiculous–it calls for just two hours of sleep each day by asking its victims to take twenty minute naps every four hours. The logic behind this lunacy is that it forces your body to enter the REM cycle after a minute or two, thus cutting out the rest of the sleep stages. Doing this is supposed to enhance your life not only by giving you more time, but by making you feel more alert after the month-long adaption period. Yeah, alright.

The Polyphasic Society claims that the reason that there is nothing known about the long term effects of this cycle is because most people “give up” on the process. If you ask me, it’s because they come to their senses like this guy who chronicled his Uberman experience for Men’s Health Magazine.

Overall, I don’t think I could ever adapt to this cycle. You’d have to be über crazy to follow the Uberman cycle. The mere thought of the sleep deprivation that would ensue makes me feel cranky.

Image by Andy Melton from http://www.flickr.com/photos/trekkyandy/2856742505/

Don't Worry Be Healthy: Oh, Honey

-Marissa Tomko

Last spring, I spent an absurd amount of my final week in Eugene solitary in my empty apartment, wrapped up in my friend’s sleeping bag, refusing to go outside. I was a wreck.

The sun was shining, my friends were adventuring, and my exams were just about over. I should have been enjoying my last week in Eugene before I drove the long fourteen hours back to my summer job in Utah. But I couldn’t—I had allergies.

Living in the grass-seed capital of the world does things to a person. What with  the flowers that bloom ridiculously early and the trees that loom over you at every turn, there is pretty much no way to escape allergy symptoms—and they get old pretty fast. Over-the-counter meds make you feel off, and doctors are not always willing to give you an allergy shot if they don’t think your symptoms are “severe” enough. So while I’m hanging around in the winter months, I want to be able to do something to prevent a sniffly spring. When I was talking about it the other day, my roommate gave me a promising answer: honey.

The idea behind honey as a preventative treatment for allergies is similar to how a vaccine works: locally made honey contains traces of pollen from the flowers honey bees have visited. By downing a spoonful a day, it is said that you can become immune to local allergens, just like how a vaccine with a weakened or dead virus causes your body to build up an immunity to it. It seems almost too easy—and it might be.

There are numerous articles, such as this one found in The New York Times that say the pollen that causes allergies is not the same pollen that bees are interacting with, making the honey remedy not work. Unfortunately, this seems to be the general consensus. Even those who have heard positive testimonials don’t believe it unless there is scientific evidence to back it up—and there really isn’t any. This could be because local honey makers do not have the funds or priorities to run these kinds of experiments and bigger corporations are simply not interested. In any case, the question remains largely unexplored.

As for me, I’m not going to write this theory off just yet. It can’t hurt, and I’ll do anything to avoid the imminent fate that awaits me come spring. And if it doesn’t work, I’ll be the one hiding my red eyes with a baseball cap and popping Benadryl at every opportunity.

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Don't Worry Be Healthy: Finding the Light in Seasonal Affective Disorder

-Marissa Tomko

They say that April showers bring May flowers, but what do January showers bring? For residents of the northwestern corner of the country, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) may be the answer. This is a disorder that seriously affects about 6 percent of Americans ages 20-40, and this does not include the 20 percent who experience less severe symptoms. Of these percentages, 75 percent are said to be women.

It is a pretty common opinion, at least among my peers, that summertime is preferable over the winter months, and it makes sense—it’s less stressful, more fun, and the weather allows us to enjoy outdoor activities without freezing or getting soaked. Even given the financial benefits, the number of Southern California kids that decide to come to school in Eugene always throws me. Even though the majority of them love this school and the experiences they have, there is no shortage of complaints about the cold and constant rain.

This makes for a less active student population in the fall and winter months. Students become more tired, less productive, and have tendencies to veg out and and smile less. Oregon is ranked the fourteenth most depression-affected state in the nation. But why? After looking into it, I realized that it is not the cold or rain that makes us all want to snuggle up and avoid homework—it’s the darkness.

During the fall and winter, the Northwest is under pretty constant cloud cover. It’s an event when the sun decides to shine down for an hour or two in the middle of January. But the sunshine does more than spark excited small talk about the weather—it gives us the chance to soak up some precious vitamin D, which helps us feel more awake and healthy. Melatonin, the hormone that helps us sleep, is produced in amounts inversely related to how much vitamin D we absorb. This causes us to experience a dramatic energy low, which serves as a basis for other SAD symptoms including feelings of depression, cravings for sweet and carb-loaded foods, anxiety, and a less-positive feeling about life in general.

Methods to avoid these symptoms are different for everyone who is affected by them. Spending as much time in the sunlight as possible is crucial. When you cannot do so, light therapy is an alternative option often prescribed. This involves a special lamp that burns ten times brighter than normal indoor lighting and has the ability to simulate a sunrise by increasing in brightness throughout your morning.

Another way to combat symptoms is to create a healthy lifestyle. This includes keeping an eye on your diet and exercise routines, cutting back on time in front of the computer, and trying to maintain a positive mental outlook. These notions may be easier said than done, but they are the main components to beating winter blues and living a sustainable and healthy life overall. If you have a hard time doing these things on your own, talk to a counselor or a friend face-to-face.

Feeling the effects of darkness is more common than you might think, especially in the stressed-out lives of university students. Just don’t forget to take a step back sometimes and focus on what makes you smile.

Don't Worry Be Healthy: Running Wild

Don’t Worry Be Healthy is a weekly health and fitness column by Marissa Tomko covering new and old ideas to help keep you in shape physically and mentally.


-Marissa Tomko

I have always loved to run around barefoot. As a kid, I was in a constant battle with my parents about my freedom to do so because they did not want me to destroy my feet or dirty the just-mopped floors. You can imagine my surprise when my dad called me up to fill me in on his new workout regimen—running barefoot. His inspiration? Chris McDougall’s 2009 bestseller Born to Run. This book researches the running techniques of the Tarahumra Indians in Mexico, and challenges our culture’s view of running as being high-tech and laborious. The best part about McDougall’s work, in my opinion, is that it popularized the argument for running sans shoes, giving the 8-year-old inside of me something to fight for.

One defense for running shoeless is that it is more natural. It makes sense; I doubt that the first Olympics were done in highly cushioned kicks with arch support. When you run without shoes, your body starts its running stride in the middle of the foot as opposed to the heel, which is what cushioned running sneakers allow you to do. The latter causes more stress on the spinal cord and promotes a hunched over posture. Running without shoes creates a better platform for what is called the 100-Up Technique, which promotes healthier running habits.

For those of you not sold on the idea of running around barefoot in the mountains, you can achieve healthier running habits by mastering the 100-Up Technique in shoes that are lightweight and free of all the crazy bells and whistles that advertisers say you need. Two of the most popular brands of minimalist shoes are the Nike Free Run and the Vibram Five Fingers, a shoe that looks like an actual foot with a space for each toe. Your shoe should protect you from sharp rocks and the rain—they do not need to double as a weight workout for your legs.

While there is no universal way to run that will work for everyone, this technique deserves some recognition. Whether you are a seasoned marathon runner or a newbie trying to find your stride, it is worth a shot to prolong your run and preserve your energy.