Book review: ‘Counter Clockwise’

Post GazetteJuly 20, 2013 

"Counter Clockwise: My Year of Hypnosis, Hormones, Dark Chocolate, and Other Adventures in the World of Anti-Aging" by Lauren Kessler.

  • Nonfiction Counter Clockwise: My Year of Hypnosis, Hormones, Dark Chocolate, and Other Adventures in the World of Anti-Aging Lauren Kessler

    Rodale, 256 pages

Have you ever found yourself glued to television infomercials that promise miracle fat-fighting after 40, P90X abs or creams that make you look better at 48 than you did at 28 and wondered, “Should I buy it?”

You might want to stop at the bookstore first.

Journalist Lauren Kessler took a yearlong journey, making herself a guinea pig to all those claims. Her book, “Counter Clockwise: My Year of Hypnosis, Hormones, Dark Chocolate, and Other Adventures in the World of Anti-Aging,” attempts to shine a light on the anti-aging movement and the billion-dollar industry that it feeds, stripping away fiction from fact and interviewing experts in every field. She laughs a lot at herself and dares to ask the hard questions we’re afraid to ask – in an attempt to prolong our years and make them healthy and vital.

She started by getting a thorough examination to determine her biological age, testing the function of her heart, lungs, arteries, etc., at some of the most cutting-edge labs where elite athletes and scientists collide to uncover what makes those bodies tick. At year’s end, she had more testing, to see if she had turned back the clock and by how much.

The book is easily managed through chapters that mine the experts on everything from the latest plastic surgery to the frontier science of biomarkers – characteristics that can be measured to indicate the body’s normal processes and the presence of disease. They tell you how old you really are where it counts – on the inside. Kessler breaks down the 10 that are the gold standard of age and how biomarkers like blood pressure, cholesterol, strength and BMI really tell a story. She even takes all of those online tests (including the RealAge test from “The Dr. Oz Show”) and suggests the ones she says are worth your time.

Elsewhere, she sorts the wheat from the chaff about vitamins, examining information from the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University (yep, that’s the vitamin-C guy’s namesake) and their researchers who spill the real deal on supplements such as resveratrol, omega oils and daily pills you might be taking.

Kessler follows eating regimens that claim to improve health and extend longevity. Testing each one, she plows through a detox, a cleanse, superfoods, the 500-calorie homeopathic hCG plan (claims to use human chorionic gonadotropin, a pregnancy hormone) and more. She details changes in her body and mind, exploring personal sustainability and safety. Some of the more radical movements, such as the “Raw Diet” and “Calorie Restriction,” are awful and even sad as she describes lifelong devotees dedicating hours each day preparing meals and subjugating themselves to unrealistic and unhealthful outcomes.

“We eat out of joy, and we eat out of sadness, we eat out of boredom, guilt, love and addiction, we eat to reward and to punish, to celebrate and mourn, to remember and to forget,” she says. “Food is not just food.”

In the end, what and how we consume is a large part of the puzzle of behavior associated with vitality and health. She points to a MacArthur Foundation study that shows that lifestyle choices (70 percent) trump genes (30 percent) in regard to health and longevity. Kessler points out that the great divide in our nation of “what we should do vs. what we actually do” when it comes to our health is widening and growing in a way that should alarm readers, as children are being drawn into the mix of obesity and poor health.

“Counter Clockwise” is chock-full of good info, such as resources to see if your vitamins are potent and pure, medical testing you should and should not get, exercise classes you might want to bypass and, most of all, a writer who is not afraid to examine the questions we all ask ourselves as we look in the mirror but would never speak in mixed company. It’s money well-spent.

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