Men’s Health: What’s Healthy?

In honor of Men’s Health Month, I wanted to write a bit about “Men’s Health”. Having no idea where to start, I simply turned to Google.

Do something for me: Google “Men’s Health”. I’ll wait. Now, what did you see? Undoubtedly, the first thing that pops up is Men’s Health Magazine. Take a look at the image below, a screenshot taken from their website:

Men's Health?

Things that popped out at me from this, their current homepage: 1) Being super-ripped is an awesome way to be, bro! 2) A healthy body is a ripped body, bro!

Okay, so I added “bro” bit because I thought it was funny, but here’s my point: aren’t these all incredibly superficial goals? And why is this front page on a “Men’s Health” website?

For men, what it means to be healthy sometimes gets lost in the protein-shake and get-ripped craze of our modern society. We are in an unprecedented age of hyper-masculinity and muscle-bound super heroes. Think about it: Captain America, Thor, 300, Batman, Spartacus, and many others feature some of the biggest and most extreme action heroes we have ever seen. Thanks to advances in sports medicine and nutrition, we now have star athletes who are stronger, faster, bigger, and better than ever before.

So I ask again: For men, what’s healthy?

According to a Today/AOL Body Image Survey released just this past February, 53%, that’s right, over half of men surveyed said that they felt unsure about their appearance at least once a week. To add to that, 41% of men said they worry that people judge their appearance. So guys, if you’ve ever caught yourself having these thoughts, you’re DEFINITELY not alone.

But for some men, feeling poorly about themselves goes beyond what’s normal and can become problematic.

According to this article, are facing unprecedented levels of men seeking treatment for body-dysmorphia, which causes men to become obsessed with building muscle and perfecting perceived flaws, which are not obvious to others.

If you or a friend notices that you’re so preoccupied with your body and appearance that it negatively impacts your social life, dietary habits, other major aspects of your daily life, or you just want an objective opinion without the threat of judgment, you can talk to someone at Counseling and Psychological Services, found in the Campus Health Building at UNC.

So, what can you do to improve your self-image? First, start looking inward. Try to be aware when you’re getting caught up in comparing yourself to others. Know that most people don’t have that perfectly chiseled body. Also, try to accept where you are today with your body and even if you aren’t where you want to be. If you don’t currently have a workout schedule, there are many benefits to regular exercise, not just physically but psychologically as well.

But, remember, guys, though your goal of being optimally healthy and fit is a great one, try not to fall into the trap of feeling inadequate when you see the idolized images of some “yoked up” dudes online, in the movies, on TV, or in a magazine. These images don’t reflect the real world and is an impractical goal for most of us to achieve.

If you take nothing else away from this article, know that you’re really not alone in this, and if you seek out help, it never means that you’re weak or are less of a man. You might even inspire someone else to do the same.

If you are interested in exploring masculinity further, check out the UNC Men’s Project.

–Written by Dennis Carmody and Michael Goodling

Dennis Carmody is an MPH candidate in the Health Behavior department at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. He is currently enjoying his summer practicum with the great folks at UNC Student Wellness.

Making a Change: Are You Ready?

Have you ever thought about making a change? Perhaps creating a new habit? Studying more? Or finally kicking that late-night frosty habit that was only heightened by the recent discovery of the swirled chocolate and vanilla frosty?

We all want to make a change at some time or another. Through my work at Student Wellness, I’ve learned a bit about making changes.

I do motivational interviewing (MI) over at Student Wellness as a part of my job. MI is a type of counseling that is non-judgmental, non-confrontational, and non-adversarial, and focuses on eliciting “change talk” from clients. This is done, in part, by understanding the Stages of Change, and “meeting people where they are.”

So, without further ado, I present to you the Stages of Change (also called the Transtheoretical Model if you want to impress someone with how smart you are). I find this incredibly helpful for thinking about making positive, healthy changes in my own life, and I hope you find this useful as well.

Think about what it would take to move you from one stage to the next. Would weighing the pros and cons help? Would seeking out more information be useful? What would you change if you could? How about writing out a plan, or talking about making a change with a friend or family member? What are potential barriers to change? Whatever you want to change, you alone are the one that can do it. Hopefully, by understanding this model, you are now one step closer to making a small step towards positive changes in your life!

1) PRECONTEMPLATION (Not ready to change)
The individual is not currently considering change: “Ignorance is bliss.”
People are not intending to take action in the foreseeable future, usually in the next six months.

2) CONTEMPLATION(Thinking of changing)
Ambivalent about change: “Sitting on the fence.”
Not considering change within the next month.

3) PREPARATION (Ready to change)
Some experience with change and are trying to change: “Testing the waters.”
Planning to act within 1 month.

4) ACTION (Making change)
The active work toward desired behavioral change including modification of environment, experiences, or behavior have been taken. At this stage people have made specific overt modifications in their life-styles within the past six months.

5) MAINTENANCE (Staying on track)
Here, the focus is on ongoing, active work to maintain changes made and prevent relapse. At this stage people are less tempted to go back to their old habits and increasingly more confident that they can continue their change.

Take care of yourselves and each other, Tar Heels!

3 Reasons Why You Should FEAR SUGAR

Okay, okay, maybe “fear” is a bit much. As our Campus Health Clinical Nutrition person always says, “There is no such thing as bad food.”

So, let’s start again. “Below are 3 reasons why you should be aware of how much sugar you eat and consider taking steps to reduce your sugar intake.” Wow, that’s way less catchy.

1) It might be addictive. 

Here, there is some controversy. Remember back when people were saying that Oreos were as addictive as cocaine? It turns out, that’s a bit of an over-simplification. When you eat sugar, the brain activates its reward system, which releases dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical released in the brain that basically says “Hey that feels good! Let’s do it again!” so it can be powerful for shaping behavior. And while dopamine is released by healthy things, like hanging out with friends, it’s also the chemical in the brain responsible for drug addiction, because it is released in large amounts when doing drugs like cocaine and heroin, which is why they are so addictive. Sugar, some research suggests, is similarly addictive. If you have a few minutes, check out this awesome video about how sugar impacts the brain to understand more. So, is sugar addictive? Well, it can be, if you are eating sugar all the time. Which leads nicely into the next reason to be aware of how much sugar you eat…

2) You eat it all the time, even when you don’t know it.

If you are an average American, you eat 19 teaspoons or more of added sugar a day, which adds up to 285 extra calories in sugar. That’s way too much! There is a whole lot of research indicates that, across the board, we eat way too much sugar. Obviously, eating less dessert is a good way to start, but even this might not be enough. This is partly because sugars are added into lots of tasty things we love, that we don’t even consider to be bad for us, like fruit juices, bread, and cereals. And that sugar adds up quickly, and leads to all kinds of health complications. To counter this, check out how many grams of sugar are on the nutrition label of items you buy, and aim for lower numbers. The American Heart Association recommends limiting sugar intake to 6 teaspoons (30 g) for women and 9 teaspoons (45g) for men.

3) It’s pretty bad for you. 

We’ve all known that you should eat sugar in moderation, that’s why it was at the top of the food pyramid! (What? There isn’t a food pyramid anymore?) However, new understandings of sugar’s effect on the body go beyond just the basic “It will make you gain weight.” We now understand that the type of weight you gain is important. And, that sugary foods increase heart risks. Check out this article for a primer on the different types of sugar, and the ways in which they impact you.

So, what do we do with all this information? Well, for starters, just check items for how much sugar they contain. If you are a sugar-addict, read about ways to wean yourself off so much sugar. And be mindful of when you have cravings for sugar. Reducing your sugar intake takes time, but it is a worthwhile endeavor for your overall wellness.

Take Care, Tar Heels, and BEAT DOOK!

Sitting: Silent But Deadly (Info-Graphic)

How many hours a day do you sit?

We all know college students do a lot of studying, (right?) and all that sitting in class and in the library can sneak up on you. Include some sitting while watching a movie with friends and some sitting while playing video games and sitting at meal times and all that sitting really adds up! So how is all that sitting on the ‘ol body?

As you may have guessed, not so good.

Check out this sweet info-graphic from the Washington Post on what sitting does to the body. Interestingly, the effects of sitting don’t just effect the body, but the mind as well! At the bottom, included are some suggested ways to get moving, take breaks, and break up the monotony of sitting that our modern information-based world sometimes requires of us.

So get moving, stretching, walking, and yoga-ing for a better body and a better mind!

Stay well, UNC!

Alcohol and Exercise Don’t Mix: The Science Behind How Drinking Impairs Recovery

We won’t dwell on the obvious: drinking the night before will decrease athletic performance the next day due to a lack of restful sleep, being dehydrated, and possibly having a hangover. Clearly, getting a good night’s rest and eating well is the best way to make sure you are on top of your game.

However, many people don’t know that drinking after exercise can “cancel out” the workout by impairing the body’s ability to recover and build new muscle. In this post, we will take a look at what the science says about how alcohol can get in the way of getting the most from your workouts. (Caution: link may include science) If you are one of those people who chooses to drink (not all college students drink), it’s important to consider these 4 ways alcohol may negatively impact your body’s functioning.

  1. “Empty Calories”–“Empty Calories” is often a phrase used to describe alcohol, and is accurate to describe alcohol’s high calories, which are absent any other nutritional value. In addition to being devoid of any significant vitamins or nutrients, alcohol blocks the body’s absorption of usable nutrients by decreasing blood-flow to the pancreas. This interference with the breakdown and absorption of nutrients may hinder reaching peak physical performance and muscle recovery
  1. Protein–Much has been written on the importance of protein for building muscle, and rightly so. Protein is a crucial building block for many aspects of the body, and is important for  overall muscular health.  Alcohol has been proven to reduce protein synthesis in rats, which may mean that alcohol use in humans will prevent muscle repair and slow muscle growth after a workout.
  1. Hormones–Because alcohol impacts your ability to get restful sleep, it also hinders the release of Human Grown Hormone (HGH), which is a normal part of muscle growth and development. HGH, which is normally released in the beginning stages of sleep, can be reduced by up to 70 percent by alcohol use. Regular alcohol use can also lower testosterone, which causes in increase in fat storage and fluid retention.
  1. ATP–Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) is a direct energy source for muscles, and alcohol can disrupt oxygen and water levels in muscle cells, which hinders the production of ATP, thus sapping muscles from the energy they need.

So in order to make sure you are getting the most of your workouts, make sure you keep tabs on your drinking, and thing twice about mixing alcohol and athletics.

Stay Healthy, Heels!

Mission Impossible: Sleep and the College Student

“Sleep, social life, or good grades,” my buddy said with a grin, “pick two.”

College sleep

By now, you may have heard that statement about how busy life in college can get. With all kinds of student organizations to join, social events to attend, new people to meet, languages to learn, papers to write, and projects/problems sets/lab reports to complete, every college student wishes for more hours in a day. Sometimes, they get those extra hours by forgoing sleep.

Especially at a competitive school like UNC, people fall into the dangerous trap of taking pride in sacrificing sleep for academics. I’ve heard many UNC students brag about pulling an all-nighter in Davis Library. People even say things like “I can sleep when I’m dead.” or “Sleep is for sissies.” (That last one is advice a professor gave me my senior year at UNC).

Given the culture surrounding sleep on a competitive college campus, I know that getting people to prioritize sleep is going to be hard. But the research is clear: getting enough sleep has wide-ranging benefits in areas that are especially important to college students, like memory, focus, and stress.

Benefits of Sleep

Truthfully, researchers don’t really know why we sleep.

However, we do know that when sleep-deprived, our attention, focus, motivation to learn, creativity, ability to think abstractly, and vigilance are all decreased. This makes it harder to receive and properly process incoming information, and makes it more likely that we make sloppy errors in our work.  In addition, our neurons don’t function properly, and we are less able to recall previously learned information. Can’t learn new things? Can’t remember old things? Lack of sleep takes its toll on the student’s brain.

In addition to negatively affecting memory both before and after learning, inadequate sleep impairs judgment, mood, motivation, and how we perceive events. Over time, poor sleep has been linked to obesity, diabetes, and depression.  Lack of sleep can also lead to weight gain.


New research has even suggested that not getting enough sleep makes us appear unattractive and sad.

If you don’t get enough sleep over time, you build up a sleep debt.


So to be happier, sharper, smarter, and better at making decisions, get enough sleep every night!

Sleep is good. I get it. Now what?

                Getting good sleep is about developing good habits, or “Sleep Hygiene”. Harvard Medical School has a Division of Sleep Medicine website which I highly recommend if you are interested in learning more about sleep. They have listed 12 tips for improving sleep which are amazingRead them nowSeriously.

Below is the abbreviated version. For full explanations, hit the links above!

  1. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and other chemicals that interfere with sleep (especially 4-6 hours before bedtime).
  2. Turn your bedroom into a sleep-inducing environment. Keep work, TV, and bright lights out of the bedroom.
  3. Establish a soothing pre-sleep routine.
  4. Only go to sleep when you are truly tired.
  5. Don’t be a nighttime clock-watcher.
  6. Use natural light to your advantage: to stay on a natural awake-sleep schedule.
  7. Keep your internal clock set with a consistent sleep schedule.
  8. Nap early, before 5pm, or not at all.
  9. Lighten up on evening meals.
  10. Balance fluid intake.
  11. Exercise. And do it early in the day, and at least 3 hours before bedtime.
  12. Stick with your new sleep routine!

In addition, check out’s list of 27 ways to sleep better tonight. And, the NY Times has some great info on sleeping better in their wellness section, like steps for more, and better, sleep and how exercise can help us sleep better.

It’s easy to let your school work slip into sleepy time, but that isn’t what’s best for your brain. So instead of pulling an all-nighter, plan ahead and break up studying into multiple smaller sessions. Sleeping between bouts of studying will help consolidate your memories and help you do better on your test. And when it comes to your social life, make sure you are taking into account how much sleep you have been getting before deciding to hang out with friends late at night.

If you are still having issues with sleep, feel free to walk in to UNC Counseling and Psychological Services in the Campus Health building. They are a great resource for helping students get better sleep, and they are familiar with meeting students with sleep issues as they are common amongst college students.

Happy Sleeping!

Alcohol and Blackouts

If you are a college student who chooses to drink, there is a 50/50 chance that you have experienced at least one blackout, according to research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Recent research is finding that blackouts are much more common among college students than originally thought. But what are blackouts, and how can people avoid them?

What are blackouts?

Blackouts (sometimes called “alcohol-related amnesia”) are due to alcohol’s property of affecting many parts of the brain at once. In addition to impairing the parts of the brain responsible for judgment, motor control, speech, and perception, alcohol can also affect how memories are formed and stored. When consumed quickly and in large amounts, alcohol does this by impairing the functioning of the hippocampus, the “memory consolidation” center of the brain.

When the hippocampus is impaired by alcohol, people report waking up in the morning and having no recollection of what happened the night before. This is due to their inability to make new memories while under the influence of too much alcohol, consumed too quickly. Similarly to a blackout, a brownout occurs when someone can only remember fragmented bits and pieces of the time that they were under the influence of alcohol.

Blackouts and brownouts are a form of amnesia, and are different from ‘passing out’, where a person loses consciousness due to alcohol.

Okay, I know what blackouts are. So, are they a bad thing?

Well, college students generally cite blackouts from alcohol as a negative result of drinking that they would like to avoid. It’s just more fun to remember what happened at a party or a social event!

Also, because alcohol affects the brain in many ways at once, a “blackout” happens at the same time heavy drinkers are experiencing poor decision-making, poor judgment, and a loss of motor control as a result of the alcohol.

This combination sometimes results in heavy drinkers doing or saying something they may later regret, and they cannot remember what happened. The feeling of a “loss of control” or “not knowing what happened” or “acting stupid” is generally what students say they want to avoid. Students have reported participating in a wide range of high-risk behaviors they could not remember, including vandalism, unprotected sex, and driving.

In addition, the research performed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison concluded that blackouts were a strong predictor of emergency room visits among college students. So if people are drinking to the point of experiencing a blackout, they are also more at risk of hurting themselves severely enough to necessitate a trip to the emergency room.

Blackouts may also have long-term effects on the brain. As aging reduces the reserve brain capacity of individuals they become more at risk for dementia and memory loss, and that risk may be increased by repeated blackouts over a long period of time.

How can I make sure I don’t blackout?

Choosing to not drink alcohol is a sure-fire way to never have a blackout. But, if you choose to drink alcohol, the best way to avoid blackouts is by making sure your BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentration) doesn’t increase too rapidly. This means finding ways to allow more time between drinks for your body to process the alcohol.

It’s important to find a system for pacing your drinking that works for you, and allows you to have control over the amount of alcohol you consume in a night so you can stay safe. Here are some tips for not experiencing blackouts:

1)      sip your beverage slowly
2)      be aware of how you feel before making a decision about the next drink
3)      avoid shots
4)       avoid drinking games
5)      alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks
6)      know how much alcohol is in your drink
7)      don’t drink from communal sources of alcohol
8)       set a limit for yourself
9)      set a time to stop drinking and switch to water
10)    only bring a set amount of cash for drinks
11)   know your limit
12)   hold a drink in your hand (alcoholic or non-alcoholic) to avoid being bought/offered another drink
13)   limit the amount of alcohol you buy to only what you would like to consume that night
14)   Tell a friend how much you plan on drinking that night

If you are concerned about your or a friend’s drinking, feel to set up an appointment to meet with an Alcohol and Other Drug Intervention Specialist for BASICS or with Counseling and Psychological Services to speak with a licensed professional therapist.

As always, be safe and take care of yourselves, Tar Heels!

Di-Hydrogen Monoxide: Chemical Alert Warning

As you travel on spring break, make sure you are aware of your body’s levels of Di-Hydrogen Monoxide. Too little Di-Hydrogen Monoxide can result in the following symptoms:

  • Increased thirst
  • Dry mouth and swollen tongue
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Palpitations (feeling that the heart is jumping or pounding)
  • Confusion
  • Sluggishness
  • Fainting
  • Inability to sweat
  • Decreased urine output
  • Yellow or amber urine output
  • Fever over 101 degrees
  • Vomiting

As you may have figured out, Di-Hydrogen Monoxide = H2O. For you the chemistry-averse among you, that’s what’s commonly referred to as “Water”.

In all seriousness, how much water you drink is important for your health, safety, and ability to enjoy spring break. As you can see from the list above, dehydration can have some very serious health effects.

If someone does exhibit signs of dehydration, get them to a cool place and have them sip water, chew ice chips, suck on a Popsicle, or sip a sports-drink. Loosen their clothing, and seek shade or air-conditioning immediately. If symptoms worsen or persist, take the person to an emergency room or call an ambulance.


College students, if they choose to drink alcohol over spring break, can be especially susceptible to dehydration. Alcohol, like caffeine, is a diuretic. Diuretics act on the kidneys to make you pee more than usual, which results in your body losing too much of its water and becoming dehydrated.

The symptoms of a hangover are mainly due to your body being dehydrated, and can best be cured by drinking water, not a caffeinated beverage.

Hydration is especially important on spring break, when people travel to warm weather where they may be sweating more, enjoying the sunshine more, and expending more energy traveling than they normally do in Chapel Hill.

So to stay hydrated and prevent the above symptoms, follow these 5 easy steps:

  1. Have a full water bottle with you at all times.
  2. Sip water before and during exercise or exposure to heat.
  3. Break up the time you spend in hot temperatures. Find air-conditioned or shady areas and allow yourself to cool down between exposures to the heat.
  4. Wear light colored and loose-fitting clothing, and carry a fan or mister to cool yourself. Doing so will lessen the amount of water you lose by sweating.
  5. If you choose to drink alcohol, alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. This will help you pace your drinking and stay more hydrated.

So now that you know the signs of dehydration and how to avoid it, have a great, safe (and well-hydrated) spring break!

5 Reasons You Should Spend Time Outside Today

Whether or not you choose to weather the weather outside may have important health consequences. According to a number of studies, our modern sedentary lifestyle is very bad for us. So even though it’s winter, and there are papers and exams to worry about, think about getting away from a screen for a while. The following is a list of positive things that will come from making some time to be outside today!

You’ll Make More Vitamin D
Research has demonstrated that Vitamin D is key in preventing conditions such as cancer, osteoporosis, heart attacks, and depression. Exposure to sunlight helps your skin kick-start the Vitamin D production cycle. Especially in the winter, it is important to make sure you are getting enough Vitamin D, which can help increase your mood and your overall health. By all measures, average Americans don’t have enough Vitamin D in their bodies. Being outside for a few minutes helps, but if you can’t make it outside , consider increasing your intake of Vitamin D rich foods (like milk, salmon, eggs, or fortified orange juice), or even taking a Vitamin D supplement. But remember, if you are exposed to sunlight for a prolonged period of time, wear sunscreen to prevent getting sunburned!

You’ll Get More Exercise
Sitting indoors is the least challenging thing you can do with your body, so every minute you can do ANYTHING else is a minute well spent. Going for a walk around campus, tossing a Frisbee, taking a bike ride, or simply moving your study session to another building are all easy ways to spend more time outside and move more.

You Might Heal Faster
University of Pittsburgh researchers reported in 2005 that spinal surgery patients experienced less pain and stress and took fewer pain medications during their recoveries if they were exposed to natural light. Windows and views are different than actually being outside, but we’re betting that adding a little fresh air to the equation couldn’t hurt and might even help.

You Will Concentrate Better
Research performed on children with ADHD indicates that children seem to focus better after being outdoors. The same could be true for adults. Getting outside to take a “brain break” and get some light exercise can help you stay focused when you return to work.

You Will Be Happier
There is a reason why people willingly give up all the comforts of home to go camping: it’s fun, enjoyable, and relaxing to be outdoors. Natural light has been proven to increase mood, as has exercise. Now, research is being done on “green exercise”, or exercise in a natural or outdoors setting, to see the immediate effects it has on mood. While the research isn’t conclusive, if you know that being outside will make you happier than sitting around inside, do it!

What Are You Waiting For?
So those are 5 great reasons to spend some time outside. Thankfully, we have an amazingly beautiful campus at UNC, even in the winter. Get outside and enjoy it today!

Speed Drinking: How Alcohol Glass Shape Makes Us Drink Faster

If you choose to drink alcohol, you may have noticed that people use many methods to help them pace their drinking to avoid the nastier side of having too much, too quickly: The hangovers, the poor decisions, the embarrassing behavior, being more drunk than intended, or even vomiting. Yuck.

But sometimes how quickly we drink is influenced by things that we may not even consider. Recently researchers tried to determine if the shape of the glass has any influence on the speed at which people drink beer. The findings? Yes, the shape of the glass plays a role.

Researchers are not entirely sure why this is the case, but one hypothesis is that a more curved glass impairs your ability accurately judge where “half-full” is, and thus are less able to accurately judge the pace at which you are drinking. This may lead to someone having drinks more quickly than they realize.

So what does this mean for you? It means that keeping track of how much you drank and how quickly you drank it is harder from a curved glass, and thus it’s harder to make sure you are making good decisions about your drinking. When drinking from a curved glass, keep in mind that you may drink faster than normal, so leave more time between drinks to let your body process the alcohol.

Below is a list of tips that can be helpful to people who want to avoid the negative consequences of having too much, too fast. It’s important to find a method that works well for you, and helps you stay in control of how much alcohol you consume in a night!

  • Set a maximum number of drinks in a night
  • Avoid shots
  • Avoid drinking games
  • Alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks
  • Hold a drink in your hand (non-alcoholic or alcoholic), to avoid being offered more drinks
  • Put extra ice in your drink
  • Know how many standard drinks you are consuming (Hint: 12-ounce beer=1oz shot=4oz serving of wine)
  • Don’t drink something if you don’t know how much alcohol it contains
  • Set a maximum number of drinks per hour
  • Stop drinking at a predetermined time
  • Be aware of how you feel BEFORE making the decision about another drink
  • Set a maximum number of drinks for the night, and have a friend help you stick to that goal

Again, it’s important to figure out what works best for you, to make sure that you stay safe and healthy!

If you are concerned about your or a friend’s drinking or drug use, check out the services available at UNC Student Wellness, like Tar Heel BASICS. Also, Counseling and Psychological Services is always a great (free!) resource for UNC students.

As always, take care of yourselves!