In January, all obsessions with health-oriented goals become normalized: Calories are counted, Fitbits are applied to wrists, Nicorette is chewed, workouts are tracked and meditation podcasts are downloaded — with no explanation other than, “It’s my resolution.”
Yet for some people with enough time, resources and anxiety about dying (or, to put it more optimistically, getting the most of one’s time on Earth), such commitment to self-improvement is a daily practice.
It was hard not to think about dying while attending a recent conference on ‘biohacking’ hosted by Bulletproof: a brand best known for its fatty, butter-rich coffee and its guru-like CEO, David Asprey. The term “biohacking” may conjure up images of aspiring cyborgs implanting chips and sensors into fingers. But Bulletproof has borrowed (or some might say, appropriated) the term to refer to the philosophy of approaching the body as a lab, where inputs such as food, exercise and orgasms can be monitored and measured to better understand and improve outcomes. (Think deeper sleep, more defined abs, and less brain fog.)
At the conference, brands like Natural Stacks, Sunlighten and Anchor modeled expensive supplements, saunas, and butter, respectively. A retired German athlete presented his experiments with testosterone replacement therapy, before encouraging the crowd to rev up their energy with a traditional Maori chant. Trainers from One Taste demonstrated “orgasmic meditation.” Nutrients were absorbed via IVs, in full view of passerby.
It goes without saying that there’s a need for a high bullshit detector when engaging in such a highly consumeristic world. Personally, Asprey says he’s spent 20 years and $300,000 on biohacking experiments, helping him lose 100 pounds and boost his IQ — so he’s pretty upfront with his followers that extreme results cost extreme dollars. While some of Bulletproof’s favorite cures are rather old, like oxygen bars or tracking yourself in a database (i.e., arithmetic), some of the newer, more tech-y hacks don’t have the gold standard of scientific data — a double-blind peer-reviewed study to back it up — and probably never will. Diets are incredibly difficult to evaluate, and advice other than “Get enough food. But don’t eat too much,” is probably extraneous, says Steven Bratman, the doctor who coined the term “orthorexia” (which is when people take healthy eating to unhealthy extremes).
It can be an interesting exercise to think of one’s body as a lab and to go on a personal quest for physical improvement, but it’s more an art (or hobby) than a science. Self-quantifying and reporting on one’s experience is largely an exercise in the anecdotal.
Perhaps these ideas presented below are at the avant-garde of health, and everyone will be doing these things in a few years. Perhaps they will be seen as ridiculous as blood-letting. Still, many of the elements and remedies of the biohacking movement dovetail with traditional New Year’s resolutions. So now seems as good a time as any to experiment with applying the least ridiculous biohacking solutions to the kinds of problems you’re already planning to try to solve over the next few weeks and months.
YOU RESOLVED TO EAT BETTER…
…Sip on Fat. One of the intelligent things about the Bulletproof diet is its obsession with fats. As peer-reviewed studies show, a high-fat, high-protein, low-carb diet (what experts call “ketogenic” and what your mom might call Atkins) may help people lose weight better than just a low-cal diet. Bulletproof’s signature project, a cup of 400-calorie, butter and coconut-oil filled coffee, was pouring freely at the conference and made me feel so intensely full that I forgot about eating — which isn’t such a terrible thing if you’re trying to lose weight.
Though the “real” version uses Bulletproof-brand products, you can recreate the beverage at home with any free-range butter or coconut oil. That is, if you can handle the feeling of letting Guru Asprey down. He claims that the Bulletproof brand coconut oil — called Brain Octane Oil — will pack more fats, and that his brand of coffee lacks “performance-robbing mold toxins.” (Other scientists say most grocery store coffee probably doesn’t have these toxins, either.)
Next up from Bulletproof? Water with lipids in it. Fat Water comes in lemon, berry, and tangerine, and tastes like a lightly sweetened Gatorade.
…Eat Grain-Free Snacks. It’s difficult and expensive to cut all grains out of a diet the way Bulletproof advises. But Asprey, like other dieting gurus, insists that you won’t melt the pounds away if you don’t cut out corn, quinoa and other grains. If you’re cool with this challenge, start with your snacking. Most granola and energy bars — even the gluten-free ones — are traps for sugar and cheap carbs. New options — like Bulletproof’s collagen bars and EPIC’s paleo-friendly Bison Bacon Cranberry or Lamb Currant Mint protein bars — sound terrible but taste anywhere from good to not disgusting.
…Hack Your Kitchen. Cooking more meals at home is clearly the most affordable way to pump protein and vegetables into a diet, as Bulletproof’s eating plan emphasizes (advising 6 to 11 servings of veggies and 4 to 6 servings of meat). That explains why sustainable meat and seafood delivery brands advertised their services at the conference. (Like I said, ‘biohacking’ doesn’t exactly mean cutting-edge technology.) CSA boxes can help you get lots of vegetables into your kitchen and body by delivering them straight you the door. A grill, VitaMix and Crockpot (which is actually discouraged by Bulletproof, but who cares) are good investments to help transform those vegetables and proteins into low-effort meals.
YOU RESOLVED TO GET IN SHAPE…
…Melt the Pain Away. The Bulletproof crowd skews toward fit dads, so it’s unsurprising to see the “cutting edge” of pain-management technologies on display at the conference. The exhibition hall featured several infrared saunas to try, including Sunlighten’s, which supposedly work better than traditional ones “by heating up your body’s core to a cellular level, where most toxins are stored,” according to Asprey. Given how difficult chronic pain can be to fix, I’m not gonna shit on any solutions that I haven’t tried yet (or any solutions period, because, who knows, maybe they’ll work for you). But I won’t be rushing out to purchase a $1,000-plus device anytime soon. Trend prediction: look out for the spread of infrared saunas across more of the nation’s high-end gyms in 2016.
…Get Bloody. Elizabeth Holmes’s #Theranos-gate scandal drew attention to the politics of blood. Last year, the blood-testing startup helped pass legislation turning Arizona into one of the only states that lets people commission a blood test at a pharmacy without a doctor’s note. Biohackers rejoiced, finally given the opportunity to break free from the chains of conventional medicine’s bureaucracy and take blood-testing into their own hands. Getting a full panel of blood tests done from a lab like Shine is a first step for many biohackers to get baseline levels for cholesterol, glucose and hormones before working to tweak them.
…Exercise Less. If you hate the gym, you’ll be happy to learn that a “Bulletproof body” is achievable without living like a gym rat. Asprey himself says that even The 4-Hour Body is too much work, and a Bulletproof body can be achieved in just 40 minutes. He prefers weightlifting to cardio. And he argues that anything that isn’t brief, intense, infrequent, safe and purposeful really isn’t exercise.
YOU RESOLVED TO SLEEP MORE SOUNDLY…
…Don’t Think About Anything Else. Most people could stand to improve their sleep simply by trying harder to go to bed and wake up at consistent times, avoiding caffeine and alcohol in the afternoons and evenings and taking time before bed to wind down and chill.
Biohackers, of course, take sleep hygiene to a more obsessive level. They wear special glasses to block out blue light (which supposedly disrupts sleep). They take supplements like Coconut Charcoal for jetlag, glutathione for liver detoxing, valerian, and kava to relax. And they track their sleep using monitors like Beddit, which give feedback on your heart rate and sleep cycles.
Does any of this work? Depends on if you’re asking the people selling these technologies or mainstream health practitioners. I personally can’t imagine that turning sleep into a project in self-quantification would help me sleep better. In fact, it seems like it could do the opposite and give me performance anxiety. But, hey, if you wanna track your sleep, why not? Asprey says he only sleeps a few hours a day.
YOU RESOLVED TO IMPROVE YOUR FOCUS…
…Pop a Natural Adderall. One of the more convincing salesmen at the biohacking conference was Roy Krebs of Natural Stacks, a nootropic (i.e., “cognition-boosting”) supplement brand. He told me he was feeling great, alert and energized after popping a mix of artichoke and other plant extracts called CILTEP, hailing it as some sort of natural amphetamine. Given how gross amphetamines are, perhaps it’s worth a try.
…Leave the Nightclub. Shame is the substance-abuser who attends a biohacking conference (unless, of course, you’re a supplement addict). If you’re smoking cigarettes, doing hard drugs (ayahuasca doesn’t count), or boozing to excess, you probably aren’t ready to graduate to biohacking levels of obsessiveness. (See you in 2017, slacker!) For now, maybe switch to tequila (fewer calories), take nicotine as a supplement (it helps with focus, says Asprey), stop putting powders into your face (unless they are going to cure your depression, like ketamine, or social anxiety, like MDMA) and swap out blunts for Paleo edibles.
This won’t exactly make you “bulletproof,” but it’s a start.