You, Only Better – The New York Times

You, Only Better – The New York Times

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The event was billed as a cutting-edge biohacking event, but it was tame compared with what goes on at the fringes of this community. Seven months earlier and about two hours away, in Tehachapi, a much more extreme clique of biohackers gathered to share the recent discoveries from their world at a gathering called GrindFest. These are the real transhumanists, the kind of people who implant magnets under their skin and embed microchips in their bodies to replace key cards. Asprey’s ethos is not so dissimilar — he wants to push humanity past its biological limits — but his sell is a little more palatable: We need only think of our bodies as hardware in order to improve upon them.

Little of the technology on display at the Bulletproof convention was new. No one was being implanted or fused with anything. They preferred to upgrade the old-fashioned way, with a miracle drug or pill or elixir that would transform them from the inside out, and there was no shortage of products that promised to do so. The Bulletproof Coffee was abundant, as were the Bulletproof-branded collagen bars, grass-fed meat jerky and small paper cups of steaming, earthy bone broth. There were samples of Fat Water, a new Bulletproof sports drink infused with a certain fatty acid that Asprey believes the body processes into energy more efficiently than it does glucose. There were Bulletproof-branded supplements, like glutathione, an antioxidant that Asprey says helps detoxify the body. I narrowly missed the cricket brownies smeared with colostrum icing — the crowd descended on them as soon as they were set out. I watched a woman drip a tincture made from deer antlers on the eager tongue of a slim and handsome attendee. I rolled my eyes at a hypnotist putting a woman into a trance, and then, hours later, the same hypnotist talked me into taking an injection of vitamins labeled simply a ‘‘shine shot.’’ (He had taken one, too.)

There are more than a few nutritionists who are dubious of Asprey’s bold claims. It’s hard not to be — there’s little research outside his own that backs them up. Asprey’s diet advises against calorie counting. It is also high in fat. Marion Nestle, an author and professor of nutrition and public health at New York University, is among those skeptical of what Asprey is selling. ‘‘I don’t know any diet, exercise or healthful-living shortcuts,’’ she wrote in an emailed exchange. ‘‘We all want to live forever, and if changing one thing in our diets can do that, we can all hope. The success of the dietary-supplement industry is best explained by wish-fulfillment fantasies.’’

On the day before the conference began, I asked Asprey about his childhood. He quickly rattled off a few sentences about his parents. They worked at Sandia National Laboratories, which taught him the value of scientific inquiry. That wasn’t what I had meant. Were his parents particularly health-oriented? Or did he grow up eating takeout and frozen meals? He gave a dismissive shrug. ‘‘My parents gave me squeeze margarine and bran muffins because that’s what the magazines said,’’ he said. He paused for a moment, reconsidering. ‘‘They did their best.’’

During the ’80s, when Asprey was a kid, eating bran muffins was the fad diet of the day — that, and a little Jazzercise, and you’d be set. Eventually, people came to recognize that the benefits of the fiber were canceled out by the heavy ca­loric load and sugars. Margarine was also peaking in popularity around that time, seen then as a sensible alternative to butter. But since then, nutritionists have questioned the wisdom of the low-fat, high-carb diet that Americans have been steered toward for years. Asprey’s diet is, for all its technological fervor, a refutation of the last generation’s hollow wisdom. In its avoidance of complex carbohydrates and its pseudoscientific rhetoric, it’s not so dissimilar from the Paleo diet — along with a bunch of supplements that would befuddle a cave man, or even a New Yorker.

My own parents were trim and active; they were also Southern, which meant that butter-and-sugar sandwiches and cheese grits were staples of our diet. I was a heavy teenager, with more acne and eczema than I’d like to remember, and it wasn’t until my 20s that I understood the role dietary habits played in that. Since then, I’ve endlessly experimented with raw diets, green juices, Paleo-inspired meal plans and various cultish boutique fitness classes, trying to figure out what works best to maintain a healthy weight. I still don’t have a definitive answer. Fad diets persist because they are seductive, and offer the promise of unlocking a better you by following a few simple rules. And Asprey’s pitch couldn’t be more epistemologically fashionable: A/B testing, hacking and data analysis have already provided us with many novel insights and conveniences.

Asprey believes that nutrition should be as effortless as everything else in our technology-enhanced existence — why shouldn’t it be? His background is in information management, and that is what he is skilled at: distilling oceanic volumes of information for easy consumption and decision-making. The allure of the Bulletproof lifestyle is that you can outsource that work. ‘‘That fundamental laziness, where I want everything to be easier, is part of what drives me,’’ he told me that first day. ‘‘I don’t want to do more work than is necessary to do great things. I don’t see why anyone should do more work than is necessary to do great things.’’



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