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Broscience is Not Real Science.

April 9, 2019

 

Earlier today, CNBC published a story on the top "biohacks" of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. Along with things like cold-showers, infrared light, and 7-minute high-intensity interval workouts on the list was that Dorsey only eats one meal a day—consisting of a lean protein and vegetables—between 6:30 pm and 9:00 pm and sometimes fasts for the entire weekend.

There was a huge storm on the internet, mostly on Twitter (which, of course, is ironic) attacking Dorsey. I don't want to contribute to that attack because I don't know Dorsey and quite frankly I don't care what he does about his health and fitness. He's not a friend, family member, elite athlete, centenarian, or an expert on the topic. He's one helluva a coder with a mind for the internet. So my problem isn't so much with Dorsey but with why an outlet like CNBC would publish this story and even more so why so many people—mostly young males—celebrate this kind of stuff. Just because you are a rock-star in A does not make you one in P.

But since this is out there, let's try to leave Dorsey out of it and look a bit deeper into why CNBC's coverage is so dangerous and why the reaction so strong.

I don't know how many calories Dorsey is eating in that 6:30-9:00 pm window but unless it's 2500 (he also walks 5 miles a day) or he has a medical reason to be on such a restrictive diet (e.g., thyroid issues) what is being celebrated is an eating disorder. Eating disorders are deadly. Males may be less likely to get help than females, though one in three people struggling with an eating disorder is a man. So, for starters, celebrating this kind of habit as a " wellness biohack" is dangerous. I myself tweeted at CNBC to change this headline. We'll see what happens.

Second, there's some serious gender bias going on here. Just imagine if a woman CEO of a mega-company made public the same kind of eating behavior? She would be committed, and perhaps rightfully so, to a treatment center. So the fact that it's celebrated in men but shunned in women is another sad reality in and of itself. I'm not sure who it's sadder for, actually, because at least the women who need the help are more likely to be called out and get it. But yeah, it's messed up all around.

Third, it's especially wild that so much of this broscience comes from San Francisco, which I fear is becoming a bit of a parody. You've got uber-wealthy people who work in tech making apps focused on very questionable means to self-actualization (one of which is literally a nicotine delivery device) who spend their free-time kite-surfing and apparently starving themselves while thousands of people are on the streets experiencing homelessness; measles cases are skyrocketing; and public school teachers can't afford to live in the city. Again: Not at all Dorsey's fault, but I think a lot of the rage being directed at him is actually rage about this broader situation. I don't have the solution but I think it's worth calling a spade a spade: the uproar is about far more than Dorsey's dinner. And yet...and yet...so much of the rage is being thrown around on the very platform that Dorsey created! 

All I can say from where I sit and have some authority is this: The kind of broscience peddled in Silicon Valley is not real science.

 

  • There is no solid evidence that eating only between 6:30-9:00 pm does anything other than restrict the calories you are eating to a very small window (and probably make you quite hungry).

  • There is no solid evidence that a ketogenic diet prevents or reverses cancer, as some in the broscience space have alluded to.

  • Putting butter in your coffee does not slow aging any more than putting butter on your toast.

  • Polyphasic sleeping, or taking a few naps instead of sleeping at night, is not as restful or good for your brain than sleeping for 7-9 hours at night.

 

Most of this stuff is still pretty fringe. But it's becoming more of a regular job to keep it that way.

As Michael Pollan said, "Eat real food, mostly plants, not too much."  And I'll add move your body often, sometimes hard. And sleep at night. 

And to all the people tempted to attack Dorsey. Please don't. We don't know the context of this article or what CNBC left out. Let's assume for a minute Dorsey is only eating 1,000 calories in his window. He doesn't need strangers enraged with him. He needs help. Direct your rage at CNBC for describing an eating disorder and calling it a "wellness biohack."

The whole situation and reaction to it is the perfect example of the rather absurd situations we sometimes bear witness to these days. I'm just trying to bring the tiniest bit of context and reason to the discussion.

 

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