The key to glorifying a questionable diet? Be a tech bro and call it 'biohacking'
Even though this is an opinion piece I'm disappointed it didn't include any interviews or information from medical professionals about what exactly intermittent fasting is and if it's harmful or useful. Instead it's taken as a given that it's a harmful, it's conflated with celebrity hawked snake oil, and it's described as tech bro rebranded anorexia. I don't know anything about the CEO of Twitter or what he eats but if he's really eating less than 7000 calories per week and hallucinating that's more extreme than intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting is more about changing when you eat rather than how much you eat and the "fasting" time is typically more like 16 hours than several days in a row. It's a diet that's as extreme as skipping breakfast and cutting out late night and mid-morning snacks.
Though intermittent fasting wasn't the direct focus of the article I'd say it's important for understanding what the columnist is describing. Her point is that when women push for harmful health products or diets it's called out, but when male tech people do the same it's lauded. Setting aside for a moment the fact that plenty of people and media organizations happily promote and praise celebrity juice cleanses and the like, the point about the reaction to 'tech bros' supporting intermittent fasting only works as the other side of a double-standard if the two are comparable. I don't think they are.
If anything the troubling media trend highlighted by the examples in this article wasn't a gendered double standard but rather the cargo cult enthusiasm with which media reports on the habits of certain professionals. If people in tech are doing intermittent fasting and a media organization wants to share that with their readers then fine, but the journalists should get their information on intermittent fasting itself from doctors rather than directly reporting someone's inexpert opinion without context.
Mostly I think what the columnist is showing comes from how certain groups of celebrities are portrayed in different information bubbles. If you're reading entertainment news then you'll find out what health trends are being pushed by different actors/actresses and this will mostly be presented in a positive light. If you're reading tech or business news you'll find out what health trends are being pushed by different CEOs and this will generally be presented in a positive light. In both cases you'll read about how to become the people you admire by emulating their lifestyles.
As for articles decrying these things: you can find them on both sides. Is it balanced? Is it fair? Is it unfair because of gender? I don't know. A celebrity is more likely to be trying to sell me something when they talk about their branded juice cleanse than a tech CEO is when he tweets about not eating on weekends, and if the former is more prevalent it will be more harmful and get more backlash. This is especially true when you consider the industry of programs and talk shows (e.g. Dr. Oz) that exist to promote such things. I'm not saying gender doesn't come into play but I think it's more complex than just looking at this issue through that single lens.
My doc just recommended intermittent fasting as a possible option for me, I was really surprised by that. I’m going to see him next week and learn more.
I don't know much about nutrition. Frankly, it sounds like nobody does – which is unsettling if you want to fix your diet. There are people who are far more qualified to talk about nutrition that I'll ever be – but then, even their research is inconclusive or incomplete.
There's been a buzz about intermittent fasting lately, and a lot of it seems to come from this guy's research – Dr. Satchin Panda, of the Salk Institute of Biological Studies. (Their opening phrase is, verbatim, "WHERE CURES BEGIN".) I first heard of intermittent fasting from Dr. Rhonda Patrick – an "expert on nutritional health" whose Twitter handle is the same as the name of this website. Dr. Patrick promoted intermittent fasting with a bunch of vaguely-described biological processes and relating them to Dr. Panda's research on mice.
His Salk page talks about, paraphrased, "verifying that his research on circadian-rhythms eating is as effective for humans as it is for mice". His book about "the circadian code" is already circling the bookstores, and he's talking about it on podcasts all over the Internet.
All of this triggers my bullshit alarm.
Now. There's probably a hundred people whose research is valuable, meaningful, and useful in daily life, that I could readily access and assume to be true because it's been peer-reviewed. The problem? I don't know one such name. I wouldn't even know where to find one. So, my best option is – what, a PhD who's making money off a book based on mice's reactions to starvation, and another PhD who's directly linking their online identity to what looks like a bullshit fitness site?
Not good enough.
There's also a comparison used in the article that rubs me the wrong way. For some reason, the author conflates Gwyneth Paltrow's selling bullshit food items and actresses losing weight for the role. For some reason, all of that – including the fairly-common process of weight management actors and actresses do – is in opposition of self-experimentation that at least tried to rely on something vaguely-scientific. Starvation response? Sure, sounds about right. Crystal healing? Go away.
Also, this dismissal of trying things out to see what works. "Maybe he's a try-guy" – yeah, maybe. What's your problem with that? That people follow him just 'cause he said something? "We don't have conclusive data to say that he is" – is that so? What about eating so much β-carotin that one turns orange doesn't ring a "try-guy" bell for you?
I'm sensing a pattern here. Somebody likes the outrage.
I have Dr. Panda's app on my smartphone. I track fasting time with it. When I tried the kind of fasting his research suggested, it made me feel better. When I eat around midnight, I wake up slogged; when I stop eating at about sundown, I wake up fresh. Simple as that.
I also made changes to my diet – reduced sugars, reduced carbohydrates, increased protein. I also started exercising more. I don't know how most of it works, but it appears that it does, so I'm using it until there's a better way. There's plenty of people who use this kind of advice and do good – looking at you, people who do well at the gym without using steroids. Apparently, it worked for them. Maybe they know something I don't.
I think any honest dietitian will tell you that there is no best diet to follow. There are general guidelines to follow to be healthier like the ones you mentioned (cutting sugar, processed food, etc.), but I reckon the rest is specific to your body and way of life.
A good diet is no diet at all. You should be eating the same way year round. You're not supposed to suffer for 2 months by cutting like crazy and then getting all your weight back when you can't do it anymore.
What if you need to be focused during the day at your job and not have insulin spikes ? Then you have to eat most of your calories at night. If you're an athlete on the other hand, you'll need to be fresh in the morning to exercise and you have free time in the afternoon to eat.
You seem to think that we don't know enough about diet, I think we know too much. Are we really supposed to eat perfectly ? Our bodies are designed to filter toxins to a certain extent so why lose our minds over this level of optimization.
I'm not sure I agree with that. While there may not be a 100% perfect pinnacle of a diet, there are absolutely beneficial ones.
For instance, somebody with high cholesterol needs a tailored diet to avoid saturated fats. This is because their highest risk comes from clogged arteries. Alternatively, somebody with diabetes needs to closely monitor their sugar intake as their body cannot properly regulate it.
Most diets are junk. The concept of dieting isn't though. The science is important for managing risk factors and understanding which diets make the most sense for us.
What I meant is there is no single best diet for everyone. And the example you mentioned are just part of what constitutes a diet. There are many factors to take into account and those factors may vary from individual to individual.
So, here I am, reading your reply – and then reading @Gaywallet's...
So, like... You see the issue?
There's a lot more to IF studies if you know where to look. Personally I'd suggest browsing pubmed and doing keyword searches.
But you're right, we don't know a whole lot about dietary sciences. What we do know, is the following:
Outside of those statements, it's very difficult to prove much of anything with diet for a variety of reasons but the two biggest issues are that people vary a lot in terms of both genetics and epigenetics (gut flora most importantly) and that people don't do a good job adhering to the extremely strict dietary control that you would need for a true double blind gold standard study.
If you're interested in reading a bit more about intermittent fasting, greg knuckols posted a great review of a recent study on IF which talks about some of the benefits that an extended fasting period might have on some of the signalling pathways in the body like IGF-1 and testosterone.
The comment about "a cow" is obviously just a bit of hyperbole for effect, but everything in that paragraph does suggest he's eating fewer than 1,000 calories. I don't think it's fair to criticise her understanding of nutrition just because you didn't like the literary choice to use a bit of exaggeration.
Context suggests that anyone who eats like that certainly wouldn't describe a pretty substantial ribeye just as "some steak", and even if he did, the other two options are even lower calorie. Steamed or grilled green vegetables add next to nothing there, and a decent portion of berries adds another few hundred. One meal a day on that diet, without very unusually large portions or dousing the entire thing in olive oil, is absolutely less than 1,000 calories.