On the Bulletproof Diet

Connections and Possibilities

The Bulletproof Diet has the world’s best ambassador – coffee. Not just any old coffee, but the best coffee I’ve ever had. It redefined my understanding of what coffee was, could do, and how it could make me feel. For me, coffee is intrinsically linked to being alive. I blame Alaska. The raw vibrancy of that place could turn around even the worst cup – and the combination, sublime. Time to head back to there to find out what a truly excellent cup of coffee would be like with both feet planted in wilderness.

The Bulletproof Diet (BP) book doesn’t stand alone. David Avery (Dave) has been at biohacking for a long time, and has produced nearly 200 detailed podcasts, and dozens of commercial products as a result of his continuous efforts. The focus here is on the book, mostly, but for any topic, go dig through his archives. They’re ridiculously generous.

Core Concepts:

  • Food Quality Matters:
    Dave’s best writing hammers home the point that food quality matters, without any deviation or wavering. Each time it comes up, it feels fresh, relevant, and reinforcing – not boring. It comes through in everything he does. For example, when they make coffee, they use unsalted Kerry Gold butter. He recommends to always use Kerry Gold’s unsalted butter, because Kerry Gold’s salt isn’t high enough quality. Not even pausing for breath, he publicly pressures Kerry Gold to go from 90% grass-fed to 100%. Stew on that a bit – there is no bottom to that once you start digging. Let him go first.
  • Food Spectrums
    As a way out of that bottomless pit, he relies on spectrums of various attributes: quality, nutrient/anti-nutrient ratio, inflammation. This gives the strong willed the ability to save themselves. To successfully navigate his recommendations, you need to firmly keep your specific needs in mind. He does a good job of laying out options, but the course is yours to plot.
  • You need to pay attention to what the hell is going on with your body.
    Like duh. But so hard to do… He provides actionable tool recommendations for minimizing subjectivity and getting useful data. For example, he goes after the drink 8 glasses of water a day mantra. Instead, he advocates simply drinking when you’re thirsty. His core argument is, if you’re drinking high quality liquids (defined as: San Pellegrino from glass, BP Coffee, actual spring water,) and you’re actually paying attention to how your body feels, hydration will solve itself. The dividends from actually paying attention are bonus.
  • Inflammation and Toxins Matter
    He visits these topics so frequently that it’s difficult to separate them. This is in part because his own personal weight loss challenge centered on eliminating toxins as a tactic to reduce inflammation. It’s the cornerstone of the book and as such, there are innumerable tactics both overtly and tangentially discussed. Many of his strategies (I.e. food quality, food spectrums, biohacking tools) made sense to me. Some were new (I.e. actual spring water), but reasonably defended. A close reading will produce an actionable list suitable to your specific needs.
  • Intermittent Fasting (IF)
    He recommends cycling IF depending on the day’s activities. I wholeheartedly agree. It’s in this discussion that I realized that the BP Diet has a ketogenic foundation. It’s low net carbohydrates, high fat and moderate protein. His most insightful comments focused on the metabolism of protein, and why you shouldn’t over-consume it. In addition to the standard growth hormone justification, he presses down on the inflammation reduction angle – hard.
  • Sleep
    I’ve been diligently working on improving my sleep quality for years. Yet, he managed to come up with several new ideas which I hadn’t seen anywhere else. For example, I’m already having good success with the recommended sleep tracking app. I’m going to layer in some of his other suggestions over time. Inflammation reduction is the subtext here, but he also drives home performance angle as well.
  • Exercise
    He wisely opts out of a technical discussion about exercise. Instead he focuses on recovery, inflammation and other performance impacts. He recommends a solid list of other books to read on this topic. I second his Pavel Tsatsouline and Mark Rippetoe recommendations. Left underemphasized is the fact that exercise requires technical study which simply can’t be avoided. Mark Rippetoe has written 150 pages on just the deadlift, every page valuable, and yet he left enough uncovered for Pavel Tsatsouline to write an entire book on just that one exercise. Skip that step -> get injured, every time.
  • Supplements
    Throughout the book he provides supplementation strategies to the topic at hand. They seem reasonable in isolation, but figuring out the right mix is left as an exercise for the reader. Take good notes as you read. It’s damn complicated. He astutely avoids listing his own supplementation strategy, justified by arguing that supplementation must be personalized.
  • “Fruit & Vegetables is not one word”
    Intended as a joke, but capital T true. Each has a very different impact on our bodies. Pay attention to that difference!

My Counterpoints:

  • How you prepare your food matters
    As part of his food spectrum analysis, he also covered the impact of cooking techniques of food. It’s a shorter section and easy to just flip through, but I just couldn’t get past his recommendation against the use of microwaves. His first argument, it’s more likely to denature proteins (cause them to loose shape) than some other cooking strategies, is reasonable to me. His second argument trips my B.S. Filter, namely an assertion that EMF fields are bad. That position is just not sufficiently supported in the book at all. I’ve specifically dug through the podcast and his other web site writings looking for more details and haven’t found anything that I would consider robust.

  • Dog Whistler
    As part of preparing this review, I’ve listened to 20+ podcasts and have reviewed at least that many web site articles. He’ll tosses in references without explanation, attribution or support, on specific topics, which bugs the hell out of me. The question for me is why is he uneven with his external references. Answer that question wrong and my trust level goes to zero. For contentious issues (I.e. EMF Fields, GMO Foods, Ketogenic diets) he’ll address them, but at a noticeably lesser level of detail than other topics, with less attribution, and less referenced research. In other cases, he’ll do things like wear amber glasses on a video completely unrelated to sleep or Melatonin. In those circumstances, the inevitable “Look it’s Bono with bad hair!” commenter pipes up, only to be beaten down by those “in the know.” The second kind of pot stirring is fine and entertaining. I have an issue with the first form, even though I can understand why he might do it. Once you start seeing this pattern, it’s omnipresent and off-putting…

Other’s Counterpoints:

Researching around the web, you can see several variants of haters gonna hate happening here. You can see some here: http://gizmodo.com/bulletproof-coffee-debunking-the-hot-buttered-hype-1681321467, http://authoritynutrition.com/3-reasons-why-bulletproof-coffee-is-a-bad-idea/, http://health.usnews.com/health-news/health-wellness/articles/2014/12/24/the-bulletproof-diet-is-anything-but. Honestly, those links (gathered from the Bulletproof Diet Wikipedia page) are just horrible reading – exemplar bad science and lying with statistics. What they do take aim at is interesting: no calorie counting, high fat consumption, Ketogenic diets, and elimination of grains and nuts.

Horrifyingly, Gizmodo actually makes the most insightful point, albeit while lying with statistics: “In fact, one Spanish study found that people who drank four cups of coffee a day (and this is any brand of coffee, regardless of price and quality) had only 2-percent of what is considered a safe level of mycotoxins.” Aside from the lack of controls on which brand of coffee (and quantity if you read the study), there’s a difference between what the US, EU and Bulletproof would define as “safe” levels of mycotoxins. Oh, but wait, the Spanish study didn’t look for all mycotoxins, they only tested for one type of mycotoxin. Wait, no they didn’t do that either. They just counted how many cups of coffee people drunk and multiplied it by someone else’s numbers and who’s testing strategy is suspect because the brands don’t match (for starters.) Did I mention that they used people from a coffee growing region of Spain? I could continue, but will stop. /Sigh.

Aside from uncovering less than stellar science, Gizmodo did accidentally put their finger on a key issue. Namely, in the Bulletproof world, food quality is a supreme consideration. So the target is always zero, not “safe” as determined by experts or their government agency counterparts. Zero contamination. Contamination is defined really broadly: external toxins, pesticides, genetic manipulation, incorrect feeding (I.e. Grain fed vs. Grass Fed beef.) I haven’t found any substantive counterpoints which understand that core tenant. Instead they selectively chip around the edges using shopworn arguments and demonstrate their lack of understanding.

Things I really wish:

  1. Connections: The podcast, the book, and his web site stand independently. On just about any topic, Dave’s done at least a few and, in many cases, dozens of interviews and Q&A’s, but finding them is left as an exercise for the reader. BLARGH. This is my bugaboo with audio/video data, but it was especially aggravating here. For starters, he needs to deep link into his own content not just external scientific research.

  2. Thinking Fast & Slow: The one thing I would ask Dave to do, to clarify his thinking, arguments, and approach, would be to read Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast & Slow. He should formulate each Fast & Slow concept as a biohacking and/or Bulletproof as a “law.” Then, he should crib Robert Greene’s format and do a “correct” and “incorrect” application of the “law” as well. That book desperately needs to be written.

  3. Argument on behalf of another: There’s a podcast where he’s asked to argue in favor of Tim Ferriss’ cheat day concept, as defined in the 4 Hour Body book. He devotes nearly ten minutes to the biophysical aspects, but completely misses the motivational and psychological ones. He was clearly versed in the material, but demonstrated a huge blind spot. A fair argument might be levied that he just missed it that one time, or I didn’t understand it, but he consistently views mental performance in terms of cognition and not motivationally. Maybe that’s his point of view on free will showing, but in that case, have Sam Harris on the podcast and be explicit about it.

  4. Don’t try to please everyone: The dog whistler thing really bugs me. They’re specific signals to disparate “health” groups (I.e. Paleo, Ketogenic, Raw Vegan, Biohackers.) I believe that he’s fundamentally honest about his combination of tactics and overarching strategy. He is willing to change his mind. Those characteristics are awesome. Other people, especially those whose views which don’t allow flexibility, are not willing to concede that anyone else might have a functionally correct answer. From their point of view, he is in opposition to them. His current strategy of leaving makers and clues for them to recognize, as a way to preempt their opposing force, and hoping they’ll be unnoticed by those for whom they are not intended, just flat-out irks the hell out of me. I wish there was a variant of this material with either those stances more explicit or removed. I suppose, in the end, this falls into the “I wish groups of people didn’t suck” category. As utterly useless as that is, his material provokes that response too often. That’s on me, and maybe you.

Next Actions

Much of Dave’s recommendations are applicable in isolation, especially if you buy into the “spectrum” model. Many small choices in a better direction feels pretty damn good. Here’s some of the things I’m going to do next, or have found myself doing, almost by accident:

  1. I’m paying more attention to food quality, specifically buying more organic food. I’ve also started applying some of the specific food choice recommendations. I expect this to ramp upward over the next two months as part of a natural progression and inclination.
  2. I’m eating more vegetables. Running around 7 servings a day.
  3. I was already doing Kerry Gold butter. I’m using their unsalted butter now with sea salt as needed.
  4. I’ve changed how I’m cooking. For all of the bitching I did about microwaving, I’ve changed how I’m cooking my eggs and vegetables. I’m going to write more on this as to why this has happened in a separate post. The fact remains that an LONG establish pattern of behavior has changed.
  5. I’m drinking San Pelegrino from glass. It was a stable of my diet for nearly a decade and it feels wonderful to have it back.
  6. I’m going to do a two month course of their Oxaloacetate supplement (https://www.upgradedself.com/products/bulletproof-upgraded-aging-formula) and specifically look for the predicted blood glucose changes over time. This is also some homespun Cognitive Behavior Therapy vis-a-vis a trauma egg discovered issue. Fuck me.
  7. I’m going to carve out a two week block to do the recommended diet plan between now and 6/3/15.

Thinking, Fast & Slow – Irrational Perseverance

The word that comes to me as I reflect on the story of this story is tragedy. There’s so much evidence that a change of course was required – seen and not heeded. There’s a strong parallel between Harvey Smith’s entry into the game industry story and what went wrong. It never occurred to him that people actual made games, yet he played them constantly. Such a strange disconnect. I simply can’t understand it, and frankly neither could he (at the time anyway.)

So, let’s accept that as a blind spot, non-judgmentally. We’ve all got them. That one is his. (A knowledge of one’s blind spot(s) is critical, so many of us don’t think on this at all.)

There’s a similar lesson in Deus Ex:Invisible War and Technosaur. In both cases, external input was set aside and ignored. The “outsider” opinion was rejected out of hand. One did not reject Don Mattrick at EA out of hand, and remain long there. It’s too bad he didn’t have more EA HQ “time”. Maybe that knowledge hadn’t seeped into Origin, but man, how could it not have by then?

The Deus Ex:Invisible War lesson was similar in that he focused on input from a selective (and not representational) group of people instead of as many outside opinions as possible. He gave voice to learning that lesson after the fact, but it’s unclear why it was necessary. Both him and Warren tut-tut’ed on this point, so clearly there was private context not presented.

The parallel remains though. Two dots which ought to have been connected, weren’t. The rationale for why they weren’t connected, outside opinion not taken, is the same. The consequences substantial – art less than what it could have been, and friends fired.

One thing that’s alluded to, but not explicitly communicated, is Warren’s role and awareness. It’s not definitive, but Warren appears to try to take some of the burden of responsibility. Not just in the section about who you should listen too and when, but also in the story about his decision not take the Looking Glass job.

It’s critical that you be in a group with the right people.

You’ll know ’em when you find them.

Both are cliched platitudes, so watered down to be almost useless. At least at the time of Deus Ex, he both knew that was with the right people, and they were in fact the right people.

That’s what makes this story a tragedy.

To have found, and achieved so much. To loose it, and not realize it’s absence. To not have changed, to be still be blind, and crash with such inevitability.

There were so many markers, even in this relatively short discussion that Blacksite:Area 51 wasn’t going to succeed. Sure, I come at this with 20/20 hindsight and years of distance. But there’s this inescapable feeling that I have when I watch him discuss his current project. There’s sense I get from the way of he was presenting. His body language, voice, and words changed subtly. In ways that I recognize, because I’ve done it myself with similar outcomes.

Mirror… Mirror…

Laying off your friends changes you. Being responsible, and not being the river to your people, even if only for a turn of a season, leaves a mark. It also gives you an innate sense – the ability to recognize it in others. Have they? Or have they not yet been the goat? It’s clear he has. On a lesser absolute scale then I, but that’s irrelevant. He clearly felt it and learned from it. His experience was enough for him to learn. (For me, the jury is still out…)

That’s what makes the glaringly obvious issue with Blacksite all the more frustrating. Satire, specifically political satire, is difficult to pull off and has only been done in maybe a handful of games. Trying to pull that off, using current real world events as a foil is just brutally impossible. I can only think of one game ever (Papers, Please) which managed to do it, and even there the world context is obscured.

CoD4’s terror attack on the airport or CoD:BLOPS’s murderous torture scenes aren’t satire. They’re ham-handed attempts at grabbing attention. They’re so over the top, so outside the realm of likelihood, that they aren’t taken as commentary on what is currently happening, or happened. Instead they are a cautionary tale (at best) for what might happen if things are taken to their logical (or extreme) conclusion. Following that train of thought, it’s perfectly reasonable to argue that’s what Blacksite attempted/intended to do.

It failed miserably.

Here’s how you know that you’re doing it wrong. Are you suppressing feedback or opportunities for feedback? If you do that with a core element, with the heart of the thing you’re building, you’re well down the path to failure.

The part that kills me is that the clue is on the Warren’s second slide. “Do not undertake the creation of a bunch of brand-new tech if you are not prepared for the time hit involved.” Not tech – that’s too narrow of focus; “new” is the keyword. In this case, delving into the realm of political satire was the new thing. To do so requires humor, deftness, ridicule, and shame to make it go.

None of those things are “well understood” game concepts, even today. Look, I get how damn hard it is to listen to outside opinions – not only to listen, but to even want to acknowledge that they’re even relevant or desirable. Anyone who’s actually done anything has a variant of this story. Daniel Kahneman’s take on this, from a psychological perspective, is described in Thinking, Fast & Slow, as “irrational perseverance.”

Daniel learned three lessons from his brush with the similar circumstances. First, there are two distinctly different types of forecasting, the inside and outside view. The inside view is the one we’re all familiar with – it’s the estimate based on the perspective of the person actually doing the work. It tends to be the “best-case” scenario because, after all as humans we’re fundamentally optimistic.

How to do deal with that “planning fallacy,” as Daniel calls it, is the second lesson: one should balance all forecasts with both inside and outside views of the project. An example of an outside view is to determine what the base success rate of projects similar to the one we’re working on. In Daniel’s example, the outside view estimate was seven years, with a 40% chance of failure – a far cry from “another year or two” inside view estimate.

That huge gulf leads to the third lesson:

“I was slower to accept the third lesson, which I call irrational perseverance: the folly we displayed that day in failing to abandon the project. Facing a choice, we gave up rationality rather than give up the enterprise.

Excerpt From: Daniel Kahneman. “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” iBooks.

They dealt with the forecast discrepancy the same way that just about every other human on the planet would. They shrugged their shoulders, picked up their shovels, and kept digging. Paying heed, and doing that which should have been done, namely quitting the very day that you realize that you’re not going to achieve your goal within the amount of effort you’re willing to spend… Well that’s just not things that people do.

Not in real life. Not even when we know better. Not in our stories. I can hear Lex Luthor now: “North Ms. Tessmacher! North!”

We willingly throw away good money after bad. Our time and that of others. We trade away all that we have of value, and compel others to do the same. Down the hole in complete and utter denial.

Realizing that we’re doing this is something that people, for whatever reason, just don’t do as a matter of course. We try to prevent it from happening. It’s surprise to us when we do get outside opinions. If such a calamity does befalls us, we do our damnedest to ignore it.

Why do creative endeavors seem to require willful blindness?

I suppose without it, we would not take risks. Without it, we could not shoulder the responsibility necessary. Without it, we would not be free. With it, we are endowed with a superpower – one which allows us, and only us, to predict the the one true future.

Sigh, what madness is that?

That’s the moral to his story for me. That question and the roughest outline of an answer.

Related Posts:

Lecture 1 Warren Spector
Lecture 2 w/Patrica York
Lecture 3 w/Harvey “Witchboy” Smith
Thinking, Fast & Slow – Irrational Perseverance
Lecture 4 w/Hal Barwood
Lecture 7 w/Mike Morhaime