Food Quackery

Published on December 27th, 2014 | by Rayne


The Bulletproof Diet: Butter in the coffee of people who don’t want to exercise

The Bulletproof Diet. I came across this new nasty tasty diet fad recently via a friend of my wife’s. The Bulletproof Diet is like the lovechild of gullibility, laziness and pseudoscience wrapped up in a package designed for insecure scientifically illiterate people who want an easy way to lose weight without having to do any work.

The basics of the Bulletproof Diet combines cherry picked studies that are misinterpreted by the creator of the diet with doing unspeakable things to your morning cup of coffee. The diet itself consists of 14 steps for following the diet that ultimately results in eliminating easily accessible food in favour of expensive products sold off said creators website.

Diet fad creator Dave Asprey was a former Silicon Valley investor and self-proclaimed “Biohacker” with no nutritional based qualifications,  who – like many diet fad creators before him – found the “secret” to weight loss because apparently eating more vegetables and fruit and exercising regularly is fucking hard. The story goes that he found the “secret” to weight loss after hiking in Tibet where he realised drinking a hot drink in a cold environment kicked arse. After investing a lot money into research, the result was a bag of coffee beans with his diet fad’s name on it and a recipe for a cup of coffee using butter instead of milk. There is also a 14 step guide to a change in diet which as previously mentioned means eliminating a lot of food. He provides proof of the diet’s abilities by claiming to have “upgraded his brain by >20 IQ points, lowered his biological age, and lost 100 lbs without using calories or exercise” (source).

For the record, coffee with butter in it is fucking gross. For the sake of science and this blog I tried it and it fucking sucks. It just sucks. I cannot emphasis how hard it sucks. It tastes like my arse gave birth to my feet and my feet then stopped showering for a week.

Has does the Bulletproof Diet work?
From the article “The Cult of Bulletproof Coffee“: 
“The recipe — a riff on the yak butter tea Mr. Asprey found restorative while hiking in Tibet — calls for low-mold coffee beans; at least two tablespoons of unsalted butter (grass-fed, which is higher in Omega 3s and vitamins); and one to two tablespoons of medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil, a type of easily digestible fat. Mr. Asprey claims having the 450-plus-calorie cup of coffee instead of breakfast suppresses hunger, promotes weight loss and provides mental clarity.

“It’s a gateway drug for taking control of your own biology,” said the well-caffeinated Mr. Asprey. Consider the strength of the addiction: At a three-day Bulletproof conference in Pasadena, Calif., in September, 200 pounds of Kerrygold butter wasn’t enough for the 500 attendees. There was also a run on unsalted grass-fed butter at the nearest Whole Foods” (source).

From Dave Aspreys website: “I learned about the power of butter at 18,000 feet of elevation near Mt. Kailash in Tibet.  I staggered into a guest house from the -10 degree weather and was literally rejuvenated by a creamy cup of yak butter tea. The biohacker in me asked, “why?” and after a couple years of careful research, that was the genesis of the recipe below, which is today, used by Billboard recording artists before they go on stage, world champion athletes, and some of the world’s top executives, because it has a massive impact on cognitive function”

Bold is my emphasis – I think I know the reason Dave was “literally rejuvenated” by a hot beverage – it was fucking cold where he was located and hot beverages -shock horror- make you feel warm and good when you’re cold. The diet is meant to be an updated version of the debunked Paleo diet. It promises to give you abs with no exercise by eating 4,000+ KCal per day and sleeping 5 hours per night.

The claims of the Bulletproof Diet:
So, I use the lowest toxin, highest performance coffee there is (I know, because I created it and tested it!) I brew it, and then I blend unsalted, grass-fed butter into it, along with an extract of coconut oil that improves brain energy” (source).
Grass-fed butter is much healthier than other butter” (source).
Starting your day with grass-fed butter will give you lots of energy and it will give your body healthy fats that it will use to make cell walls and hormones” (source).
You will experience one of the best mornings of your life, with boundless energy and focus” (source). – Authors note: We call this “preparing your audience for a placebo effect.

Try as I might, I can’t find any research on the website about how adding butter to your coffee actually loses weight or does any of the things the website claims adding butter to your coffee does except a few unclear paragraphs about high fat breakfast substitutes. I can however find the following red flags of pseudoscience:

1.  Testimonials: They are definitely on the website.
2. “Helps your body“: Increases cognitive function, increase brain function, makes you feel fantastic, makes you strong and smarter. Definitely on the website.
3. Ancient wisdom: Dave Asprey apparently found the “secret” to weight loss while in Tibet.
4. Secret conspiracy:  The website claims Dave found the “secret” to weight loss “from private brain EEG facilities hidden in a Canadian forest to remote monasteries in Tibet” (source). Where? A private brain EEG facility in the Canadian forest? Excuse me, I can’t think over the sound of my bullshit detector screaming at me. An EEG (electroencephalogram) is a medical test used to measure the electrical activity of the brain (source). It is used in every hospital as a diagnostic tool for medical issues, how this relates to losing weight is beyond me and why did he need to go to a “hidden facility” in the Canadian forest? Why not go to a hospital? and what exactly is a private brain EEG facility?
5. “Buy my book“: You can buy Dave’s book and specially branded coffee from his website.
6. Miracle cure-all: “Dave lost 100 pounds without counting calories or excessive exercise, used techniques to upgrade his brain by more than 20 IQ points, and lowered his biological age while learning to sleep more efficiently in less time” (source). Also apparently his Bulletproof Unfair Advantage supplement will “rebuild mitochondria” despite no scientific evidence of its ability to do so. If the supplements could do that, shouldn’t he be giving them to people with mitochondrial diseases?
7. Natural: The diet consist of the buzzwords “organic”, “natural”, and “toxins”.
8. Toxins: See above.

The diet itself:
To become Bulletproof, according to the website (“reclaiming energy and focus” and “upgrading your life”) you need to eliminate your intake of gluten, various grains, dairy, brown rice, and sugar, stop eating legumes, and eliminate nearly all fruit (not completely but drastically reduce your intake) because it’s basically on the same level as junk food. Eating raw or barely cooked organic vegetables and no more than two servings of organic fruit and excessive amounts of grass fed protein makes up the rest of the diet. According to AspreyTarget 50-60% of calories from healthy fats, 20% from protein, and the rest from vegetables” (source) except the studies he uses as evidence to back up his assertions have either been debunked, misinterpreted or are of poor quality.

The vox article “The Bulletproof Diet is everything wrong with eating in America” goes into more detail about the failings of the Bulletproof diet, same goes for the New York Times “The Cult of the Bulletproof Coffee Diet“.  If you download the Bulletproof Diet roadmap pdf, you’ll find that Asprey ranks foods from “toxic” to Bulletproof with -not surprisingly- his own brand of food to be at the top of the list which is another red flag. Nowhere on the Bulletproof website are studies conducted on the efficiency and safety of the diet itself – you’d think for a guy who invested thousands of dollars into researching and designing the diet, he would sink a few more dollars into high quality studies to give supporting evidence the diet does what he says it does.

As mentioned previously, one of the claims of the diet is to get abs by no exercise. Basically drink coffee and the weight will fall off and somehow tighten your abdominal muscles in a way that will make even lesbians drool. Asprey makes this claims on the following blog entry: “Photo: Abs After 2 Years of 4500 Calories & No Exercise“.

The photo in this post is taken under these conditions:

  • I have slept less than 5 hours per night on average for 2 continuous years, on purpose, because I am busy.
  • I took the photo after I landed, following 20 hours in transit from Victoria, BC to the Philippines, by way of Narita, Japan, with no sleep along the way. The Crowne Plaza bathtub is behind me!
  • My grand total exercise in the last 2 years is 4 soft yoga classes completed 6 months ago, plus two five-minute kettelbell swing sessions two weeks before the photo. That’s it.
  • I have eaten between 4,000 and 4,500 calories per day on average of The Bulletproof Diet for 2 years
  • I used to weigh 300 lbs when I was obese

One commenter on the blog takes issue with this statement:

“Donna Clements: are you kidding me? Those are your abs WITHOUT exercise? How in the world can that be so
Dave Asprey: I am entirely serious. It’s because I stack mTOR by using coffee with Bulletproof Intermittent fasting. mTOR builds muscle.”

mTOR (mechanistic target of rapamycin) is a protein that regulates cell growth, cell proliferation, cell motility, cell survival, protein synthesis, and monitors nutrient availability, cellular energy levels and oxygen levels among other functions (source). I guess Dave forgot to mention that caffeine inhibits mTOR function not increases it.

Grass fed butter:
Asprey also claims that the use of grass-fed butter in your coffee (made with his special coffee beans) is a “catalyst” towards having more energy, losing weight and gaining muscle. To quote his website: “It’s no secret that grass-fed butter is one of the most Bulletproof foods you can eat. It’s high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and healthy fats. It makes anything taste good, and it turns coffee into a delicious milkshake. Butter is so magical it deserved an infographic“.

Grass fed butter, oh the imagery. How on earth does that work? Well I would assume you’re not actually feeding the butter grass but feeding grass to the cow that gave you the milk the butter is made from. I thought Dave wanted us to cut dairy from our diets? Dave likes Kerrygold grass fed butter despite it not being organic, he says he doesn’t want his hard-earned money to go towards GMOs (except in the case of Kerrygold Butter_. I wonder if he gets a cut of the profits? Sounds a bit like Food Babe tactics.

Just plain laughable woo:
This is my favourite: “You can use light to affect your mitochondrial function.  Just hold a red LED light to the place where you want a boost – your stomach, a sore muscle, or up your nose if you want to bump up your brain — for a few minutes, and you will experience more mitochondrial activity, meaning more cellular energy and better cellular communication” (source).

I have no words for the above quote.

If the amount of testimonials on Dave’s website is any indication – quite a few people believe that Bulletproof coffee is a magic cure-all to improving their life and losing weight without having to do any work. Having a closer look at Dave’s blog, there are many comments from people who are dissatisfied with his diet plan which is no surprise because a high fat diet with utterly no exercise is not going to shift fat.

For those who have noticed improvements, following the diet means restricting carb intake, which results in less calories and consuming a high fat breakfast but nothing for the rest of the morning. If you have reduced the stress in your life and followed the steps about relaxation, of course you’re going to find differences in your weight and energy levels. You’re drinking caffeine which makes you alert and starving your body by restricting calories, this does not mean you’re actually eating healthy.

Losing weight isn’t hard. Find a good dietician and a personal trainer. Walk more, join a gym. Talk to your doctor about finding a qualified professional to create an exercise plan suited to your needs. Don’t buy into scam products and snakeoil salesmen marketed to those who don’t want to have to do any work. Snakeoil salesman are able to continue selling their crap and peddling their woo because they prey on people who want quick fixes to life’s problems. Staying fit and healthy takes work that you need to be prepared to do.

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5 Responses to The Bulletproof Diet: Butter in the coffee of people who don’t want to exercise

  1. Pingback: » Food Babe: A different kind of smart

  2. The Old Wolf says:

    I never cease to be amazed at how much garbage there is out there, largely proliferated by the curse of affiliate marketing. Wonderful article. A recent pamphlet for a homeopathic product that crossed my desk recently claims to melt fat off your bones if you take these drops (two kinds, each at $75.00 per bottle) at each meal. Oh, and also exercise regularly and consume a 1250-calorie diet.

    Given the average caloric intake of 2,000 KCal for a female, a 1250-calorie diet will result in consistent weight loss, especially when combined with water intake and regular exercise. This weight loss will occur whether or not the user:

    * takes homeopathic drops
    * sings an aria from “Aida”
    * stands on her head and spits nickels, or
    * eats a spoonful of portland cement with each meal.

    The head just spins.

  3. Alexandra Geneve says:

    Thanks for this article and the one where you design your own fad diet. I am a high school English teacher and I have been thinking of ways to engage my students at the very beginning of hate school year, all the while giving them an intro into critical thinking. I am going to get them to design their own fad diet using all the examples you have outlined. And I will use the Bullet-Proof Diet and its website as an example. What fun!

  4. fungaai says:

    I drink multiple bullet-proof coffees a day. Just because you don’t like it, doesn’t mean it is bad for one. Like brussel sprouts or anything else. I follow the Banting Diet and I am happy, more energised than ever before. And yes, I work out 6 days a week. I use it as a tool and in my diet as butter and coconut oil have no carbs in them at all (or very little).

    Honestly, I have not bothered reading further on the Bullet-proof website at all, once I learned to make it myself. (Yes, the recipe is there. FOR FREE)

    The principle behind fats being better (and more natural) for us as fuel than carbohydrates I find to be valid. People are fat because they eat too much sugar and processed carbs. Sugar (in many guises) is in almost everything these days. And if one is carbohydrate resistant, you are screwed from the start.

    Anyways, I understand there is a lot of hype around all this shit these days. That is my 2 cents contribution. Everyone has to find their own way. We all know that exercise and veggies are healthy. What we are NOT told when people talk about calories in/calories out, is that the amount of calories from a coke DOES NOT EQUAL the SAME AMOUNT of calories from healthy meat, veggies or fruit. Energetically it might, but the effects of such a lot of sugar hitting your liver all at once has a profoundly different effect on the whole process of how your body deals with it as opposed to eating fruit with all the fibre included that takes longer to digest and requires more energy to process.

    Another 2 cent. 😛

  5. Adam says:

    Loved your post here as I totally get off on debunkery, butter coffee sounds disgusting.

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