Wednesday 21 February 2018

Want to lose a few pounds? Drop the diet and bio-hack your body instead

Katie Byrne
Katie Byrne
John Lewis gender neutral clothes
Katie Byrne

Katie Byrne

After years of venture-capital schmoozing, elevator pitching and product evangelising, Silicon Valley techies tend to develop a technologically advanced capacity for hyperbole and hogwash.

They aren't just building another app. No, no, no - they are "changing the world". They aren't just piling a few bean bags into the corner of a break-out area and decorating the walls with 'Be Awesome' motivational maxims. They are, in fact, "reinventing corporate culture".

It's much the same with health and fitness. Silicon Valley-ites wouldn't even contemplate something as primitive as eating less and exercising more in order to lose weight. Instead, they are "disrupting the industry" and ushering in the wellness 2.0 movement with wearable gadgets, scientific-sounding buzz words and endless data. (You'll still need to eat less and exercise more, though.)

You've probably heard of intermittent fasting. It's an increasingly popular, evidence-based food abstinence practice that promotes health and longevity. Only they don't call it intermittent fasting in Silicon Valley. They call it 'bio-hacking', which sounds more like a bizarre military experiment or a secret biological shortcut that you only discover when you have high-speed broadband.

Of course, that's the smoke and mirrors effect of the word 'hack'. It makes gullible people believe they can pop the bonnet, or tinker with the fuse board, of their own bodies, when really they've just been click-baited into reading an article on irritable bowel syndrome.

Bio-hacking makes fasting seem pioneering and cutting edge but it's a little bit like those straight-to-DVD 1980s movies in which a bespectacled techie announces he is "hacking into the mainframe". It sounded exciting and ingenious but, upon closer examination, it didn't actually mean anything at all.

Bio-hackers have added glucose monitors, ketone testing and all sorts of bells and whistles to the practice of fasting, but it's important to note that their research is built upon an ancient spiritual practice that is as old as Methuselah - or at least as old as Hippocrates, who was an early advocate of the discipline.

Likewise, the idea of measuring the metabolic state of ketosis, which is the raison d'etre of the bio-hacker, is nothing new. Former Atkins diet enthusiasts will remember that ketone testing was part of the "induction phase" of the low-carb programme. However, Atkins disciples didn't use cutting edge smartphone apps and high-tech gadgets. They used no-nonsense, colour-coded urine strips, which will still do the job if you're too busy to turn your bathroom into a laboratory.

The Atkins diet was soon supplanted by the Dukan diet which, in turn, was superseded by the South Beach diet. These best-selling books were, to all intents and purposes, low/no carb diets yet they were all billed as 'the next big thing'. Similarly, just as kimchi became the new kale, the 5:2 diet gave way to the 16:8 diet. Both diets will more than likely be outmoded by the bio-hacking movement. Indeed, we can probably expect a book called The Bio-hacking Revolution to arrive on bookshelves in January 2018.

All new diets are billed as revolutionary, but the truth is they are almost always reinvented and repurposed for a lucrative market of consumers who embrace fitness fads in the same way they follow fashion trends.

And now that we've all put our Nutribullets into retirement and squeezed out the last green juice of the clean eating trend, there is a chia seed-shaped gap in the market for a new diet trend to emerge.

A liberal lack of gender

John Lewis recently became the first British retailer to remove gender labels from its children's clothing, explaining that they "do not want to reinforce gender stereotypes".

The move has, for the most part, been praised as progressive, with many parents taking to social media to thank the retailer for making the decision.

The question that remains, however, is whether John Lewis believes they can tackle gender stereotyping with a one-size-fits-all strategy.

Look behind the window dressing of Au Courant unisex fashion labels and gender-fluid models and you'll notice that the shopping experience in most major department stores is stringently - and sometimes stealthily - gender-specific.

There is an old adage in retail that "men buy and women shop". In other words, men generally walk into a shop on a mission. They know what they want to buy and, ball park, how much they are going to spend. Women, meanwhile, can walk into a shop to ogle, covet and dream.

Visual merchandising, which recognises that men and women exhibit different buying behaviour, is designed accordingly.

They know men don't want to be overwhelmed with choice, so they place fewer items under the glass display cases in the men's section.

Likewise, they know women can't have enough choice, so they position couches outside the ladies dressing rooms for their weary partners to sit down and thousand-yard stare into the distance.

For good or bad, gender stereotyping is entrenched in every industry, not just retail. However, businesses that try to tackle it ought to remember that systemic overhaul means much more than a paying lip service to modern liberalism.

Irish Independent

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