Biohacking diets

September 2, 2019

What happened?

In search of a long and healthy life, fasting has gained a lot of attention over the past year. Two types of fasting are becoming increasingly popular among conscious consumers: caloric restriction and intermittent fasting. The first is a diet that restricts the average daily intake of food to below what is common. Intermittent fasting means changing the timing of eating to have longer periods without food than just nights. In many studies, these types of fasting have shown to delay the onset of age-related disorders and, in some studies, extended lifespan. The idea is that bringing the body into starvation state prompts cells to consume accumulated cellular garbage before unleashing a surge of regeneration. This caused the fasting hype in Silicon Valley.

What does this mean?

Globally, we are living longer. Gerontology research is looking to further extend our lifespan by building new classes of therapy to repair and reverse the known root causes of aging. However, until then, a lot of attention will go to a fundamental part of our lifestyle that affects our age: our diet. Poor diet is a factor in one in five deaths and diet is the second highest risk factor for early death after smoking. While dieting was previously mostly associated with losing weight by, for instance, eating less sugar, fat or fewer carbs, this “new” class of fasting diets focuses on “hacking” our cells. Food, or the act of eating less food, becomes a way to biohack oneself. Similarly, we are looking for ways to create personalized diets based on our DNA to live a longer and healthier life.

What's next?

In search of the fountain of youth, we are willing to buy into the promises made by the “scientific” (expensive) fasting diets that are offered to us commercially. Multiple companies are already offering caloric restriction kits and personalized diet meal plans. But research is still in the early stages, and we have only made the first steps towards developing new treatments to cure aging and to find a personalized diet to stay healthy. Also, as more and more claims are attached to our diet, choosing what food to eat becomes an increasingly complex task, strengthening our wish to outsource it to experts (nutritionists, doctors, biotechnologists).

Series 'AI Metaphors'

1. The Tool
Category: Objects
Humans shape tools.

We make them part of our body while we melt their essence with our intentions. They require some finesse to use but they never fool us or trick us. Humans use tools, tools never use humans.

We are the masters determining their course, integrating them gracefully into the minutiae of our everyday lives. Immovable and unyielding, they remain reliant on our guidance, devoid of desire and intent, they remain exactly where we leave them, their functionality unchanging over time.

We retain the ultimate authority, able to discard them at will or, in today's context, simply power them down. Though they may occasionally foster irritation, largely they stand steadfast, loyal allies in our daily toils.

Thus we place our faith in tools, acknowledging that they are mere reflections of our own capabilities. In them, there is no entity to venerate or fault but ourselves, for they are but inert extensions of our own being, inanimate and steadfast, awaiting our command.
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2. The Machine
Category: Objects
Unlike a mere tool, the machine does not need the guidance of our hand, operating autonomously through its intricate network of gears and wheels. It achieves feats of motion that surpass the wildest human imaginations, harboring a power reminiscent of a cavalry of horses. Though it demands maintenance to replace broken parts and fix malfunctions, it mostly acts independently, allowing us to retreat and become mere observers to its diligent performance. We interact with it through buttons and handles, guiding its operations with minor adjustments and feedback as it works tirelessly. Embodying relentless purpose, laboring in a cycle of infinite repetition, the machine is a testament to human ingenuity manifested in metal and motion.
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About the author(s)

Researcher Julia Rijssenbeek focuses on our relationship to nature, sustainable and technological transitions in the food system, and the geopolitics of our global food sytems. She is currently working on her PhD in philosophy of technology at Wageningen University, investigating how synthetic biology might alter philosophical ideas about nature and the values we hold, as well as what a bio-based future may bring.

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