Twitter CEO’s extreme diet is just another example of how we link food to achievement

Let’s talk about Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s eating habits. The 42-year-old tech mogul tweets about them at length, details them in interviews, and waxes enthusiastically over their effects on his productivity and focus.

But as he pulls back more and more of the curtain onto the “wellness” routine that appears to structure much of his day-to-day life, Dorsey’s emergence as something of a health and fitness influencer has made people nervous and, frankly, confused. Can someone even be an “influencer” when they’re already one of the most powerful tech moguls in the world? What does it mean, in a society that values health and getting stuff done, to hear out the dietary advice of a person who is not a medical professional but is possibly among the handful of people on earth best qualified to discover, once and for all, the ultimate productivity hack?

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So, here’s what Jack Dorsey eats. On Sunday through Thursday of each week, Dorsey consumes a single meal between 6:30 and 9:00pm that consists of chicken, fish, or steak, and a salad, spinach, asparagus, or Brussels sprouts. He’ll have berries or dark chocolate for dessert, and maybe some red wine. On Friday and Saturday, as of recently, he eats nothing at all.

“The first time I did it, like day three, I felt like I was hallucinating,” Dorsey told CNBC in an April 8 interview that turned its fair share of heads. “It was a weird state to be in. But as I did it the next two times, it just became so apparent to me how much of our days are centered around meals and how — the experience I had was when I was fasting for much longer, how time really slowed down.”

In addition to fasting so hard that it’s made him basically hallucinate, Dorsey says that he walks five miles to work every day except Tuesdays and Thursdays, when he works from home. On those days, or whenever he can’t squeeze in his walk, he does short HIIT workouts from home.

Because Twitter is the platform where people tend to voice their opinions on random things like the dietary choices of tech billionaires, it was there that Dorsey’s extreme lifestyle became a hot topic. A majority of responses to his CNBC interview were not exactly positive, and some even likened his extreme diet to the restrictive behaviors associated with eating disorders. But plenty of others disagreed with that take. “The responses to Jack Dorsey’s biohacking are remarkable,” remarked a Twitter user with the handle @robwynge. “So I guess everyone else thinks we’re crazy?”

We’re not going to get into labels where it comes to Dorsey’s “biohacking” routine, though a new story from Medium suggests there’s some science to back up the clarity-enhancing benefits of at least parts of Dorsey’s approach. (We’ve talked about ways to try intermittent fasting safely, too.) But when a hugely influential CEO proclaims a “right” way to eat, insofar as peak productivity can be attained, it reinforces a stubborn storyline in our culture’s already-fraught relationship between achievement and food.

While many of us try to eat well and exercise for the sake of feeling good, strong, and healthy, it isn’t hard to fall into the trap of viewing physical wellness as a rating system for our own discipline and control — virtues that we’re taught are valuable, and that will help us reach our goals. Think of how many times you’ve joked to a coworker about how you’re “being naughty” as you go in for a second slice of cake at the company party, or complimented a friend for “being good” about sticking to their workouts.

We use diet and exercise as tools to keep ourselves in top working order, but we also use them as measures of accomplishment and self-worth. Yet, for many of us, linking the basic necessities of life to a sense of work ethic can quickly become a losing game. There are only so many hours in a day, and only so much energy to devote to the project of success. It’s no wonder that for so many people, food and fitness are tied to feelings of shame, guilt, and even failure.

There’s little question that Dorsey’s diet details have the potential to be immensely triggering for people recovering from eating disorders — that criticism is valid and fair. But they also threaten to diminish the real joy that can be had from being active and eating well, which transcends metrics of achievement.

We don’t just eat to stay alive and be productive; we eat to experience pleasure, to celebrate culture, and to nurture connections with family and friends. We also don’t just make food and fitness choices based on their effects on our waistlines or our output, but because they improve our quality of life as a whole. Eating well and being active sustains our physical and mental wellbeing, such that we’re able to meet each new day with the energy to uncover its possibility.

When the basic tools of sustenance become targets to either get right or wrong, they can feel like chores of adulting — as if we didn’t already have enough of those, in the first place. For some of us, the trade-off between peak productivity and everyday enjoyments will never feel worth it, and that’s totally okay. The best things in life aren’t always the ones that are easiest to measure.

This article originally appeared on Brit and Co.

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