Imagine a world where you could get more energy with less sleep, a stronger brain by eating more fat and a smaller waist when you stop counting calories.
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Dave Asprey, founder of Bulletproof Coffee and host of Bulletproof Radio, once weighed more than 300 pounds. When a strict diet and exercise regimen failed to help him lose any weight, he spent two decades and more than $1 million manipulating his own biology to uncover techniques to improve his health and mental performance — a process he now calls “biohacking.”
In his new book “Head Strong,” Asprey teaches readers simple lifestyle modifications, or hacks, to improve their brain function, boost their mood and live a more productive life.
We caught up with Asprey to discuss his personal journey and learn a few biohacks for getting efficient sleep, cutting stress and achieving mental clarity.
How Dave Asprey Lost More Than 100 Pounds
LIVESTRONG.COM: You made a huge transformation, and at one point you were 300 pounds. What was the moment in your life that was the catalyst for you to make such a drastic transition and start hacking your body?
DAVE ASPREY: I had two knee surgeries in my very early 20s because I was obese and had chronic inflammation — and the second surgery was so bad. They put a screw in there, and it was just months of pain. After that, I resolved with every ounce of energy that I was going to lose the weight and get strong.
So I went to the gym six days a week for an hour-and-a-half a day. I did this for 18 months. I cut my calories to about 1,800 calories a day. I ate a low-fat diet with lots of beans and whole grains and all that other stuff that causes inflammation that I had been told was healthy.
At the end of this period, I was stronger than all of my friends, but I was still 300 pounds. I didn’t lose any fat at all. I was so frustrated. And I just thought that maybe it wasn’t a lack of effort. Maybe it wasn’t a moral failing. Maybe I was just doing something that doesn’t work.
How to Embrace Failure
LS: How do you handle failure?
DA: I actually do an exercise with my kids every night. Every night I say to them, “Tell me three things you’re grateful for today.”
The second part of the exercise is, “Tell me about a win.” And a win is something that you worked hard on that you wanted to happen that you achieved.
Then a big one: I go, “Tell me about a fail today.” And a fail is something that you worked on that you didn’t achieve. And if they say, “I didn’t fail at anything today,” I put on the sad face, and I go, “Aw, today wasn’t a very good day, was it? Maybe tomorrow, you can find something so challenging that you won’t know how to do it and you’ll have a chance to fail.”
How to Biohack
LS: What does it mean to biohack?
DA: The definition, after talking with a bunch of people, is that it’s the art and science of changing the environment around you and inside of you, so that you have full control of your own biology. Your body listens to the environment outside of you more than it listens to you.
Eating More of the Right Fats
LS: How much fat should we eat in a day?
DA: If we’re talking about canola oil, cottonseed oil, safflower oil, corn oil — all the typical seed oils or margarine — then the answer is zero grams of fat is the right amount of fat to have everyday.
If we’re talking about the right fats, which include butter, coconut oil, avocados, egg yolks, grass-fed meat and things like that, then the answer is: It depends on how many vegetables you’re eating. If you’re not eating enough vegetables, the fats will escort toxins across the gut.
I would say you want to have between 50 and maybe 80 percent of your calories from fat. But if you cover a plate with vegetables that have almost no calories, that means that you soak them in butter and cover them in guacamole and throw in a couple pieces of bacon when you’re done, and you’re probably in good shape.
LS: Are there any shortcuts, or do we need to educate ourselves on all these different types of fats and what performs best with those fats?
DA: I’ll gift the shortcut to everyone. Check out the Bulletproof Diet Roadmap. This is a one-page document that breaks down every type of food — including fats — into three categories: Bulletproof, kryptonite foods and suspect foods.
When you get enough of the right fats and you don’t do the stuff that slows down your biology, you’re actually a nicer person.
LS: What is Bulletproof Coffee?
DA: Bulletproof Coffee combines our lab-tested coffee beans, which don’t contain the toxins in coffee that cause jitters and crankiness that come from the fermentation process, with Brain Octane Oil. Brain Octane Oil is the proprietary product of Bulletproof Coffee. It’s much stronger than MCT oil or coconut oil, and what it does is increase ketones. You drink Bulletproof Coffee and your ketone levels go up, and then you’re not hungry.
How to Sleep Efficiently
LS: How do we sleep efficiently in less time?
DA: One of the things that has been the most transformative for me is called TrueDark glasses. You wear them for an hour before bed, and they filter out every spectrum of light that tells your brain that it’s still daytime. So even if you have your screens on or if you have a light on in the bathroom, those interrupt your sleep efficiency.
Since I started doing that, I can get twice the deep sleep every night in the same amount of time. It’s totally transformed my sleep. You can find those at biohacked.com.
How to De-Stress
LS: How can we not allow stress to control our decisions?
DA: One suggestion is heart rate variability training. The fastest way I know of to do this is to hook up a sensor to your phone, clip it onto your ear and then doing breathing exercises while attempting to turn the light on the iPhone green.
When you change the spacing between your heartbeats, it immediately takes your body out of fight-or-flight and puts you into rest-and-recover mode. You can’t have an angry, scared voice in your head when you’re in rest-and-recover mode.
If you don’t have a sensor, do the thing I do with my kids every night. Find three things you’re grateful for and write them down. You can’t be grateful and anxious at the same time. It’s just not possible. We’re not wired that way. So cultivate gratitude.
The Best Snacks for Brainpower
LS: What are your favorite healthy snacks for ultimate brainpower that you eat every day?
DA: I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but Bulletproof Coffee. The reason is that Brain Octane Oil in Bulletproof Coffee gives you ketones, which directly influence the brain. Parts of the brain want those more than anything else.
Number two: anything with polyphenols. And it turns out the big sources of polyphenols in our lives are coffee, tea, green tea, dark chocolate and herbs and spices. So crust your steak with oregano, rosemary, turmeric and stuff like that and you’ll actually have a better-functioning brain.
On the 3 Healthy Habits That Make the Biggest Difference
LS: What are the three things you do every day that have the biggest impact on your health?
DA: One of the most important things I do is when I sleep, I sleep seriously. If you’re not doing that, you are not going to like how you feel. This is so critically important.
The next thing I do that sounds easy is: Don’t do things that make you weak. When I sit down, I don’t eat fried food. I don’t eat foods that I know are going to give me a muffin top or slow me down. So I really carefully choose what I do so that I have less stuff slowing me down. What if you just stop taking the stupid drugs instead of taking the smart drugs?
And the final thing is gratitude. If you can just find something to be grateful for every single time you feel angry, upset or like a failure, find gratitude and it erases those emotions that weren’t serving you anyway.
*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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