Anyone who has spent time around the Bay Area quickly learns that Silicon Valley isn’t Hollywood. We aren’t famous for our beautiful, glamorous people. Nobody ever said to themselves: “I wish I could have a Silicon Valley body, like Reid Hoffman has.” Which is why it’s so bizarre to me that a Google search for “Silicon Valley diet” comes up with over 11 million results.
It seems that the wealth generated in Silicon Valley in recent years has become such a big part of the popular imagination, people are now trying to eat like Silicon Valley executives to see if some of their money-making genius can rub off. “You are what you eat,” indeed.
There’s a pretty big difference between writing about Hollywood diets and writing about Silicon Valley diets. A very unscientific data scraping semantic analysis of articles on Hollywood diets showed me that one of the most popular words in those articles was “thin.” Meanwhile, one of the most popular words in articles on the Silicon Valley diet was “energy”, as in “energy to pull off a 12 hour coding binge and still present my deck to three straight VC’s tomorrow.” The difference in priorities is readily apparent.
I’ve tried a few of these Silicon Valley diets, and the results have been… interesting. Here’s a brief review of three fad diets sweeping our humble Bay and providing us all with that extra bit of “energy.” As a lifelong glutton, I’m reviewing these diets mainly on how happy they make my mouth and stomach, while giving passing attention to their effects on my “energy” and “focus” (which have certainly never been as much of a personal priority as food has been).
The Keto Diet
Some people call the Keto Diet “Atkins on steroids.” I just call it the “how I ate when I was a kid, and again now that I get free food at work” diet.
See, growing up in a northern Chinese family, I ate pork belly pretty regularly. While hipsters and foodies are just now learning about the most delicious (and fattiest) part of a pig, I grew up with pork belly as a major component of many of my favorite dishes. I also had a weird aversion to rice as a child (still not a big fan of it), so my ideal meal as a child consisted of a few nice slabs of pork belly and a bunch of vegetables. My parents were awesome enough to indulge my pork belly obsession, regularly cooking up the fatty deliciousness, and between the no carbs, plenty of fatty meat and lots of fresh vegetables, I accidentally stumbled onto keto.
Now that I’m a grown up, I’ve learned to be responsible and cook my own balanced meals. Just kidding! I work at a tech company in Silicon Valley, where I get my meals for free. And for whatever reason, Silicon Valley tech companies like to go easy on the carbs and heavy on the proteins and veggies. Perhaps they’ve read the research on how keto boosts energy? Or perhaps they’re just able to buy their meat and veggies in bulk? After reading article after article about the Keto Diet in Silicon Valley, I’m convinced that it’s all a conspiracy by tech companies to convince their employees that what they’re feeding us is an ideal diet. But hey, I’m not complaining. Bring on the pork belly and salmon!
Silicon Valley folks who swear by intermittent fasting like to talk about it as if it’s some amazing new discovery. They talk about how focused and productive it makes them, and how the hunger goes away after a little while. They carefully plan exactly how long they should fast, and even use apps to track when they’re “allowed” to have meals. They do all this without realizing that two of the world’s most ancient religions have incorporated fasting into their practices for centuries. In fact, my introduction to intermittent fasting came from a Muslim roommate who asked if I wanted to try fasting for a day during Ramadan. And honestly, intermittent fasting is kind of fun — so much so that I now regularly mix it in when I get the chance. Bored on a random Sunday? Fast until sundown and then gorge myself!
I know what you’re thinking — I must be a masochist or a self obsessed body Nazi if I’m saying that intermittent fasting is fun. But that’s not it at all. The fasting isn’t the fun part. Breaking the fast is! After a day of fasting, food just tastes so much… better. It’s kind of like how tantric sex makes sex better: delaying the gratification, letting the anticipation build, fantasizing and craving. And yes, I do find that I feel more energized and focused during and after the fast, but for me it’s still about finally gorging on a burger after it’s all done. Pretty sure no one has described the benefits of intermittent fasting in terms of “it makes food taste better,” but for a self indulgent glutton like me that’s the best reason to try it. Try intermittent fasting for a day, fantasize about a burger for a whole day, and then head to umami burger and inhale that deliciousness whole. You’ll thank me when that burger tastes better than any other food you’ve ever had. Totally worth it to have the entire restaurant stares at you like you were raised by wolves.
Ah… Soylent. I tried Soylent once. It was food, I guess? I had soy growing up in a Chinese family, but never soy quite like this. The soy I had was always stir fried in tofu form with a healthy helping of meat, or wrapped around meat, or made into a sauce and smothered over meat. All of those meat and soy combination dishes were much more appetizing than Soylent. That being said, it seems like Soylent contains all the nutrients needed for a healthy lifestyle, while being low in calories. When I chugged a Soylent, I still felt hungry — not because I didn’t have enough nutrients, but because it didn’t have enough flavor. Soylent’s motto is “Let us take a few things off your plate,” but it’s a bit more like taking everything delicious and wonderful off my plate. I say put some soy on the plate, sure, but also some meat and veggies and maybe even a few carbs and stir fry it all together, or grill it, or bake it, or make something more awesome than slush out of it. Even after a day of intermittent fasting, I simply don’t think I’d find Soylent appetizing.
In the end, what do I recommend? Silicon Valley is full of amazing restaurants from cuisines all over the world: Indian, Latino, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Middle Eastern. In fact, in future articles I’ll be writing about a lot of the amazing food we have down here. As far as these diets go, the only one I truly enjoy is intermittent fasting, and even then only because it makes food taste better when I eat it. My recommendation: food is awesome, we have a lot of it here in Silicon Valley, mix in some intermittent fasting and then go out and enjoy some food!
*** Final Note ***
What do you think of these diets? Feel free to comment and share your thoughts below. This article is dedicated to my friends at Flow House Coliving. They run a stellar set of homes made for cohabitating with some of the most amazing individuals from all over the world. From software engineers, to researchers, fortune 500 counterparts, startup founders, interns, directors, PhD candidates, post-docs, designers, investors and more… Flow House Coliving is a new way of common living created for those on a mission to get things done in Silicon Valley and meet amazing people along the way. Check it out: https://www.flow.house/coliving