Who is Chris Kresser? According to the preface of his 2013 book Your Personal Paleo Code (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2013), he is someone who has been deeply moved by his own experience with “serious, disabling health problems that modern medicine seemed to have no solution for.” (x) This personal tribulation led him to seek out “science, wisdom, and trial and error to health himself, and due to that experience, he decided to pursue integrative medicine.” (x) His articulations are to be found on his highly successful website, and he has a “thriving” private practice. One cannot visit his website without passing through several layers of pop-up invitations to join his list-serv (and receive in one’s email inbox paleo recipes tailored to you).
Your Personal Paleo Code is dedicated to “all who struggle with chronic illness: may this book be a catalyst for healing and self-discovery.”
Its sub-title is “The 3-Step Plan to Lose Weight, Reverse Disease, and Stay Fit and Healthy for Life.”
Who are the clients who fill the rosters at Chris’ private practice? Based upon his in-text anecdotes, often they seem to be people who are at the brink of frustration with the lack of total results they see from their already dialed-in habits.
One example, from Your Personal Paleo Code (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2013):
“Jen, twenty-eight, came to see me complaining of difficulty reaching her target weight. She had started a Paleo diet nine months prior to our visit, and she lost twenty-five pounds — almost all of the thirty pounds she wanted to lose — over the first five months. But no matter what dietary modifications she made, Jen couldn’t lose those final five pounds. ‘It’s so frustrating,’ Jen told me. ‘I’m eating perfectly and exercising every day, but nothing changes. I’m completely stuck.”
I reviewed Jen’s case history, and I noticed she had a habit of staying up until midnight or later. She often used her laptop or iPad at night to check e-mail or chat with her friends on Facebook. She woke up frequently through the night and sometimes had trouble falling back asleep. And though she was often in bed for eight hours, she woke up feeling unrefreshed. I suggested to Jen that inadequate sleep and too much exposure to artificial light at night might be disrupting her metabolism and preventing her from losing those last five pounds. I suggested she try:
- Getting to bed by ten or ten thirty each night
- Stopping electronic media use at least two (and preferably three) hours before bedtime
- Wearing orange glasses that filter out melatonin-suppressing blue light after dark (see below for more on this)
- Making her sleep environment pitch-dark, cool, quiet, and free of electronic devices (Jen had a habit of leaving her phone on the nightstand)
- Getting exposure to natural light first thing in the morning by taking a fifteen- to twenty-minute walk outside
After making these simple changes, Jen found the quality of her sleep improved dramatically, and she was finally able to lose those last five pounds. ‘I have so much more energy when I wake up,’ she reported, ‘and I feel much calmer throughout the day. But the best part is that I don’t feel hungry all the time anymore, and I’ve lost the extra weight without even trying.'” (231)
Connections between healthy habits (often with a veneer of “naturalism”) and the ability to maintain as low a weight as possible are frequently made in this book, and often are the first clause of a list which trails ailments which fit more readily into the category of “chronic disease”: how sleep disruption is a metabolic stressor (230, 231), how stress leads to weight gain (244-245))
Despite an emphasis on simulating the healthful conditions of our paleolithic ancestors, Kresser’s advice is well-suited for those whose lifestyle modifications are likely to be accompanied by purchases of various kinds, be it a change in grocery shopping habits or neat little tools for amping up one’s office strength training routine: “The idea is for you to integrate short bursts of physical activity throughout your day. You might, for example, do three sets of push-ups, three sets of pull-ups, and three sets of lunges interspersed with periods of sitting or standing at your desk (or walking at it, if you have a treadmill desk).” Toys suggested: push-up handles, pull-up bar, PowerBlocks, Abdominal wheel, weight bench. (218) That these health suggestions are accompanied by the suggestions of objects are financially inaccessible to many seems to only reflect that Kresser’s genre of advice is tailored to a crowd whose lives follow the rhythms of capitalism yet who expect that this should not interfere with their health, and whose participation in the marketplace is one that affords them the ability to purchase such tokens of health. Part of Kresser’s success undoubtably has to do with how organized his website is. It is something of a clearing-house of alternative health information, in the Paleo vein. Without much scouring, one can easily access articles on hot topics of health; the ambiguity of scientific studies cited is compensated for with the authoritative (and aestheticized) arrangement of the data. Does this adaptation of integrative health advice, formerly fringe, belie more profit-driven intentions on the part of Kresser? In what ways does this tailoring of advice to a more affluent (or health-fixated) crowd — those who unabashedly embrace the imposition of work upon their lives — define this way of addressing the body?
I’m thinking about the ways in which readers whose class backgrounds might differ from the clients whose success stories Kresser cites get caught in the net of performative paranoia, as they seek out remedies to the chronic diseases which are nested in with all the other bodily ills he speaks of. It seems as though the ways in which his health advice center so thoroughly on weight loss that they are not, in fact, suited to those readers who seek out remedies to the chronic diseases. Perhaps this is to say that Kresser, as a phenomena, is less of a health revolution so much as a progression of the market that stokes fearfulness of bodily uncertainty and malaise in exchange for profit, albeit with more successful results. Is this intrinsic to the pursuit of health which revolves around the mediation of information and data?
Kresser capitalizes on more and less legitimate health concerns related to lifestyle, speaking to fringe health fanatics while still presenting as authoritative and trust-worthy to those less inclined to such fanaticism. Often positions himself to re-mediate health-obsession and paranoia, publishing articles on the dangers of over-exercising and excessive carbohydrate restriction, while still very much appealing to a cultural urge to deduce the benefit or risk of habit down to the microscopic level with an eye towards optimizing the body’s performativity. He writes in a colloquial, personable manner while citing scientific studies, and leaves plenty of room for scientific ambiguity.
One perfect example of the ways in which paranoia about product composition (environmental contamination in the lining of the can, or nameable diagnoses with compact acronyms which restrict one from certain types of products — “fructose malabsorption,” or FM for short) gets routed towards purchase of safer products:
(“Recent research has also tied fructose malabsorption to depression.”)
One more note on the topic of Kresser — but one reflection of the “branding” of a certain way of eating. With this trend more broadly, a diet that is simple, and perhaps the epitome of agrarianism (rather than of the Paleolithic) becomes a token of cosmopolitian identity; opting out of certain kinds of foods, rather than a removal of aspects of self, become ways to put on an alternate identity.