The night before we met, Bryan Johnson didn’t get up once to pee. The development excited him greatly, because it was proof his plan was working.
In previous weeks, Johnson had been spending 30 minutes at a time sitting on top of an electromagnetic machine to strengthen the pelvic floor. The contraption, which feels like two small hands repeatedly punching you in the sensitive region in quick succession, is typically for women who are hoping to rebuild strength after birth. But Johnson wanted to use it for something else.
In Johnson’s world, anything less than complete perfection is seen as deficiency, and the nightly urination was getting in the way of perfect sleep. The machine seemed to have fixed the problem. He proudly showed me his sleep activity for the past week as registered by his smartwatch; he had scored an enviable and perfect 100 each night, on 8.5 hours on average. There were other benefits, too. The machine had substantially increased his “urination strength” and the distance from which he could stand from the toilet while peeing—a sign, he claimed, that he was getting younger, not older.
Johnson says that he spends more money on his body than LeBron James. With this sizable budget (more than $2 million a year), he pays for the food he eats (a precise 1,977 calories a day, made up of the world’s most nutritious elements), as well as the 112 to 130 supplemental pills he takes on a daily basis, and the ultrasound machine and other medical-grade machinery he keeps on the second floor of his discrete compound in Venice, Los Angeles, where he and his team of more than 30 doctors, clinicians, and researchers analyze how the 78 organs that make up his body have responded to the latest tweaks to his diet, sleep, and movement.
Johnson is not a professional athlete, nor does he have any obvious illness. He is, in many ways, a Silicon Valley success story, the founder of the payment processing company Braintree, which purchased Venmo in 2012 before it was acquired the next year by PayPal for $800 million, making him rich enough to pursue far loftier goals. Soon after that, he founded Kernel, a neuroscience-focused technology company focused on developing a helmet that will, in his own words, “bring the brain online.”
But his latest obsession might be his most ambitious project to date. At a minimum, it is certainly his most personal. For nearly two years, Johnson has been using his body as a science experiment, a vessel through which, he hopes, humanity can understand its utmost limits through his own regimen of extreme dieting and exercise, which has been developed according to what he believes is the top scientific literature of the day and tweaked according to how his ligaments, tendons, liver, heart, lungs, pancreas, and skin respond. He describes the process, in which he analyzes his body and then adjusts his “protocol” for the slightest imperfections, as “gorgeous” and freeing. Others might see his situation differently. He no longer eats what his brain wants or, at times, does what his brain wants. He has constructed a machine out of science, and outside of one large exception—his personal preference to remain predominantly vegan—that machine dictates his life.
“Our minds are given unquestioned authority to do what they want, when they want, how they want, so long as you're not violating the laws of society,” Johnson explained to me when we first spoke late last year. “We said, ‘What does my liver want? And what does my heart want?’ And then we rearranged life to make sure it's getting it.”
Johnson has replaced many of things that, until this point, have brought humanity together with needles, prodding, and pain. “I’m potentially the most measured person in human history,” he told me. His new life brings him deep joy, he says, as he has come to see himself as the Lewis & Clark of the human body, meticulously and obsessively recording his adventure through his own anatomy in journal posts he publishes online. His ultimate goal, he says, is to discover not the “perfect diet” and “perfect health” (though he is searching for those too), but whether it is possible to achieve what has to this point in human history seemed an impossibility: He seeks to not only slow down the aging process, but to stop and then reverse it, organ by organ, blood test by blood test.
“I'm trying to explore this question of: Can somebody who's willing to say yes to an algorithm, like myself, stay the same age biologically? Can we achieve the fountain of youth?” he told me when I visited his Venice home in December. “It would change our understanding of being human. It'd be very hard for us as a species to not grapple with that.”
Extreme as the specifics of his approach might be—this is a man who has a device that tracks his nightly erections—Johnson falls squarely in line with many of his Silicon Valley peers. In recent years, people throughout the technology sector have taken increasingly innovative—and often eccentric—approaches to their personal health and wellness in a pursuit of a longer, happier life. The industry is chock-full of people who, for example, eat five cans of sardines a day or consume nothing but coffee, water, and tea for over a week straight. Former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey made headlines in 2019, when he announced that he fasted for 22 hours a day and often went days with nothing but water, sparking concerns that the tech sector was “rebranding eating disorders” as wellness. But it was not entirely outside of the norms of an industry that has become taken with “biohacking,” in which one approaches the body as a computer program, to be forever tweaked and optimized.
Johnson himself claims to not be a part of the biohacker movement—or any movement outside of his own, for that matter—but he fits neatly within the growing demand for radical means to combat the aging process. “There are hundreds of millions of dollars being raised by investors to invest in reprogramming, specifically aimed at rejuvenating parts or all of the human body,” Harvard anti-aging researcher David Sinclair told the MIT Technology Review in 2021. While its roots are academic, the anti-aging movement has piqued the interest of some of the tech industry’s largest players, including PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel (“I’ve always had this really strong sense that death was a terrible, terrible thing,” he has said) and Jeff Bezos, reportedly an investor in the “cellular rejuvenation” biotech company Altos Labs.
The ultimate utility of what Johnson is doing is both unclear and unproven. Morgan Levine, who ran a laboratory focused on the aging process at Yale University until she was recruited last year to work at Altos Labs, told Motherboard that our behaviors and lifestyles do play a “major role” in how we age, allowing for individual variation, and that some general, common-sense rules apply: Exercise, eat lots of vegetables, and don’t smoke. But she also emphasized that in many ways, we still know very little about the aging process, and that it is difficult to say with confidence that one particular diet or routine will lead to better results. “We're still so early in understanding how to quantify these things,” Levine said.
That is, in many ways, Johnson’s point, and he sees himself as a key figure in helping to find answers to questions that have plagued humanity throughout recorded history. Levine, however, cautioned against taking too much away from one individual experiment, no matter how in-depth the data might be.
“It sounds like they're measuring like 1,000 things at once,” she said. “It's very hard to take that amount of data and look at [the individual components] one at a time, and really deduce any sort of causal link with what we're doing in our everyday lives.”
As of now, Johnson claims that the experiment, which he’s dubbed Project Blueprint, is more concerned with understanding the possibilities of one body—his own—than in creating a replicable system. The journey has led to improved physical health, but the most inarguable effect thus far has been on his physical appearance. He has dropped 60 pounds, and a recent MRI scan found that Johnson was in the 99th percentile for both body fat and muscle concentration—proof, he said, of his achieving “the perfect body ratio.” The muscles everywhere from his shins up to his neck appear to almost protrude out of him, and his skin wraps tightly around his face, which is the point: Johnson puts his skin through regular and painful skin rejuvenation processes, on top of the obligatory application of numerous daily creams. After two years, he claims, his skin is that of a twenty-something and his fitness level is that of an 18-year-old; his body also now runs three degrees cooler than it used to. More than 50 of his biomarkers are also now “perfect,” he has said. He even claims he has been able to stop dying his hair as of three months ago, after making “significant progress reversing gray hair.”
And yet, in person, he remains a clearly middle-aged man, searching—as so many do, just with more resources at his disposal and a greater degree of obsessiveness—for the one thing no amount of money has ever been able to buy.
Johnson’s experiment did not begin as a pursuit to find the fountain of youth. He simply wanted to feel better.
As far back as he could remember, Johnson had struggled with his own image of his body. He had a hard time looking at himself in the mirror and felt jealous when he was around people who felt comfortable in front of the camera. “I wanted that so badly,” he said.
Johnson came from humble beginnings in Springville, Utah, one of five children of a devout Mormon mother. He had grown up on a “typical ’80s American diet” of sugar-filled cereal and canned goods, he said, after which time he was never able to rid himself of the “awful” diet and habits that developed from that. Johnson did what he could to exercise and eat healthy. But throughout his adult life, he struggled with chronic depression, exacerbated by the stress of running his technology companies.
Like a lot of people, he felt the least in control of his emotions at night, when he would become “powerless.” What he coined “Evening Bryan” would help himself to extra servings of dinner or make his way through a box of graham crackers. Evening Bryan, he said, was “an absolute monster,” who left him irritable, cloudy, miserable, and self-loathing by morning. “I felt so much shame. Because I was out of control. I couldn't regulate what I ate. And I felt so bad about myself,” Johnson said. He started to see his own proof of the power law, a term popular in venture circles to describe the outsized impact of a small number of investments. Evening Bryan might be in control for only hours a day, but he inflicted most of the harm on Johnson’s life, he came to believe. “I was at war with myself,” he said. “I was just a slave to myself and my passions and my emotions and my next desire.”
A moment of inspiration occurred a few years back, when Johnson learned to fly a plane. In the air, he came to appreciate the beauty of the autopilot feature, which allowed the humans running the plane to sit back and hand over the controls to technology, which took in measurements and flew the plane even better than a human could. “I thought, ‘What if my body could be run on autopilot?’” he said.
Johnson became determined to replicate the feature within himself and started to think of his body like a computer program. He is, so he says, building an algorithm (at other times he calls it an “evidence-based medicine protocol”) using a combination of a database of more than 1,000 peer-reviewed scientific publications on health and longevity—including “every major lifespan study that's ever been done,” ranked “according to their contribution of lifespan”—and weekly tests that strips him of authority over what he eats and does every day, giving less agency to his conscious self than to the protocol’s estimates of what his lungs, heart, liver, and kidneys want in his pursuit to allow them to be, as he puts it, their “best selves.”
Johnson started to perform an analysis on all the organs that make up his body. He tested his urine, stool, saliva, and fitness levels. He underwent ultrasounds, MRIs, and colonoscopies. He swallowed a camera “the size of a baby carrot, after fasting for 24 hours,” took laxatives for six hours, then excreted it almost 11 hours later. The result was 33,537 images of his intestinal tract. “Every conceivable way to test my body to get data on my body, I did,” he said. Then, comparing the data to the scientific literature, he and his team started to put together a program to improve every aspect of himself. The most important element of this program is a complete reliance on data that assumes the data are always beyond dispute.
The result is Project Blueprint, the program that Johnson has set up to dictate every facet of his life. “It runs my body for me, and it does a better job than I can,” he said. Every day, seven days a week, Johnson wakes up at 5:30 a.m. and proceeds to consume the same 100-plus pills, exercise for exactly 67 minutes (“I am never sore somehow”), and eat exactly 1,977 calories, about 550 less than the maintenance level a man of his size, age, and activity level typically requires. Each one is carefully selected according to the science of the day. “I cannot look at a menu and decide what I want,’” he said proudly. He stops all food consumption by noon, and then goes to bed at 8:30 p.m., even if he is mid-conversation with his children. “Bed time for us is a pretty serious affair,” he said. Missteps are not moments of relief, sprinkled here and there for fun, but “infractions.”
Johnson admits the lifestyle shift requires a period of adjustment, or adaptation, both psychologically and in terms of the stomach handling the foods he now eats. He says he himself has committed around 75 “infractions” to date, and that Evening Bryan sometimes threw tantrums early on when he was hungry at night. But Evening Bryan is dead now, Johnson said: “It just takes a little time to retrain your brain.”
He does not align himself with a lot of the longevity or wellness movements. He sees Blueprint as separate from—and better than—the “religious debates” that make up most of the health space. It is based upon data, he asserts, and nothing else. And what if the interpretation of medical data today is still too limited to lead to objectively optimal outcomes? That is a question only partially answered. “Blueprint is a stock ticker of sorts that will reveal, through the tracking of my biological versus chronological age, the status of today’s anti-aging science,” he wrote in October 2021.
When improvements can be made, they are. Early on, Johnson only ate one meal a day. But his body fat percentage dropped below 3 percent, and they adjusted to bring it up to an “optimal” range. He used to drink a small bit of red wine a day to obtain the health benefits. Now he just takes a pill that he claims is a “proprietary creation” with—purportedly—the same benefits and none of the downsides of alcohol. Similarly, while Bloomberg reported last week that Johnson used to wear seven skin creams and get weekly acid peels, he now only applies four creams and has dropped the peels, his team told me. “The protocol is constantly being updated,” they said.
(Upon close inspection, Johnson’s willingness to follow the data does have its limits. When I asked him how his team decided upon 1,977 calories as the perfect amount, expecting to hear it had been the result of a complex equation, I was surprised to learn that it was simply the year he was born. Large parts of his workout routine were crafted not by a world-class athletic expert, but his teenage son. And he required that the protocol adhere to his strong desire to remain vegan, with one exception, even when his preferred combination of veganism, caloric restriction, and intense daily exercise caused his testosterone to drop enough for him to need to wear a testosterone patch on his thigh. While all fine and good on their own, these are most certainly preferences, albeit likely harmless ones, sitting outside of the bounds of his self-stated ideology.)
Existing in a state of perpetual and extreme caloric restriction makes it difficult to fit all the nutrients he needs into his diet. He believes a constant caloric deficit to be “the number one evidence-based health protocol,” though when I later asked specifically what research convinced Johnson to remain in a state of extreme caloric restriction, the only answer I got was “scientific evidence.” Levine, the Altos researcher, said that studies on caloric restriction have led to mixed results and mostly focused on animals. Experiments on mice, for example, have found that while some benefit from restriction, others do not or even experience negative effects. A new study on flatworms out just this month found “no benefits to lifespan” outside of “perfect” environments, as Levine put it.
The evidence is more clear that people should avoid regular overconsumption, meaning people should eat as many calories as they burn or live at perhaps a “slight deficit,” Levine said. She characterized Johnson’s deficit levels as “extreme,” and would not advise any person to undertake such a lifestyle shift. But she said there are limits to what we know right now. “The amount of caloric restriction that could be beneficial to one person will be totally different or even detrimental to another,” she said. Past the obvious—don’t smoke, eat plants—the effects of particular interventions on the individual are not only often unknown, but perhaps right now unknowable.
Despite this, Johnson has places his faith in his data machine, Whatever the theoretical benefits of caloric restriction, its benefits are self-evident to him, and make for a challenge worth relishing—one that requires him to take down more than 100 supplemental pills each day, including 54 in front of me, which he throws in his mouth 15 to 20 pills at a time (some days he takes up to 85 in the morning). The supplements include everything from the anti-diabetic drug acarbose and endogenous steroid hormone precursor dehydroepiandrosterone—a potential “anti-aging” treatment—to tumeric and lithium. Johnson now considers supplements one of the core necessities of life, alongside food, sleep, and exercise.
Sasha Bayat, a registered licensed dietitian at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School, described the amount of supplementation as “extreme” and warned that “excessive amounts of supplements can be harmful and cause a significant burden on the liver,”, adding that it’s preferable to get nutrients from real food when possible, as some vitamins and nutrients work better in combination. “For instance, vitamin D will help the body absorb calcium. So if you're just getting calcium with no vitamin D, you're not really absorbing that calcium,” she said.
Levine felt similarly about Johnson’s reliance on supplements.
“I haven't been convinced by any data on any supplements unless people do have a true deficiency in their diet,” she said. “In terms of having a boosting advantage for things like the aging process, I think it's all speculation right now.”
Making the most of the limited number of daily calories he allows himself requires a “frugality mindset,” according to Johnson. “‘Every calorie, every supplement has to fight for its life to exist,” he said. “I treat life as every calorie needing to be justified.” He refers to the pill meant to replicate the benefits of red wine, for example, as “expensive” not because of its high price, but because of its caloric density. He has come to enjoy the feeling of hunger, sometimes even fantasizing about breakfast as he goes to bed at night (“specifically about the density of nutritious value”), a stark contrast to when he used to go to bed full.
“I'm celebrating each night that I'm going to bed hungry,” he said. “To me, it's a feeling of success.”
Johnson appears conscious of the idea that he does not eat enough. To prove he does, Johnson treats me over our two and a half hours together to all of the foods he eats each day, save the rotating final meal he finishes before noon. After a cup of tea (for the antioxidants), I take down a morning drink that includes water, two and a half grams of creatine, collagen peptides (the only non-vegan food Johnson consumes), and spermidine, which he tells me stabilizes the DNA, especially when consumed at its “optimal amounts,” which, he says, is 13.5 milligrams per day. At the same time, I consume “a pretty good starter kit” of supplements including cocoa flavanols (“it increases nitric oxide production”) and the red wine pill.
Later, I eat a meal he calls nutty pudding, a sort of smoothie that includes berries, sunflower lecithin, and a chalky side of supplement. We also eat the super veggie, which includes hemp seeds, broccoli, cauliflower, lentils, shiitake mushrooms, world-class olive oil, and, strangely, pure dark chocolate that has been tested for heavy metals like cadmium. (The chocolate makes up 138 calories of Johnson’s daily calories.) Johnson prefers to blend his veggie meal. He says he likes the texture, even if it looks disgusting, which it does, and that it allows him to take it down more quickly, as it would take too long to eat piece by piece. (Johnson doesn’t use salt, instead using a substitute called Nu-Salt, or potassium chloride. “All the fun of salt without the sodium,” he said).
According to Johnson, he eats 10 times the amount of dietary fiber the typical American does, and it’s true that the food is filling, especially when consumed in quick succession by this reporter. Taste is another matter; the food is fine, if odd, due to forced-together flavor combinations like chocolate and broccoli. (Later that day, after I left, I became momentarily overwhelmed by a sense of nausea and had to lie down, perhaps evidence of the aforementioned period of adaptation that Johnson referred to.)
By his own admission, Johnson is not a foodie, which he attributes to his humble origins. When I suggest that some people might feel the rote nature of his consumption sucks some of the joy out of food, which has long been a defining aspect of human culture, Johnson appears to understand intellectually, if not emotionally, before casting the concern aside. “Why are we so obsessed with our decision-making around food? And why do we think it's our domain? Why wouldn't an algorithm just do it for me? Why wouldn’t I gleefully accept that if it can maintain my body in perfect health?” he said.
The problem, as Johnson sees it, is that if humanity were to no longer have decision-making power over the foods they eat each day, “a person says, ‘What else am I?’” Not needing to decide what to eat each day has gifted Johnson with more time to think about other things.
When I asked what he used that extra time to think about, the answer he gave was “the future of our existence.”
Bryan Johnson is, depending on how you measure, either 45 or 42. By the number of days he has been alive, he is 45. But according to Johnson’s preferred marker, known as one’s epigenetic age, he is about two and a half years younger.
The field of epigenetics has been burgeoning area of interest for anti-aging researchers since the early 2010s, soon after UCLA professor Steve Horvath and his colleagues published an article claiming to have discovered a way to measure the “age that our cells, tissues, and organ systems appear to be, based on biochemistry,” not chronological age, by focusing on DNA methylation, according to the National Institutes of Health. It became known as one’s “epigenetic clock,” and it led to fascination within academia (and Silicon Valley) with whether the aging process can be slowed (and in the popular press with the idea that a middle-aged person can have the body of an 18-year-old).
The field is still in its infancy. Levine emphasized that while the epigenetic field is a promising one, it is also relatively new and has proven most useful as predicting differential risks of disease and life expectancy at the population level. Work remains to refine epigenetic tracking systems and better understand “what a change in the epigenetic clock actually represents,” she said. The NIH warns on its website, “While this field is growing fast, it is still evolving, and many of the technologies are still only used in animal models and have not yet been approved for humans.” While Johnson himself admits that epigenetic-based tests are currently “silver standard,” at best, he believes they are the closest thing he has found to an all-encompassing health metric, a sort of sabermetric expression of the human condition that he compares to the rings on a tree. Soon into his experiment, he made it his mission to reduce his own. And by January 2022, Johnson was claiming that he had broken the world record for epigenetic age reversal by dropping his by 5.1 years in seven months.
Currently, he claims to age 277 days during every chronological 365-day period, meaning that he essentially ages nine months every year.
“I get basically October, November, December for free,” he said.
The goal is to do this organ by organ—to make, for example, his kidney anatomically and functionally identical to his son’s. “I'm trying to become biologically identical to Talmage”—his teenage son—he told me while working out in his private gym. “I would want the doctors not to be able to discern who's who.” (At this time, placing an accurate epigenetic age on each individual organ with confidence and without physically biopsying “actual samples from every organ” is not possible, according to Levine.)
Johnson is also performing his own research, using only one body: his own. Most of the analysis takes place on the second floor of Johnson’s home, in a room that Johnson said makes medical experts jealous. The large room has been converted into what appears to the untrained eye to be a makeshift hospital facility, filled with multispectral face imaging technology, a centrifugal machine to analyze blood, epigenetic tests, and medical-grade ultrasound machines. The room feels cold but clean, and it is clear that no room in his home excites Johnson quite so much as he walks me through his various toys, which include countless high-quality needles. (“When you get your blood drawn as much as I do,” Johnson said, “you just come to appreciate a good needle.”) The medical machinery, supplies, and therapies currently comprise most of Blueprint’s high cost, according to his team.
In the room, Johnson gauges how tweaks to his workouts have improved strained joints and analyzes how tweaks to his diet help or hurt his pancreas. Johnson claims he has already been able to find dozens such examples of “significant age reversal” in his body’s data since his campaign began and that 100 of his markers are comparable to those of someone younger than his chronological age.
One of his largest focuses the day we met was an area of insecurity for many men and women: his skin. “We're trying to get my skin to be age— roughly—18 equivalent,” he said. He said he’s had substantial success so far, bringing it down from “57 or so” to the 26-to-28 range. The process has been grueling. Johnson subjects himself to weekly skin rejuvenation processes using lasers and intense pulsed light therapy, which Johnson says “tells your genes to express younger.” The therapies, at their most intense, “like you’re being branded,” Johnson said, leaving him with marks that make him look like he has been run over by a car. But he sees the pain as part of his grand plan. “If you remove the limitations of a person's willingness to endure pain,” Johnson asks me, what’s possible?
But with the careful analysis of his entire body have come new neuroses in the form of discovering “ticking time bombs.” During a routine MRI, doctors noticed he had a congenitally small jugular vein in his neck, which meant blood was not draining down from his brain properly. Such a condition can increase one’s possibility of having a stroke. To combat the condition, Johnson started obsessively performing a series of neck exercises, including one in which his chin moves up and down in quick succession, and obsessed over his posture. “I probably thought about it 100 times a day,” he said.
In other areas, the limits of medical science have been a source of frustration. One of Johnson’s worst age markers, he said, is his left ear, due to his time shooting guns as a child, and he has been left using an app to try and fix it. He dreams of undergoing gene therapy for it, he said.
As he works out, I ask Johnson how the medical community writ large feels about the age markers he is placing on each organ of his body. While noting that some are open-minded to it, he admits there has been resistance to the idea. “I understand people's hesitation,” he told me. But, he argued, if people can’t support his epigenetic approach, they can just take a look at any of the other, more traditional markers that provide evidence of improved health, like the increase in his maximum heart rate or the fact that he now runs faster.
Horvath, whose team discovered the epigenetic clock and who now works at Altos Labs with Levine, offered to re-analyze Johnson’s data to “validate the claims surrounding epigenetic rejuvenation” and look at other biomarkers. “My philosophy: strong claims require strong evidence,” Horvath wrote. But Johnson's team declined, instead requesting to talk about his new venture, the Rejuvenation Olympics, in which people can upload their epigenetic aging test and compete with one another for the slowest rate of growing old, according to a publicly available algorithm. At last check, of 1,750 people, Johnson ranked number one.
When I asked Levine, the other Altos Labs researcher, if extreme diets like Johnson’s were more beneficial than a more normal attempt to be healthy, she said she didn’t know, and that, at this point in time, no one else did either. “There's no data to support it. But that doesn't mean that it's not beneficial. It's just we have no way of knowing,” she said. “If you want to go on and be as rigorous as Bryan, then that's your prerogative, but I don't think people should assume that we know enough to truly be able to do this perfectly right now.”
What can be said more confidently: Now that his body fat percentage sits just above 5 percent, Johnson feels confident taking photos (“not always, though”) and speaks with wonder at the change his body has undergone. Johnson proudly posts edited videos on YouTube of his shirtless workouts with his teenage boys online. In one, he successfully grabs the rim of a basketball hoop. (“You are a beast!” a commenter proclaims.)
“Saying yes to this protocol has enabled me to achieve a physical form I never thought possible,” he said. “I am,” he added at another point, “what I always longed to become.”
The week of Thanksgiving, Blueprint went viral after a fellow founder described Johnson’s project and his own experience trying a slightly altered version of the Blueprint diet.
The founder spoke positively of the lifestyle shift, and some expressed fascination with the ideas Johnson was espousing. But many others responded more viciously: “I would unironically prefer to be killed than do this”; “this man is in a 24/7 self made prison”; “Millionaire men can have a little eating disorder if they want”; “purging everything that makes life worth living in order to add five more years of dementia to the end of it”; “None of this means anything besides a waste of money and a miserable life”; “Sounds like he paid millions to develop the world's most expensive eating disorder”; “Aging and death are a natural part of life. What is this toxic nonsense?”.
Such a reaction would hurt almost anyone. But peculiarly, Johnson said he loved it. “It was the best,” he said. He described it as online group therapy for a society that has gone “insane.” To Johnson, people who defend late-night drinks with friends or early-morning bagels are “just trying to create rationalizations of the things they know they shouldn't be doing.” His critics, in short, are stuck in their own versions of Evening Bryan.
Or maybe not. There are many people out there struggling less with their perception of their own body and such habits as late-night eating than Johnson does, and many people who change their behaviors without going to such extremes; while their insecurity remains, it does not overwhelm them. At one point, Johnson said that going to a pizza party or getting drunk with a friend sounded not tempting, but like the worst experience imaginable. It is in the eye of the beholder whether such a statement is enviable, or sad.
Or perhaps, I suggested, people are jealous. It is not surprising that a wealthy man in a compound based in a city plagued with homelessness feels sublime after months of eating healthy, sleeping well, never drinking, dropping 60 pounds, and working out every day, nor does it feel replicable for the average person dealing with the pressures of daily life, considering the program’s monthly cost of at least $2,224.50. With all his dedication, even Johnson himself does not have the time to prepare all his own Blueprint food. Asking people to do it alone is a tall order. But Johnson said he is not asking that. He does not expect the average person to have the willpower to forgo burgers and ice creams and beers; the issue, he says, lies with the system that makes it all so easily accessible.
“It's a weird form of insanity that McDonald's exists,” Johnson said. In his eyes, the same goes for a societal work culture that celebrates late-night emails and bags under workers’ eyes. “We are destroying ourselves,” he said. Speaking specifically to the pressures his fellow founders face, he continued, “You're expected to be ragged and to ruin yourself to build this thing. It's a lopsided and unfair relationship. Somehow we are all sacrificing ourselves. For what? What is it?” For most people, the answer would sit somewhere between money and meaning. But after Johnson obtained both, he realized neither satiated him, and he decided to find a better, healthier way. “And somehow I’m weird?” he said.
Understandably, Johnson chooses to focus on the people who have come to accept the benefits of Blueprint. “Most people who hang out with me in time come around,” he said with a smirk. Among them are his father and one of his teenage sons, who I met briefly as I arrived at Johnson’s house. Johnson couldn’t tell me how much his son enjoys the program—“I haven't asked him what his level of joy is. I know that he chooses to do it,” he said—but the boy himself told me that after a period of adjustment, he came to appreciate the way he felt when he woke up everyday and the taste of the food (“10 out of 10”).
Still, when I asked Johnson for examples of “infractions,” he noted not his own but those of his son, who recently succumbed to the temptation of sugar and ate candy while making gingerbread houses over the holidays. In such instances, the son says to his father that his “emotions were getting the best of” him, Johnson said. “He’s almost there.”
Not everyone is sold. Johnson’s 13-year-old daughter, he told me, is “not on board with this yet … at all.” He said he’s happy for her to do what she wants. But doubters be damned, Johnson believes he might have stumbled upon a formula that could save humanity. “Others look at this, and they think, ‘That's got to be hell,’” he said. But Johnson feels happy, healthy, and more level headed. “For the first time in my life. I have achieved peace within myself,” he said. “I do not remember a time in my life ever feeling younger.”
He now sees ending self-harm and happiness through medical measurement as the first step in solving the world’s problems. “Maybe the future begins by eating vegetables, instead of us pointing at the world and trying to solve problems by changing everyone else.’” he said. “The evidence is pretty clear that society is not in a great spot right now mentally,” Johnson said at another point. But even that downplays the true scope of what Johnson believes he has found. He sees no reason why in the future the entire planet could not be measured using Blueprint as its inspiration.
“The same way that you would measure the body with hundreds of measurements, you would measure the earth with hundreds of measurements. And then you'd say, ‘Earth, what do you need to be your optimal self?’” he said.
“The Earth,” he added, “would be on a caloric restriction diet.”