Why has it taken me so long to get you this review of Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Body?
Because I got caught up testing it. And I’m still doing that. However, the time has also enabled me to more properly digest the book than many of the parade of 5-star (and 1-star) reviewers on Amazon. First the review, then my story.
By a Geek, for Geeks
I once worked a writing gig at Microsoft. The year was 2003, the height of the Atkins craze. Microsoft provides a chain of cafeterias so that its employees never have to venture off-campus (and thus too far away from their desks). As I’d wait in line at the grill, it seemed each and every code jockey was ordering a double buffalo cheeseburger, hold the bun, hold the veggies. After a while, due to heavy demand, the cafeterias actually started offering carb-free buns to the Atkins-frenzied hordes.
In the year I was there, I didn’t see a whole lot of weight lost.
Tim Ferriss has a built-in audience via his previous book, The 4-Hour Workweek (which was actually less of a misnomer than 4-Hour Body, because very few of these techniques take 4 hours), which engendered a legion of techies leaving their desks (or trying to), selling stuff online (or trying to) and geeking out in foreign lands (or…you get the picture). And Tim is by his own admission someone who loves testing various tricks and systems in all aspects of his life—the ultimate geek. The appeal to America’s tech workers is obvious.
On the surface, the book is written very simply. There’s a setup involving the best possible result of the technique or a semi-famous person using it (see the cameo by Neil “Style” Strauss), then a very simple layout of the technique, then a detailed elaboration of everything necessary to get the best results. Later chapters devolve somewhat into simple tips to do very specific things (jump, run the 40 meters, swing a baseball bat) slightly better.
Lose Weight While Eating Bear Claws?
The “money” chapter in The 4-Hour Body is “The Slow-Carb Diet,” Mr. Ferriss’ contribution to the weight-loss industry. The actual methodology for losing fat—dropping all carbs except vegetables and legumes—is sound, because any restrictive diet change will initially help you to lose fat.
And this “diet” is restrictive in the extreme, with meals that must consist of a protein source, vegetable and beans or lentils. Many of the negative comments on the Amazon.com page involve some variation on “who the eff eats pinto beans with breakfast?” Aside from the unintended insult to an entire race there, suffice to say that if you actually do this program, you will eventually be forced to learn to properly spice your food.
But the “breakthrough” in the Slow-Carb Diet is binge day: one day a week, you not only are allowed to eat anything you want, you must eat to excess. In Ferriss’ exact words, “binging is not optional.” The theory is that by shaking your system out of ketosis once a week, you keep the fat-burning furnace fully firing.
While many reviews “reserve judgement” on the binge portion of the diet, I actually tested it. More on that below.
Sex (Like a) Machine
Another talked-about section of the book is “The 15-Minute Female Orgasm”: a step-by-step process for theoretically giving a woman the orgasm of her life. Unfortunately, as a man who has had voluminous sex in many different positions, I can tell you that the process (and it is a “process”) in the book is more like working on a hobby than romantic, exciting sex.
Oh, it may result in a big-time orgasm for her, but I would suggest that if she gets hooked on this method, it won’t be so much fun for you. But it’s highly technical, and has very detailed instructions—again, a big attraction for someone who has no frame of reference for what feels good to a woman. But I can’t help thinking this is a poor substitute for learning to use your tongue.
Bigger, Stronger, Less Ouchy
The crux of the book is something Ferriss calls “the minimum effective dose.” That’s another way of saying “the easiest way.” There’s a 15-minute lean-mass-building workout, a single-exercise “bodyshaping” (to use the ’80s term) workout, and a super-simple strength-building workout. There are tips for boosting testosterone, sleeping better, learning to swim, and stretching those hips and back that have gone all out of whack after a 14-hour programming jag.
Most of these aren’t new (the section on improving bat speed is Baseball 101), some are contentious (the bodybuilding community in particular seems to be foaming at the mouth—in fact, most of the harshest critiques are from those who have vast expertise with the one system that works for them), but the information is so dense that you’re almost guaranteed to find something you’ll want to try.
So there’s something for everyone in The 4-Hour Body—the only question is whether you can apply yourself to the task. Although the setup is simple, there’s an element of willpower to almost everything, and some (sometimes many) details necessary to turn that “minimum effective dose” into the “most effective dose.”
The Most Valuable Tip in the Book
The genesis of the book is Tim Ferriss’ almost fanatical desire to test, document and make changes to himself: he mentions it at the beginning of the book, and goes into great detail in the appendices’ 80 pages of small print. He encourages every reader to do likewise.
Ultimately, this is the most important takeaway: that your mileage may (and often will) vary, not just from Mr. Ferriss’ but from many other humans’. Humans are not made with a cookie cutter. Our chemistry can vary, our needs usually vary, and so the adjustments must vary. Standing on one leg before bed like Tim does might not help you sleep better, but something else probably will. You’re going to have to try, and sometimes fail, in order to ultimately succeed.
Just like life.
But not everyone (likely not even most) has the time or willpower to keep a food/sleep/exercise diary. That’s understood, and why this book offers a virtual clearinghouse of quick tips and simple plans, and why it has become successful.
How I Tested The 4-Hour Body
In the spirit of testing that The 4-Hour Body promotes, I decided to test the Slow-Carb Diet. I devoted a month to sticking to the 2-page version, which meant I didn’t use the supplements (aside from fish oil, which was already a part of my diet) or most of the “tricks” for cheat day.
The results were predictable: I lost weight, and that weight lost was pretty much all fat. My weight went from 172 to 165, and my bodyfat percentage declined by 15% of my total bodyfat, or just over 3% of my total bodyweight.
Why do I say predictable? Because any restrictive change in diet will cause fat loss, at least in the first 4-6 weeks of the diet. Usually I can decrease my fat while building some muscle by following an easy workout plan and not eating crap, so that wasn’t the point.
The real reason I wanted to try this program was to see how restrictive, difficult and/or monotonous it would be. And without cooking skills or imagination, this diet will be monotonous. After three weeks of legumes, black beans were about the only version I could choke down…until I started throwing hot sauce on everything. Breakfast was actually a breeze, once I discovered I loved spinach omelettes, and I basically rotated the veggies between microwave-steamed frozen broccoli, big leafy salads and different styles of spinach.
But hanging in for a month was fairly easy for me, and the binge days didn’t seem to impede the weight loss (although I’m not sure how that would work for someone predisposed to eat an entire three-layer cake or whole chicken at a sitting). I debated carrying on for a second month, but I’m eager to start another chapter. I’ll give you the results of that test later.
If you geek out over “body hacks,” The 4-Hour Body is for you. Likewise, if you need structure for improving your life, there’s enough step-by-step hand-holding here that you won’t get lost. If you’re already using a weight-loss program or workout plan that works for you, you can probably pass this up. And if you’ve already bought into the dogma of another guru or community, you’re just going to get angry, so don’t bother.
As with any program, approach it in the spirit of testing, and it either works or it doesn’t. But it’s no instant fix, no magic pill—drive and willpower are still required.
Have you tried The 4-Hour Body? What did you think?