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This review is from: The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman (Hardcover)
Most of the 5-star reviews for 4HB came up on the first day. Given that Tim Ferriss has previously endorsed outsourcing in his Four Hour Workweek, I wonder how many of those 5-star reviews were from his personal assistants abroad.
Let me start with my bona fides: I am a currently practicing and licensed physician in the state of California. I graduated from Stanford University School of Medicine. I am a black belt and a lifelong athlete, and I have been weight training for over 20 years-- and unlike Mr. Ferriss, without injuring myself in any way, ever. I have no financial interest in his book or any other product discussed here.
Regarding the depth of my review of The 4-Hour Body, I spent over [...] on the equipment, supplements, and ultrasound machine recommended in the book. I bought the BodyMetrix Professional ultrasound and software he recommends by Intelametrix ([...] after discount for mentioning 4HB book), and completed the 1-on-1 online training despite the fact I am previously certified in performing ultrasound. I engaged my friends and colleagues in a "Fat off" competition with obsessive and objective weight and body fat measurements and followed the routine for 5 weeks as perfectly as I was able. I also experimented (like Mr. Ferriss) using continuous glucose measurement (CGM) to assess minute-to-minute glucose responses to food and exercise using both the DexCom system he recommends as well as the MiniMed Guardian system. I plan to upload a photo of the nutritional supplements I bought, which nearly cover my kitchen table. I downloaded apps to my phone for recording each workout obsessively, and more importantly to help with the very slow rep time he recommends.
My basic finding is that after trying the diet, supplements, exercise routines and lifestyle changes recommended in the 4-Hour Body that I found no change, whatsoever, in body weight or competition. Nor did any of my other friends trying the book.
Why doesn't the 4HB work?
(1) It takes more than 4 hours a month in the gym to have a great body. I'm sorry, it just does. Mr. Ferriss recommends performing 2-3 SETS, for a total of less than 30 reps, per WEEK, to get a great body. Ask any athlete, bodybuilder, trainer... not enough. Not even close. It's hogwash. I actually could feel my body dwindling despite eating as much protein as I could stomach.
(2) Almost all the supplements recommended in 4HB have never been scientifically proven to do what Mr. Ferriss claims they do. Take cissus quadrangularis (page 110), costs about $30 for 120 capsules. He discusses that he took CQ in China while eating a high volume rice diet with sweets and states "CQ preserved my abs". Really? If that's the level of evidence that you're comfortable with, great. But with simultaneous exercise, multiple other ongoing supplements, lifestyle changes, etc., who can tell whether it was CQ or just dietary changes from his being in rural China?
(3) The diet is just a mishmash of other diet routines, basically Atkins plus paleo with a dash of South Beach Diet. There are important flaws in the diet that should be pointed out. He recommends carbohydrates from beans instead of "white carbohydrates", hence the "slow-carb" diet. This relies on a bunch of old data regarding glycemic index. The reality about carbohydrate digestion is very different. Carbohydrate digestion is so important that it begins IN THE MOUTH with salivary amylase. Whether you eat a slice of Wonder Bread or a handful of garbanzo beans, the breakdown of these sugars into the body's currency of glucose is extremely rapid and effective regardless of which form you ingest it in. I have tried this myself using continuous glucose monitoring as recommended in the book. The only way I have found to blunt the sugar rise is simultaneous ingestion of a good quantity of fat. Also, can a diet really be paleo without milk or dairy? And did early Homo sapiens farm for beans and lentils?
(4) The blood sugar response data in the book is flawed by a misunderstanding of how continuous blood glucose monitoring (CGM) works. He notes "it turned out foods and liquids took much, much longer to get to my bloodstream than one would expect." But the DexCom SEVEN implant he was using has a 20-30 minute delay between the blood sugar reading you get on a finger stick, and the blood sugar reading on the machine sensor. That is, there is a BUILT IN DELAY (check some online diabetic forums for more info on this) because capillary blood from fingersticks shows changes much faster and more accurately than the interstitial fluid surrounding the implant. So, as noted in (3), sugar responses are actually very fast. Drink that protein shake right before or after the workout, not 1 hour prior like he says.
(5) Measuring body fat before and after interventions is much less easy than implied in the book. Body scans using DEXA are really great, but it's hard to convince all your friends to do it with you given inconvenience and expense. I have used the ultrasound unit he recommends and even with training it is very difficult for me to get reliable, repeatable data. This is true even when I have switched it to expert "M" mode and done my own curve fitting of the actual ultrasound output. It is also very dependent on the body type you select for yourself when you calibrate the machine.
(6) The sex improvement section seems out of place in this book, and is not terribly original to boot.
Here's what you can learn from 4HB without buying the book:
---Measure your body fat (!) before and after any change you make in your diet.
---If a book makes unrealistic claims, don't believe it.
---Have your friends join you in challenges and short contests.
---Exercise consistently over years...and be more careful with your body than Mr. Ferriss is.
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Showing 1-10 of 248 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 3, 2011 12:09:28 PM PST
Robert Arthur says:
Great review! You saved me some money. However, it sounds like you are already in great shape, which may account for the lack of improvement. What about the friends you mentioned? Were they all also in excellent condition? Did any of them follow the recommendations as closely as you did? A more useful study would be to start with a person in poor or mediocre condition and evaluate the results.
Posted on Mar 7, 2011 10:38:49 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Mar 7, 2011 10:39:44 AM PST
Thanks for your well written review. I bought this book first in the Kindle version and soon after in print. I was very excited about his claims of quick fat loss. With my wife, I have followed the dietary guidelines Mr. Farris recommends quite closely and have been weight training with increased intensity three times per week, one hour per workout. I started my fourth week on the program today. I must say it is not going nearly as well as I had hoped; I am no where close to five pounds per week of fat/weight loss. I am going to give it another week before making a judgement on the diet's efficacy but I fear you are correct in your evaluation. This is disappointing to say the least.
In reply to an earlier post on Mar 7, 2011 11:14:23 AM PST
N. Watson says:
Robert and Craig,
Thanks for reading and responding to my review. I think that although I was in good physical shape at the beginning, like most people I would have been happy to lose some fat and add muscle. It's hard for me to speak to how well my less-fit friends (none of whom noted improvement) complied with the diet & workout regimen, but I know for a fact that my fiancée and I did our best to comply to the letter and both got nothing for our efforts.
In reply to an earlier post on Mar 8, 2011 2:01:44 PM PST
Victor Nava says:
I suppose different bodies, different results, but I must say that I have followed the slow carb diet to the letter, and well I do train 4 hours but a WEEK, not a month, and I'm in better shape than ever. I'd happily show you before and after pictures... I didn't take any supplements either. My mother and brother also successfully lost weight with the slow carb diet proposed by Ferris. The funny thing is that we don't measure anything, we don't take supplements and we still get great results. I would say that my abs certify this... The book doesn't provide wrong information, you might be doing something wrong, or you are in that 5% that don't seem to benefit from this kind of diets. Who knows...
In reply to an earlier post on Mar 8, 2011 2:15:38 PM PST
N. Watson says:
I just want to point out that although you did well, you more than quadrupled the exercise in the book. But congratulations on shedding the pounds, no matter what. I think that if you look through the non-first-day-5 star reviews that you will find that the "success rate" of this completely unstudied, poorly described, and often self-contradictory diet is nowhere near 95%. In fact, the weight loss programs with most effect (i.e. surgical) don't even have that success rate. In my small sample, my friends, fiancee, and myself had no benefit at all, and I think that if you look through the various negative reviews by other health and exercise experts that there are good reasons why it shouldn't.
In reply to an earlier post on Mar 8, 2011 2:46:17 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Mar 8, 2011 3:46:01 PM PST
I too am glad this diet is working for you. What type of physical training are you doing? Cardio? Resistance? Currently, I am only doing resistance training and that may be why I have had lack luster results. I simply am not burning enough calories per week to offset my food intake.
I must point out, however, that Mr. Ferris says that little or no exercise is required on his diet because "slow carbs" are metabolized differently than the carbs he advises we avoid. This appears to not be true.
Posted on Mar 9, 2011 8:32:14 AM PST
A. Chepurnoy says:
Before 218 after 2 months 203.
Did not follow the diet strictly, sometimes had 2 binge days instead of 1.
No workouts at all.
Im pretty happy with the results.
In reply to an earlier post on Mar 9, 2011 2:07:45 PM PST
[Deleted by the author on Mar 16, 2011 4:16:48 PM PDT]
Posted on Mar 9, 2011 3:04:12 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Mar 9, 2011 3:08:01 PM PST
D. Morgan says:
Great review - thanks. Confirms the view I was forming of the book. I think Tim's "experimental" view of one's relationship with one's body is a good one. I just think he's cavalier and way out there with a lot of his claims, and the type of fundamental mistakes (like the built in delay of the glucose monitor due to its measurement of interstitial fluid) he makes necessitate taking everything he says with a very large grain of salt. I personally am very fit, do a combo of weights, running, biking, dancing and other activities a good 4-8 hours a week and quite happy with my weight. My diet and practices are the amalgam of a great many books and articles I've read over the years, factored through the filter of my own observations of what works for me.
His ideas about cold were interesting as I take a cold shower (after a hot one) virtually every morning and it feels like it really helps my mood, my energy and perhaps my weight. I personally just started experimenting with the Warrior Diet and find that it works extremely well for me. I'm still playing with how to tune it for myself. I might play with a few of Tim's diet and supplement ideas if they seem useful, and after checking them out more on the Internet, but I'll keep a close eye on how it feels and works for me. I liked Tim's piece on the Kettleball swing and will probably try adopting it.
So in summary, its an interesting book to read for some additional ideas, but I'd think long and hard before dropping serious coin to implement some of what he suggests, opting instead to try out those ideas and techniques which you can easily adopt and then seeing if you get results for yourself. Life is an experiment... and a work of art designed by those who live it. Stay in the driver's seat and don't just blindly try another guy's recipe or you'll just end up disappointed again. Good luck...;-)
Posted on Mar 11, 2011 3:09:11 PM PST
Rob Stone says:
Very thorough review, Dr. Watson. Perhaps you should finish up the book you're writing and get it out there!
I read through much of 4HB at the bookstore, and two things jumped out at me: His claim that you can "Lose 20 pounds of fat in 30 days" and his claim that he gained 34 pounds of muscle in 4 weeks. I have an engineering degree along with a fair amount of biochem/physiology, and his numbers are just not even in the realm of reality. At one time I lost 20 pounds of fat in 6 months, and felt that was a huge success (and still do...). I find it unfortunate that people buy his book based on claims that I am pretty sure won't work for 99% of them.
As for his "self-experiments" losing fat, it is pretty obvious he's an ectomorph, and I have a suspicion that he "fattened up" before "slimming down." Maybe not, but based on my experience working in the health care and fitness industry, his claims are exaggerated if not simply false. Perhaps that is what's required to sell a book these days. You gotta hand it to him for being good at self-promotion!
Again, great job on the review, I found it detailed and entertaining!