of an obsessive quest, spanning more than a decade, to hack the human body … fixated on one life-changing question:
For all things physical, what are the tiniest changes that produce the biggest results?
The book is a smorgasbord of topics ranging from losing fat, adding muscle, improving sex, perfecting sleep, reversing injuries and more. Besides the meat of the book, Ferriss provides links to lots of additional bonus material.
For a general (and expert) review of 4HB, check out this from Chris Masterjohn.
For the rest of this post, I’m going to look specifically at 4HB’s Slow-Carb Diet chapter (which curiously is online at Gizmodo).
4HB’s Slow-Carb Diet
The 4HB’s slow-carb diet involves following four rules for six “slow-carb” days per week and one rule for one “cheat” day per week (bullets are my primal/paleo editorial comments):
No big surprise here; white foods have been targeted before in various diets. In general, white foods are energy-dense and nutrient-poor, so avoiding them is an all-around good diet strategy.
Ferriss mentions grains only very briefly re the slow-carb diet (answers “no” to the question “Can I eat whole grains or steel-cut oats?”).
Dairy may be a bit of a surprise, but Ferriss advises against it because of a high insulin response to dairy despite its low GI ranking. [Ed note: this may or may not be a problem at an individual level. You may want to avoid dairy if including it stalls weight loss.]
- Grains aren’t part of a paleo/primal diet because of their anti-nutrients; dairy is included by some.
Yes, it’s boring, but according to Ferriss, the diet is “intended to be effective, not fun.” Unless you really have the time and skills to cook every day, he advises to go with frozen and canned foods — at least initially — that make meal prep easier.
- Meats and veggies are definitely part of the paleo/primal diet. Because of their anti-nutrient content, legumes aren’t. Eating to satiety is paleo/primal, but given the ancestral link, there isn’t a focus on eating every so many hours (in fact, many paleo/primal folks practice intermittent fasting).
- Red wine is enjoyed by some on a paleo/primal diet.
Ferriss suggests avoiding fruit (especially fruit juice) on slow-carb days because of the way fructose is metabolized.
- Fruit is part of a paleo/primal diet, though limiting high-sugar fruit may be useful (Cordain, PāNu) for some.
- Eating lots of non-paleo/primal foods one day a week is definitely not paleo/primal!
The five rules above make up the bulk of the diet. However, Ferriss provides a list of mistakes people often make with the diet. They are re-written here as tips:
- eat within 30-60 minutes of waking
- get at least 20g of protein per meal, especially at breakfast
- drink sufficient water, especially on your “cheat” day
- avoid artificial sweeteners
- don’t overdo with exercise
Re supplements, Ferriss suggests potassium, magnesium, and calcium.
Re fats, Ferriss suggests eating “decent quantities of fat at each larger meal” (typically lunch and dinner). Saturated fat is fine if the meat is free of hormones and antibiotics. Otherwise, go for olive oil, butter, ghee, or macadamia oil (which has more monounsaturates and less omega 6 than olive oil).
Overall, this seems like it would be a successful diet for some (many?). In general, it emphasizes nutrient-dense, lower-energy foods and avoids the foods that are likely the biggest culprits in obesity and lifestyle-related disease: refined grains, added sugars, and vegetable oils. And, aside from the semi-boredom, the ability to essentially binge one day a week and still lose weight seems to be too good to be true.
Cheat day, really? The “cheat” day concept is the biggest concern I have with the 4HB. The idea of carb/calorie cycling isn’t new and in fact is somewhat intriguing (the Cheat to Lose diet operates under a similar framework and the idea has been discussed in paleo/primal circles).
However, I think there’s a difference between trying to regulate hormones by overfeeding periodically and eating crap just because you can (Ferriss says his breakfast on his “cheat” days often includes multiple chocolate croissants and bear claws). I recall Art DeVany doing a post last year around the holidays that talked about what a bad strategy it was to binge periodically (I believe it related to nutrigenomics), but alas, can’t find the link.
Seems to me if you were going to overfeed as a regular strategy, doing so with higher quality food might work better. Or doing it only if you’re generally in good health. Binge-eating on industrial crap when you’ve got one or more of the metabolic syndrome risk factors wouldn’t be something I’d recommend strongly. But then again, perhaps it’s a relative question. Maybe eating industrial crap one day a week is better than eating it every day of the week!
All of this said, I think that if you are going to follow Ferriss’ lead re “cheat” days, then you should also follow his lead on minimizing the damage from them (see “Damage Control” and “The Glucose Switch” chapters). Exercising before breakfast may be helpful too.
Other than that? I find myself already doing rules 1-4 these days. I do like the idea of macadamia nut oil (I use olive oil for salad dressing pretty liberally) and am planning to give that a try soon.
I don’t eat legumes (though I’m thinking of adding peas back per Paul Jaminet and Melissa McEwan). Nor do I generally eat within an hour of waking up, mostly because I get up early to get to work early, so if I’m not skipping breakfast for fasting reasons, I usually eat around 2 hours after waking. I don’t see the need for changing this for now.
What I do need to change is the diet sodas. Ferriss calls himself a “total Diet Coke whore” and I can relate! Unlike him (he allows himself 16 oz/day), it’s my remaining vice and I have let myself get a bit nuts. Hello, New Year’s resolution!
Where to order. Visit Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Body website for more info and purchase links. At $14 and change for the book and $10 for the e-book, it’s well worth adding to your library.
Update, 12/14: In her sardonic review of the 4HB, Melissa makes a paleo/primal point I should have explicitly made:
“Vegetables are not calorically dense”
Um, no shit?
“so it is critical that you add legumes for caloric load.”
No, it’s critical that you add fat for caloric load. It’s clear people still get good results on his diet, but I think they would have better digestion and potentially eliminate autoimmune issues if they didn’t bother with legumes.
I give Ferriss props for recommending good fats, but it’s too bad he does so only in an off-hand way (rather than as an essential part of his diet).
I agree with Melissa. You don’t need legumes to make up for missing grains/starch calories. Paul Jaminet (whose Perfect Health Diet includes non-paleo starches like white rice) is also on the anti-legumes bandwagon, including the lentils Ferriss eats religiously.
Update, 1/28: Ferriss has posted some corrections and other comments re 4HB on his blog.
Update, 1/31: Still have a question about the 4HB diet? You may want to check out 4-HBtalk’s Subtracting Fat forum.
Update, 4/17: Hive Health Media doesn’t like the cheat day concept. That said, Martin Berkhan’s strategies for a hedonist look interesting. NB (emphasis mine): “One of the ‘secrets’ to maintaining low body fat while still being able to enjoy wild excess from time to time is therefore to make a quick turnaround in the days after.”
My takeaway? Don’t do this every week, and don’t let it drag out for multiple days in a row.
Update, 4/28 Tim Ferris talks about the 4HB diet on a Jimmy Moore podcast. Worth a listen … 4HB talk begins at about 24:30.