“The 4-Hour Body”: Thoughts on Tim Ferriss’ New Book

Tim Ferriss fights conventional wisdom with his latest book, "The 4-Hour Body"

Tim Ferriss, author of “The Four-Hour Workweek,” has taken his considerable analytical skills and applied them to the human form.  Quite specifically he has turned his body into a lab experiment, dropping over $250,000 in medical tests so he could monitor various outcomes of what he calls “biochemicals,” aka food and supplements to the rest of us.

It’s interesting; he’s an entertaining writer and has lots of stories.  In his book, “The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman”, (affiliate link) he discusses testing his diet on 194 willing souls and there were some dramatic results in the group.  He claims in 30 days you can “restructure” your body by 20 pounds.

I saw buzz on Twitter about the book from people that I respect picking it up and mentioning it in positive terms.  I had initially done the big ol’ eye roll; 4 hours of working out per month to achieve optimal body results.  Okay, sure.

I’m still really, really skeptical.  Ferriss addresses primarily cosmetics, i.e., how your body looks, and he doesn’t address issues such as cardiovascular health, joint flexibility, bad backs, etc.   Yet, all of his lab tests and blood work came back with healthy levels and if they didn’t, he tells the reader.

He’s a Research Geek, Like Me

What is interesting is Ferriss talks to good people and he uses decent research.  He’s a very thorough investigator and looks for results from various studies and then strings them together.  Sometimes he has a hunch about something and then experiments on himself to come up with an answer.  A study with a cohort of one is a bit small (heavy irony) but he seems to be a normal human so there should be some correlation to others.

The Diet Basics

The diet itself is pretty restrictive.  Nothing white (starches), don’t drink any calories (although a glass or two of red wine is okay), don’t eat any fruit, eat the same few meals over and over again, and take one day per week off and “go nuts,” eating whatever you want.

The foods are primarily lean proteins, legumes (he’s BIG on legumes), and a stingy list of veggies (remember, no fruit).

He also has a basic workout routine of about 30 minutes to do twice per week which totals about four hours per month, hence the title of the book.

Why I’ve Decided To Do It Myself

I’m skeptical, but I’m going to give it a go.  For the next 30 days (today is actually day three for me), I’m going to try the diet and exercise routine.  I took before pictures and measurements just as he suggested.  I’ll be talking to some experts about the diet and getting their opinions as I go and I’ll be throwing in my own two cents as far as living through it and the exercises involved.  They’re pretty simple and mostly involve kettle bells.  I’m new to kettle bells personally so that will be a fun new toy for me to play with.

Some Concerns

What are my concerns?  That this isn’t a long-term sustainable eating plan; that the vast majority of people will slip off this wagon pretty quickly because it is so limiting (except for the one day per week).  He claims you only need four hours of exercise per month and I’ve read study on top of study that says more like four hours per week.  I’d like to see more information on why he’s challenging literally thousands of university studies.

But, he talks to some pretty high-end people in the fitness and nutrition realms; people I follow and greatly respect.  A lot of the studies he cites are ones that I have read as well and respect the findings.  He talks about how the university system limits scientific discovery in some ways and I believe that’s true.  He also talks about the total disconnect between the bodybuilding community and the university researchers, and I do think some really interesting stuff would come out of research that looks at what the current bodybuilders are doing.

If you’re reading this and you’ve bought the book, feel free to comment with your opinions.  I’d like to get a discussion going about if you think what Ferriss is advocating is good or not.   I’ll be writing periodic posts as I talk to more people and go through the process.  Ultimately, I’m doing the same thing Ferriss is: experimenting on myself and reporting back to you.  I guess I get to be the second wave since he already did the hard work for me.  Thanks Tim, appreciate that.  :-)

Let me know your thoughts,

UPDATE:  Here’s my results from Week 1, Week 2 and Week 3.

Lisa

About Lisa Johnson

Lisa Johnson here. I've been a personal trainer since 1997, a Pilates instructor since 1998 and the owner of Modern Pilates since 1999. I'm hoping to give you some good ideas to get or stay in shape with a healthy dose of humor and reality. Thanks for joining me.

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33 Responses to “The 4-Hour Body”: Thoughts on Tim Ferriss’ New Book

  1. Aidan January 3, 2011 at 6:53 am #

    I bought this book after all the hype and I am pretty impressed by the content. I think that his diet is too boring but even there his tip of having a protein rich breakfast is one I have already implemented. I also like the idea of using ‘cool’training to burn extra calories and I am thinking actively about extra layers.
    In time I would like to try out his six pack technique, it sounds like a winner but you need 12% body fat first :-(

  2. Jess January 3, 2011 at 9:05 am #

    My boyfriend picked up this book after we both loved the “Four-Hour Work Week.” Neither of us have read the whole thing, but the sections I have read have been interesting.

    I like that he bases a lot of what he says on different studies and the fact that he tested everything himself is a bit reassuring, but I agree that that kind of diet and lifestyle just isn’t sustainable.

    Plus, I don’t think I could ever give up fruit. It’s just too delicious.

  3. Lisa Johnson January 3, 2011 at 9:20 am #

    Aidan, don’t look at the 12% as a hard, fast rule, it really depends on how you hold fat, and how you respond to training. Everyone will be a little bit different and you won’t really know until you get there ;-) I’ve been doing the “cold therapy” with a glass of ice cold water first thing in the morning, you can definitely feel it sitting in your stomach, it’s a little uncomfortable (not much).

    While automated eating has been studied a lot as a way to keep weight in control, the legume thing is kinda new to the arena at least in the mainstream literature. The reason why automated eating works is because it’s boring … you’re not drooling over scrambled eggs … again. lol

    Jess, I hear you on the fruit and on the long term sustainable lifestyle. I saw an online interview with him and he said he’s been doing this for five years. So more power too him, but would I want to do this forever? not really? So the question will be how do you lose the weight, gain the muscle and then transition to something that works best for you? I’ll explore that as I go through the process myself.

    Thanks for stopping by :-)

  4. Craig Jarrow January 3, 2011 at 10:39 am #

    Lisa,

    I too am reading Tim’s new book. (May post a review soon.)

    I like some of the things he says, but the main issue I have with it is similar to the 4 Hour Workweek… which is…

    “Is it realistic *and* sustainable” for the average person?”

    I am not sure it is.

    He has some good diet tips. I think many people underestimate the nutrition side of fitness.

    The other concern I have is that his method may lead people to “too little” physical fitness. Yes, there is some truth to minimal needed effort. (kind of the 80/20 rule of working out…)

    And yes, some people overtrain, especially when starting a workout program.

    But, if he has people thinking they are only going to work out for 4 hours in a month…(1 hour a week?)…that is not going to work for many people.

    Just some thoughts.

    - Craig

  5. Kris @Krazy_kris January 3, 2011 at 12:07 pm #

    Lisa – I’ve been hearing the “buzz” around this too, so it’s interesting to learn a bit what it’s about. I actually hit a wall and couldn’t figure out how I wasn’t losing a few pounds, even after going from a couch potato to an exerciser and a drive through junkie to an eat at home healthy kind of meal. Then I started looking into the glycemic index of foods and realized that even though I was eating “good” carbs (no white flour, no white sugar, bananas, wheat bread etc), these were still high GI foods.

    I did a “similar” thing in late summer – basically, for 3 weeks, based all my meals around protein and non-starchy vegetables – 50/50 – including protein based snacks. I’m one of those that thinks that every body metabolizes food differently – and for me – I think that was REALLY good for me to normalize my blood sugar. And yes, I did drop a few pounds and slimmed around the waistline for sure. After the 3 weeks, I started incorporating low GI carbs – quinoa, berries, oats, apples, with still the MAJORITY of the portions coming from protein & veggies.

    What was interesting for me through this process was to realize how many carbs (even the good ones) I really ate – it was an eye opener for sure.

    Let us know how it goes!

  6. Lisa Johnson January 3, 2011 at 1:41 pm #

    Craig, yup, he is saying that’s all you need because his blood work indicates that he’s healthy and in the normal ranges. All well and good, but I’m hoping to track down a cardiovascular surgeon to see what he thinks about forsaking cardio all together. Forever. That seems wrong. I’ve also read his 4 hour work week and I like some aspects of it but I have a customer service business (my Pilates studio) and can’t make much money working 4 hours per week ;-) Of course, his suggestion is to ditch the studio to gain back time but I love what I do.

    Anyway, we’ll see. It’s been a while since I’ve done anything like this so I’m curious about the adventure. It’ll definitely be an adventure.

    Lisa

  7. Lisa Johnson January 3, 2011 at 1:43 pm #

    thanks for the input Kris, I love that you say everyone has their own metabolism and we need to figure out what ours is. I totally agree with you. Thanks for making that point.

  8. fran melmed January 3, 2011 at 3:54 pm #

    i’m so glad to see you’re reviewing this. i just read about it last night and was immediately dubious. i haven’t picked it up at all, so i don’t know whether he distinguishes moving regularly from exercising only four hours per month. exercising that little stands in direct contradiction to recent studies that say even regular exercisers aren’t moving enough to combat our mostly sedentary lifestyles. separately, the notion of eating the same thing over and over again seems unsustainable, as others have mentioned, and also unhealthy, given the potential lack of variety and nutrients. i’ll be tuning in.

    regards,
    fran

  9. Lisa Johnson January 3, 2011 at 4:10 pm #

    Thanks Fran, I’ll try to be truthful. There are some studies that suggest that “automated eating” (basically eating the same stuff over and over again) does help weight loss because you’re not all that excited to eat it so you tend not to overeat. It has been used successfully for some people with their weight loss strategies. But how long can you do that? I don’t know … is it safe to be automated for long periods of time? I don’t know … (another blog post!)

    The exercise is 4 hours per month and that is strenuous activity. He has done a lot of self-experimentation as well as research to come up with a minimum amount needed. When I was swinging my kettle bell this morning I was definitely huffing!

    Glad you’re tuning in, I’ll keep posting regularly. :-)

    Lisa

  10. Kerri O January 3, 2011 at 4:54 pm #

    I am doing this. He is rather unconventional and has a lot of crazy stuff in this book. I think you have to come to it with a lot of wisdom of yourself. For instance, he says cheat day, binge day, and even discusses eating until he was sick…I am a recovering binge eater, will I do any of those things? NO. I will however have a higher calorie day including things the diet doesn’t, like dairy, fruit, oats, etc. It’s just something new to try in my adventure of finding what works best for me!

  11. Lisa Johnson January 3, 2011 at 5:46 pm #

    Kerri, great approach to it and I caught the same thing you did (I’m saving it for another post). In the book Ferriss refers to it as “binge” day, and one of his testers in the book referred to it as “refeeding” day. Smacks a bit of eating disordered thinking and I think someone who had that mindset could feel a tug in that direction. I am NOT saying that Ferriss is advocating that in any way … but it’s a slippery slope.

    Thanks for adding your two cents, I appreciate it,

    Lisa

  12. Sonia Simone January 3, 2011 at 7:35 pm #

    Much as in 4HWW Ferriss defines work as “stuff I don’t like to do,” in 4HB he defines working out as serious strength work, and doesn’t include taking a walk or playing frisbee or any movement that doesn’t involve lifting a large heavy piece of metal.

    For the diet, he actually says any veg is ok, you don’t have to limit to the ones he does. He doesn’t cook, so too much variety for some reason intimidates him, but other than potatoes he doesn’t put anything off-limits.

    I thought this was an interesting take on lower-carb. I tried it for a few days, but I didn’t feel great, and then I had travel & holidays so I cut the experiment short. So far my reaction is that I feel much better with Susan Robert’s I-Diet, which is hard for some people because you measure everything, but I like it because it’s got the right amount of variety (not enough to overstimulate appetite, but enough to stave off boredom).

    I find myself wondering how well these methods work for women. It’s one thing to eat 6,000 calories on “binge day” if you’re a guy building truck-sized leg and shoulder muscles, but I’m skeptical for how that’s going to work for me. But then again, I have no desire to eat 6,000 calories on my day off, so maybe it’s fine.

    I have a feeling I will end up incorporating some of the 4HB recommendations, though. The eggs/spinach/beans meal is probably something I will be eating quite a bit for lunch, and I’m tempted to put more legumes into my diet.

    I’ve also got some kettlebells & am ramping up to learn my kettlebell swing. The story about Fleur’s perfect backside was just too hard to resist. :)

    Although Lisa, you’ll be glad to know I did get that incline treadmill, and I love it, and my backside is already looking pretty darned good. ;)

  13. Lisa Johnson January 3, 2011 at 7:55 pm #

    Sonia, I’m sure you bum looks awesome! LOL, how are the side steps on the treadmill going? you can do it with an incline too, awesome for the medial glutes (these are the things on the sides of your legs above your hip joint that can make you look great in a pair of jeans if their toned!)

    I did chuckle a bit as I got more into the book, he really just wrote the book for himself really. He’s a single guy with money in San Francisco and his lifestyle does shine through the pages.

    I did cave and buy the kettlebell yesterday and had my first experience with it today. Referred to one of my old blog posts to see proper technique! Kinda funny that I used my own blog as a resource. LOL …

    Thanks, Sonia, appreciate the input,

    Lisa

  14. Duff January 3, 2011 at 10:06 pm #

    Tim Ferriss is a shady manipulative dude (to put it nicely) who spends his intelligence and discipline learning how to lie, cheat, and deceive his way through life. Granted he’s a smart cookie and 1/3 of what he says is intelligent, but there is little reason to believe he’s achieved what he claims given his long history of deception and misleading marketing.

  15. Lean Muscle Matt January 3, 2011 at 10:10 pm #

    Hi Lisa and friends,

    I have to say that I’m a pretty huge fan of Tim Ferriss, if not only for the way he attacks industry and society norms by exploring lightly trodden alternative paths for success.

    Maybe it’s just me, but there seems to be a swell of buzz throughout the fitness community surrounding over training and its potentially harmful side effects. Could this be a 4-Hour Body ripple?

    I really took Tim’s slightly modified Pareto Principle to heart in which he states that 95 percent of your fitness gains come from only 5 percent of your efforts. It’s something I think about whenever I’m trying to make absolutely certain that I’ve squeezed every last rep out of my pulsing, screaming muscles. I’ve been working out in varying degrees for 10 years, so I know through experience that simply going through the motions each workout is simply not enough to promote lasting gains. You’ve got to crawl on your hands and knees to that line that separates the old you from the new you, and then when you absolutely can’t go any further, take one more step.

    Aidan – Ray Cronise from the “Ice Age” chapter of 4HB commented on a past post of mine titled “Use Thermodynamics to Lose Fat?”, and in it he shares some specifics about his methods for using temperature manipulation to lose fat. I’m actually glad he did, because I was about to walk outside in a t-shirt to do my first walk. Considering that I live in Minnesota I may have needed to call for help like the Tin Man from “The Wizard of Oz” after freezing to the sidewalk. Please feel free to check it out if you’re interested in learning more.

    I look forward to sharing results with you all as our experiments progress.

    I wonder how many guinea pigs Tim’s made since his book’s release… :)

  16. Lisa Johnson January 3, 2011 at 10:10 pm #

    Duff, I have to say having read most of his blog I find him to be sincere but always looking through the same lens, “what works best for him.” This makes sense, I think we all do that … but I found it amusing and charming in spots. When he was trying to convey things to his female readers for instance. I laughed in a couple of places because obviously he’s a guy and just don’t get “girl stuff.”

    Some of his content I like, some I’m skeptical, it’s 500 pages, there’s gotta be something in there for everyone :-)

    Lisa

  17. Lisa Johnson January 3, 2011 at 11:14 pm #

    ha! definitely quite a few guinea pigs. LOL … I will definitely check out the post you mentioned and if it’s ok with you quite likely reference it in one of my posts. You are quite right that if people really focus on the exercises they’re doing, proper load, form and pacing with the right number of sets and reps they will save a lot of time in the gym and build a better, more structurally sound body. I like that thinking :-)

    Thanks Matt,

    Lisa

  18. Aidan January 4, 2011 at 5:24 am #

    Lisa,
    It’s really interesting following the comments here. One thing that you said really strook a chord. He is clearly writing through the prism of his own lifestyle and though he attempts to draw general conclusions I think that one must me sceptical about how far you can apply certain things.
    If you have a family with small children it is almost impossible to maintain a regime that does not take your family into account. for instance we always eat dinner together and I am not about to start preparing a separate meal for myself when I want to teach my children that communal eating of the same foods is a good thing. At the same time I do control my own breakfast and lunch so there I can take some of his advice on board.
    Also, what you and other commenters say about cardio is true. He is smart to point out that there is a minimum effective dose but that does not meant that one should not do other exercise like walking. It might be easy to get a bare pass in an exam but that shouldn’t stop people aiming for an A grade.
    I really think that his book is like one of those family health manuals, you don’t have to look up every chapter, like he says it is a buffet. For somebody of my age (38) his book is very useful but I think that you need other resources too. For ordinary men the best book I ever came across was an Australian one called The Gutbusters Waist Loss Guide.
    Another thing I really recommend for anybody looking for motivation is to follow the One Hundred Pushups challenge. I have been doing that for weeks and I can make 61 consecutive pushups now. That challenge is something every person everywhere can do without any complicated supplement cocktails and it really does deliver a health benefit too.
    Aidan

  19. Lisa Byrne January 4, 2011 at 7:28 am #

    Lisa, my automatic opinion of Tim Ferris is not warm and fuzzy. Although in the circle of the fitness industry I have been seeing many a professional giving kudos to him regarding this book. Not sure where the kick back or affiliation is for them; nonetheless, they are all praising Tim.

    I like your dissection and hearing about your plan for the next 30 days. I think there are always tidbits of information to be gained from anything that is good, bad, or indifferent.

    My opinion of Tim Ferris has become an automatic ‘ugh’ for some reason because he seems cocky. That’s no reason to discount his new book though.

    I always love to go to the reviews on Amazon and check the 1 or 2 star reviews. These often get to the bottom line and are more real than the over inflated 5 stars reviews from ‘friends’ and ‘professionals’. He has 58 of the low stars. I get more real info from them about the guts and flaws of his idea.analysis

    Keep us posted on your journey!

    best,
    Lisa

  20. Lisa Johnson January 4, 2011 at 8:08 am #

    Aidan, excellent points, I have a family as well and the family meal is sacred. I’m experimenting a bit with it. I made the usual protein and veggies and handed my son and husband bread last night and I skipped it. But I can see this becoming a problem rather quickly. Also, my son knows this is a 30 day thing and he’s also used to me experimenting with different fitness ideas. Basically he just shrugs and accepts what I’m doing but I’m always very careful to explain what good eating is and “all things in moderation.”

    Also, as you say, this is the minimum amount, so I guess instead of an A workout, well rounded with variety, cross training, mind-body and cardio it’s a minimum passing so I guess a C would be a better grade. Excellent point and I appreciate that insight. (might sneak it into one of my blog posts).

    Maybe I’ll try the 100 pushups next! lol … maybe …

    Thanks, Lisa

  21. Lisa Johnson January 4, 2011 at 8:10 am #

    Lisa, I have a mild curiousity about Mr. Ferriss, I know his principles for 4HWW and they don’t apply to me but I appreciate them for what they are. Even the worst Pilates instructors have something you can take away that will help you. Even if it’s what NOT to do. lol …

    I don’t think Ferriss’ book is all bad at all. Just questioning some portions of it. We’ll see. This is an excellent discussion, I love that I’ve got so many pros chiming in with their advice, thank you! Really adds to the discussion.

    Lisa

  22. BrianH January 4, 2011 at 5:41 pm #

    I started a discussion board so that people can talk about the massive amount of information in the book.

    You can check it out at:
    http://www.4hbtalk.com

  23. Lisa Johnson January 4, 2011 at 6:04 pm #

    Thanks Brian :-) I’ll check it out soon. L–

  24. Jeff January 6, 2011 at 1:29 am #

    Is anyone following the PAGG supplement routine also? Seems it’s a four part plan with the kettle ball/exercise plan, the slow carb diet, cold water/ice therapy and the supplements. Like 4hww I had to distill his prose into actionable daily steps to actually put the ideas into action. The diet and exercise and probably the cold therapy will help but are the supplements well known to be affective or is he pioneering them? Anyway, I’m all in so we’ll see.

  25. Lisa Johnson January 6, 2011 at 2:09 pm #

    Jeff, yup, that’s how I broke it down too. I kinda started the PAGG. I’ve had, um, one dose. Go really nauseous, laid down for about 10 minutes, had a huge burp and then I was fine the rest of the day, lol. Lots of energy actually even though I only took the one dose, not the four. I’m going to work up to it slowly and not do it all at once and if I feel weird at all I’m stopping. I’m not really a supplement person, but I’m “doing the program” for 30 days.

    It’s day 5 and I’m down 4 pounds and still haven’t cheated. At all. That alone is kinda a miracle. :-)

    Cheers,

    Lisa

  26. Susan@Home Workouts January 6, 2011 at 3:34 pm #

    Hey Lisa, this is a tough one. Some of what he says is possible goes against what we know as fitness professionals. And we do know that Tim is NOT a fitness pro, but he was smart enough to go to all the right doctors and fitness folks to help him do the self experiments which produced the results of the book.

    In short, I WANT to take what he reported at face value. And he reports some pretty cool numbers when it comes to weight loss and muscle building. I even wrote a post about his cold exposure methods over on my blog.

    Do we know if what he reports is 100% accurate? No.

    Can we do the self experiments ourselves to see what happens? Oh yes! I have been giving it a shot too, can’t wait to see what your results are.

    (I think he may be way off on the amount of muscle one can accumulate in that amount of time).

  27. Tara C January 14, 2011 at 3:15 pm #

    In the book there is no separation of man and woman dietary consumption suggestions. I thought this was cool, however, during menstruation I wonder if it is better for a women to consume fruits to increase iron. I know that Tim mentions legumes, legumes, legumes… which is a great source for iron, however I wonder if adding an additional iron supplement will be most beneficial. Ideas?

  28. Aaron January 20, 2011 at 12:58 pm #

    Just a quick heads up on the PAGG stack. Tim tweeted (@tferriss) on January 7th to omit green tea from your bedtime routine. It can cause insomnia. I’m extra sensitive so I’ve omitted from my bedtime and dinner stack. About 2-1/2 weeks in and loving how I feel from 4hb :)

  29. kb January 20, 2011 at 1:26 pm #

    I just heard about his ideas from a reader. I am definitely picking up this book today, I’m intrigued and like to stay current on what people are talking about. I will not subscribe to his eating plan, I prefer the feeling of eating all natural and almost entirely whole, other than an occasional item from time to time. The idea to limit vegetation and eat whatever junk one day a week isn’t teaching much about nutrition or homeostasis within the body. I don’t doubt one will lose weight, what else that cannot be seen will be lost as well?

  30. Lisa Johnson January 20, 2011 at 4:37 pm #

    Aaron, thanks for adding the tip. :-) KB, I have to agree with you, if you are looking to move towards a balanced way of living, this isn’t the way to do it! :-) L–

  31. Love Blogger Chick March 29, 2012 at 4:36 pm #

    I’m doing the 4HB but adding in high intensity interval training. So far, so good.

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