Top 10 of All Time, #7: “Fat or Fiction — 4 Hour Body diet test”
It’s been over six weeks since we threw down the gauntlet on Tim Ferriss’ book “The 4-Hour Body” and the initial results are mixed. Our first test was against his most advertised/followed recommendations — the Slow-Carb Diet. Our results were less than jaw dropping, but it didn’t fail either. Here’s the tale of our castaways.
Feeling a bit like Gilligan, the Skipper (White Glossy) and I took five passengers on a trip that seemed doomed from the start. We filled the Minnow with a cross section of society, mostly because that’s all that volunteered, so we had a varied group of weights, heights, and ages (they were all men though, regardless of their nicknames).
|Name||Weight (lb)||% body fat (calipers)||% body fat (induction)||Height||Age|
Each passenger was asked to read and follow the following diet instructions: http://m.gizmodo.com/5709913/4+hour-body-+-the-slow+carb-diet If you’re too much of a lazy-ass to read this link, then here’s the article boiled down to five simple rules:
Rule 1: Avoid “white” carbohydrates (or anything that can be white).
Rule 2: Eat the same few meals over and over again.
Rule 3: Don’t drink calories.
Rule 4: Don’t eat fruit.
Rule 5: Take one day off per week and go nuts.
(You can also find the original Tim Ferris post here — which only had 4 rules and has been revised since…but if you’re looking to read comments, this is the place to check out).
The book includes additional chapters on how to get more from the diet, but the above link is the “core” and that’s all we tested. A couple people read the other chapters, but no one followed them (includes things like ice baths, taking certain supplements, doing air squats…). Weight was measured on a Taylor Body Fat Analyzer and Scale. This was used to also measure Induction based body fat percentages. However, induction is very inconsistent…varying 4% in just a couple hours. So, we also used Accu-Measure Calipers from Amazon for $7.95. They are cheaply made, but they work (once you get the hang of them). Don’t use the table that comes with the calipers. Instead, we used a spreadsheet that’s found on www.4hourlife.com The results from the calipers were consistent, but the accuracy seemed a little off. My gut tells me real body fat is going to be a couple percent higher than what was measured. Regardless, the goal is to “change” the value through the diet and the calipers worked great for that.
Ferriss’ book jacket says “How to lose 20 pounds in 30 days (without exercise) on the ubersimple Slow-Carb Diet”. And in his book, he says he’s had plenty of people lose five pounds a week following this diet. “Five pounds a week” spits in the face of most “experts” who say you shouldn’t try to loose more than 1 pound a week (two at most). But on this point, I’m with Ferriss. I personally lost 46lb in ten weeks once for a company weight lose contest…with a couple big caveats. First, I went all hardcore, consuming between 600-1000 calories a day and exercising very religiously — definitely not an ubersimple, no exercise approach. The second caveat was that I “worked the system”. My initial weigh-in was after a big lunch and wearing jeans, shirt, and shoes. My final weigh-in was after two days of complete dehydration and stripped down to my boxers. Those caveats alone accounted for over ten pounds…and I’m sure Ferriss’ test group had similar “system workings”.
One thing about Ferriss that I really like is that he’s skeptical, even (and perhaps mostly) of his own work. Throughout the book, he claims that things could be wrong and that you should be skeptical of everything…so he’s only writing about what’s appeared to work. Props for that! In his appendix, where he presents his own Slow-Carb study, he calls out a couple major faults. First, that people could be lying about their results (the test was run via the web…so no official weigh-ins or ID checking was done). And second, the results exclude the drop-outs and people disappointed who didn’t fill out the questionnaire. This is called survisorship bias and Ferriss admits to the shortcoming (mostly). Regardless, his results are interesting and if you take it with a grain of salt, there’s value here.
The study reports on 192 participants that followed the Slow-Carb Diet for 30 days. The study cuts and dices the results in a million different ways (how many exercised, how many counted calories, ages, meals per day…), all very interesting but too much for this blog. In the end, the average participant lost 21lbs in 30 days with a breakdown of:
|Gained 0-22 lbs||4|
|Lost 0-10 lbs||39|
|Lost 11-20 lbs||68|
|Lost 21-30 lbs||35|
|Lost 31-40 lbs||16|
|Lost 41-50 lbs||11|
|Lost >50 lbs||10|
If you call bullshit on the 40-50 lbs and >50 lbs groups (like I do — or at least call “caveats”), the results are still pretty good. Mostly people fall into the 11-20 or perhaps the 21-30lb group if you slide down all those 40+ people.
But how did our castaways compare??? The below chart is jaded in many ways. Thurston was doing great, but decided it was too rough not being able to drink beer and gave in after four weeks. The Professor got a temporary job transfer for two months and is living out of a hotel room, so his diet was shut down after 5 weeks. Ginger was doing the “breakfast only” version and was already at 10% body fat…so what good is that. And Marianne, that bitch skipped town with all my money…probably to buy a little Mary Jane. Even so, each of the castaways said it has changed them. They see food differently. They are mostly steering clear of empty carbs (except beer) and trying to eat more protein at breakfast…even though most are not officially dieting any longer.
|NAME||WEIGHT (LB)||Change (LB)||% BODY FAT (CALIPERS)||% BODY FAT (INDUCTION)||HEIGHT||AGE|
So, the final results are that we “believe” it works okay, but nothing to the song of 5 pounds a week or 20 pounds in 30 days. Of course, none of us had 100+ pounds to lose, so that could be a big factor. We experienced more to the tune or 1-1.5 pounds a week (which is similar to what I experienced when trying this diet a few months back).
But the best thing about the Slow-Carb diet is that it’s easy to implement. You don’t count calories, you eat when you want, you have a good selection of foods that tastes good. And, you still get to cheat once a week — which is a big sanity keeper. What’s even more impressive is that every castaway (except that bitch Marianne) is continuing with a partial diet. Most are doing “breakfast only” (eat a slow-carb 30g protein meal within one hour of waking). Others are doing even more…and Lovey is still 100%.