The first thing the author of this book tells us is that we're not meant to just pick it up and read it all the way through. Instead, we're encouraged to read the introduction to establish a certain base level of knowledge, and from there decide for ourselves which of the remaining sections are relevant to us. The book has specific sections on losing fat, gaining muscle, improving sex, perfecting sleep, reversing injuries, running, getting stronger, living longer, plus a section called "from swimming to swinging", which covers a grab-bag of topics. Personally I focused on fat loss, so that's what I'm going to focus on in this review.
The section on fat loss begins with a chapter entitled "The Slow-Carb Diet I: How to Lose 20 pounds in 30 Days Without Exercising". Pretty spectacular stuff, huh? In fact, most authorities agree that weight loss that rapid is not actually healthy. So before I began I decided that if the program truly lived up to its hype, I'd only stick to it for a couple of weeks before going back to a slower weight loss program.
The diet is broken down into five rules:
1. Avoid "white" carbohydrates (e.g. sugar, white rice, white bread, potatoes).
2. Eat the same few meals over and over again.
3. Don't drink calories.
4. Don't eat fruit.
5. Take one day off per week and go nuts.
The author also advises dieters to emphasize high protein foods, legumes, and vegetables.
I took two serious shots at this diet. In the first I made one small change of my own, but in the second I followed the stated program TO THE LETTER. In neither attempt did the results even remotely live up to the claims made by the author.
In my first attempt, on my non-binge days I ate:
Breakfast: 2 cans of Old El Passo "Mexe-Beans" plus raw baby spinach.
Lunch: Kangaroo keema with optional green salad; OR steak with grilled tomato and optional steamed broccoli.
Dinner: 20 gm of 85% cocoa dark chocolate plus 20 gm of sunflower seeds plus optional green vegetables (raw baby cucumbers or celery, or steamed broccoli). The chocolate, which I ate for its established heart-health benefits, was my only break with the diet's normal rules. It represented less than one single teaspoon of sugar per day, and as a low glycemic index (GI) food, at least seemed in the spirit of "slow carb".
I drank only water, diet sodas, and black, unsweetened coffee. Following a further suggestion of the author's, I also drank two litres (4.2 pints) of chilled water per day. I occasionally skipped a meal, but as stressed in the book, always ate my high protein breakfast within an hour of waking up.
In the week before going on the diet I have to admit I overindulged. As a result my weight "spiked" by 3.4 kg (7.5 pounds). After five days on the diet literally all of this had come off. Unfortunately, that's where the good news ends. In the three weeks after that I lost just 1.3 kilograms (2.9 pounds). So on a diet billed as causing weight loss of 20 pounds in 30 days, I actually lost less than 3 pounds in 3 weeks. At this point I decided it wasn't worth continuing.
My body fat percentage did end up marginally higher than it was when I started, but the difference was well within my normal daily fluctuations. I did not go quite so far as to use the more rigorous body fat measuring protocols suggested in the book, but I did use my scale (with electronic body fat monitor) at the same time each day: immediately upon awakening, after using the bathroom but before eating or drinking anything.
On the plus side, if you not unreasonably take the view that Mr. Ferriss is not responsible for what I did to myself in the week before going on his diet, you could say that I lost 10.4 pounds. On the other hand, if you factor in the reality that - as any experienced dieter knows - weight gained during these "final" binges usually comes off very quickly anyway, what we're left with is a loss of less than one pound per week. As a personal aside, when I ran the weight loss program by a nurse friend of mine she predicted that it wouldn't work: that each week I'd just regain what I'd lost in my weekly binge. As it turns out, each week I regained almost, but not quite all that I had lost. Hence the very slow net weight loss I did in fact achieve.
And that's where my discussion of the slow carb diet originally ended. However, after posting this review I began seeing claims that my daily dose of dark chocolate was why the diet didn't work for me. I decided to do some reading, and found an article in the Journal of Nutrition reporting that coco-flavoured foods really do cause an insulin response greater than you'd expect from their GI alone. Dark chocolate is still very good for you in the long run, but it _might_ cause an insulin spike at the time you actually eat it. And it is true that the book tells us to avoid this. I figured it was just possible that the fault here really was my own, so I decided to give the slow carb diet another try.
The second time around, on the days I didn't "go nuts" I ate nothing outside the following four meals:
Old El Paso Mexe-Beans served on leafy greens with a splash of red wine vinegar and jalapeños.
Kangaroo and cauliflower curry served on leafy greens with a splash of red wine vinegar.
Lean rump steak with steamed Brussels sprouts.
Stir fried vegetables (from local Chinese takeaways; on most occasions ordered in curry sauce).
On almost every day of the diet I ate three meals: one beans, one meat, one stir-fried vegetables. I once missed the third meal, and I once had a second meal of Mexe-Beans in place of the vegetables, but that's it. As before, I was always careful to eat a high protein breakfast within an hour of getting up, and drank only water, diet sodas, and black, unsweetened coffee. This time around I also made the supreme sacrifice and omitted the pre-diet binge so beloved of slimmers everywhere. I wanted to be sure that whatever weight I lost was going to be real weight loss. No excuses!
My results were mediocre to say the least. After six days of regimented eating I'd lost 1.1 kg (2.4 pounds). In the "go nuts" day that followed I not only regained all of this weight, but more besides. As a result, by the end of the next six days of regimented eating I was still actually 0.1 kg (3.5 ounces) HEAVIER than I'd been at the end of the first six days - although 1 kg (2.2 pounds) lighter than when I first began. On a positive note, in this second shot at the diet my body fat percentage did drop slightly, so all of that appears to be real fat loss. Even so, it seemed pretty clear that I was simply yo-yoing, just as my nurse friend had said I would. Plus I'd only lost about a quarter of what I should have by day 14 had I truly been on course to "lose 20 pounds in 30 days". I decided it was time to call it quits and resume a healthier pattern of eating.
So much for my personal experiments in fat loss. There are two other sections of the book I would now like to comment on.
First, "Adding Muscle". Ferriss is an advocate of Arthur Jones style High Intensity Training, or "HIT". As with his weight loss program, Ferriss has no problem advertising truly spectacular results, titling one chapter "From Geek to Freak: How to Gain 34 pounds in 28 days". I agree HIT deserves more attention than it gets, but there are more realistic manuals out there. Just do a book search here on Amazon on "High Intensity Training" or "Mike Mentzer" and you'll get some good suggestions.
Similarly, while Mr. Ferriss has a chapter entitled "Living Forever: Vaccines, Bleeding, and Other Fun", a lot of the science behind this chapter on "Living Forever" is highly debatable. Here too I would advise that there are simply better, and certainly more scientifically grounded books available. I personally suggest starting with Dr. Roy Walford's Beyond the 120 Year Diet
and the CR society website. On a more conservative front, Jack LaLane's Live Young Forever
is also well worth a look.
Finally, I would like to comment on the number of five star reviews this book has garnered, particularly over on Amazon's US website. Having seen other reviewers claim that this book gained a suspiciously high number of positive reviews rather too quickly, I decided to do a little detective work. By sorting the reviews from oldest first, I easily verified that 110 reviews of this book were posted on the 14th of December 2010. Of these 110 reviews, all but 5 gave the book five stars. Obviously it's equally easy for you to verify all this too - provided you don't mind doing some counting! A disturbingly large number of five star reviews also happened to appear on the US website on April 26 2011. I've no idea why April 26 2011 was the magic day, but if you do happen to know, then please leave a comment on this review letting me in on the secret. I'm quite curious myself!
In the end I can only say that I went into this with an open mind. I did actually buy the book, and I didn't throw away that money just so I could write a nasty review. I also took not just one but two very serious shots at the weight loss program contained in the book. And yes, like anyone else on a weight loss program, of course I wanted it to work. However, I find that I cannot reconcile my own experiences with the countless rave reviews this book seems to attract.
Draw what conclusions you will.