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279 of 314 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Promises Far More Than It Delivers, 30 Oct 2011
This review is from: The 4-Hour Body: An uncommon guide to rapid fat-loss, incredible sex and becoming superhuman (Paperback)
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 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. Unfortunately - or fortunately, depending how you look at it - overly rapid weight loss never became a problem.

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. This is one of those friends with an unfortunate tendency to be right. 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).

The second time around I omitted the 2 litres of chilled water per day.

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 still 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!

Incidentally, having read many of the other reviews, I can't help but notice that even among the 5 star raves, when an actual rate of weight loss is reported, it is generally about half of what is claimed in the book - and often considerably less. Why these people are willing to give a book five stars under such circumstances is a question you'd have to ask them.

In the end I can only say that I went into this with an open mind. I did actually buy the book. If you track down this review as it appears on Amazon's US website (which is where I bought it from), you'll see that it does have the Amazon Verified Purchase label. 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.

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Tracked by 10 customers

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Showing 11-20 of 42 posts in this discussion
In reply to an earlier post on 24 Jun 2012 23:44:05 BDT
S. Lucassen says:
I know this feeling well and can relate to your sentiments. If you havent encountered it perhaps you would find Paul McKenna's approach to weight loss interesting. It is all about addressing the stress and anxiety that leads to bad eating habits. It is completly anti-diet and pro dealing with your own psychological hang ups. A worth while read...regardless of if it shifts any weight.

Posted on 3 Jul 2012 17:50:50 BDT
NyiNya says:
Brilliant review. Most diets don't give us real examples, just those "X in Maida Vale says: Worked for me." Good analysis, good reporting. Thank you.

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Jul 2012 18:31:18 BDT
Theo says:
Thank you!

Always nice to know the effort's been appreciated! :-)

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Jul 2012 16:03:11 BDT
Indeed. It's fascinating. In the EU we have an unfair practices directive (also part of English law) and anyone writing a review who is connected/paid or even for a tweet has to disclose the connection otherwise a criminal offence is committed. US laws may be different.

Ther is no way however loyal a fan base that they would all upload reviews on the same day unless they were in some kind of hypnotised scientology cult deprived of food and forced to do it. Sounds more like Indian outsourcers paid to write them.

As a low carb advocate (some brown carb is needed even if you are mostly paleo for most people's mental health and stabilisaton of seratonin levels in the brain - happiness above fitness and weight always in my view as if you feel happy you exercise and stick to a stable weight and eat well) I am sure this all would work but I would certainly tell people to avoid any supplements of any kind. Be natural. Eat as our ancestors ate. They had no powders, potions, protein supplements or anything of that nature.

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Jul 2012 15:03:38 BDT
Theo says:
Thanks for your comment.

I definitely agree that it's a far better idea to as you say, just eat as our ancestors ate. Without going into the long version I have been experimenting with my diet quite a bit lately, and I did get far better results with a paleo style diet than Ferriss's program.

Posted on 23 Aug 2012 15:05:26 BDT
Toby Jones says:
"I ate ... stir fried vegetables (from local Chinese takeaways; on most occasions ordered in curry sauce) ... every day"
Considering the effort you went to to match what's in the book for your other meals, it seems peculiar to have had a takeaway every day. Yes you had vegetables, but what were they fried in and what was in the curry sauce? Surely that's high in calories, not to mention salt?
You may be right in your analysis of this book, but for me, this rather undermines the rest of your review.

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Aug 2012 16:26:32 BDT
Last edited by the author on 23 Aug 2012 16:27:19 BDT
Theo says:
I think stir fried veges is as healthy as takeaway gets. My best estimate is that it contained 360 calories per meal.

In any event, it is entirely within the rules he lays out for the diet. Whether you consider it a healthy choice or not, my effort to match what was in the book was in no way undermined by this choice.

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Aug 2012 19:58:11 BDT
Theo says:

Just to expand a bit on what I said before, the book itself is quite explicit that eating out is fine, just so long as you eat the right things. On page 93 of the book the author clearly states:

"Speaking as a cooking-inept bachelor, and as someone who has eaten out an average of twice a day for the last five years, the slow-carb solution in restaurants is eight words:
'I'll just have more vegetables instead of [starch].'"

So that's what I did.

The mere fact that (on most occasions) I decided to take the food home rather than eat it on the spot changes nothing.

When you say "this rather undermines the rest of your review", I think you need to make a distinction here between:

1. Following a diet you personally approve of; and

2. Following the diet prescribed in the book and then providing an adequate review of that diet and my experience of it.

Clearly I didn't do the first of those things. But believe me, I absolutely did do the second.

In reply to an earlier post on 24 Aug 2012 08:50:01 BDT
Toby Jones says:
It wasn't the fact you had stir fried vegetables I was questioning, it was the curry sauce. Having not read the book, I cannot comment on whether that was in line with the guidelines, it just seemed odd and out of line with the rest of the food you were eating. I am not saying I approve or disapprove of what you ate or the diet in the book, I just wanted to point out that the sauce is probably quite calorific, and may have undermined your aim of loosing weight. If it is within the guidelines, then the rest of your review stands. If it isn't, then your conclusion that the diet doesn't work is flawed. Again, I am not arguing whether the diet is good/bad or works/doesn't work, just that your insistence that you stuck to the diet doesn't seem to tally with daily curry sauce. I may be wrong. It sounds like the guidelines in the book for what is acceptable to eat in a restaurant (or takeaway) are a little imprecise. If, in your view, you were in line with the guidelines, then I'm happy to accept your review as it stands.

In reply to an earlier post on 2 Sep 2012 23:06:36 BDT
Theo says:

I've since spoken to the cook at the main restaurant I was buying my stir fry from. He assures me that they make their "curried" version simply by adding curry powder to the stir fry. This being the case, it would seem that we're talking about a mere 16 to 32 extra calories (for 1 to 2 tablespoons of powder) per day at the most.

I realize that some Chinese sauces are very calorie dense, but I don't think this is one of them. It's not like we're talking about sweet and sour, plum or lemon sauce.

It's also important to remember that the "slow carb" diet is not one that requires or even encourages the dieter to track calories anyway.

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