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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Physical Improvement for Geeks: The Four Hour Body

I've just read through all of Tim Ferriss' The Four Hour Body ( (4HB). Short version of review: found it really interesting and helpful and generally to be full of sound advice and guidance provided with a dose of humor. I am starting on the book's Slow Carb Diet (SCD) in an attempt to lose 20lbs of mostly visceral fat (read "lose my beer gut" and try to live to see my daughter graduate from college).

The book is written from a geek's perspective for geeks. It essentially takes an engineering approach to body tuning based on self experimentation, measurement, and application of sound scientific principles. In a post on the 4HB blog Tim captures the basic approach and purpose of the book:

"To reiterate: The entire goal of 4HB is to make you a self-sufficient self-experimenter within safe boundaries. Track yourself, follow the rules, and track the changes if you break or bend the rules. Simple as that. That’s what I did to arrive at my conclusions, and that’s what you will do — with a huge head start with the 4HB — to arrive at yours."

I've done Atkins in the past with some success so I know that for me a general low-carb approach will work. The Slow Carb Diet essentially takes Atkins and reduces it to the essential aspects that create change. The biggest difference between Atkins and the SCD is the SCD eliminates all dairy because of its contribution to insulin spiking despite a low glycemic index. So no cheese or sugar-free ice cream (which we got really good at making back in our Atkins days). The SCD also includes a weekly "cheat day" where you eat whatever crap you want, as much as you can choke down. After 6 days I've lost 3.5 lbs, which is about what I would expect at the start of a strict low-carb diet. I haven't had the same degree of mind alteration that I got from the Atkins induction process, which is nice, because that was always a pretty rough week for everybody.

What I found interesting about the 4HB was that Tim is simply presenting his findings and saying "this worked, this didn't, here's why we think this did or didn't work." He's not selling a system or pushing supplements or trying to sell videos. His constant point is "don't take my word for it, test it yourself. I might be spouting bullsh*t so test, test, test."

As an engineer that definitely resonated with me. He also spends a lot of time explaining why professional research is often useless, flawed, biased, or otherwise simply not helpful, if not downright counterproductive. As somebody who's always testing assumptions and asking for proof I liked that too.

He even has an appendix where he presents some data gathered from people who used the SCD, which, as presented suggested some interesting findings and made the diet look remarkably effective. He then goes through the numbers and shows why the numbers are deceptive and can't be trusted in a number of ways. If his intent was to sell the diet he would have just presented the numbers. Nice.

His focus is as much on the mental process as on the physical process: measure, evaluate, question, in short, think about what you're doing and why. Control variables as much as possible in your experiments.

I highly recommend the book for anyone who's thinking about trying to lose weight or improve their physical performance in whatever way they need to--Ferriss pretty much covers all bases, from simple weight and fat loss to gaining muscle, improving strength, etc.

He has two chapters focused on sexual improvements, one on female orgasm and one on raising testosterone levels, sperm count, and general libido in males. These could have come off as pretty salacious and "look what at what a sex machine I've become" but I didn't read them that way. Rather his point was that improving the sexual aspects of ones life is important to becoming a more complete person--it's an important part of being human so why not enjoy it to its fullest? I personally went through a male fertility issue when my wife and I tried to start a family and if I'd had the chapter on improving male fertility at that time (and if my fertility had actually been relevant) it would have been a godsend. One easy takeaway from that chapter: if you want kids don't carry an active cell phone in your pocket.

An interesting chapter on sleep: how to get better sleep, how to need less sleep, etc. Some interesting and intriguing stuff there as well. Some simple actions that might make significant positive changes in sleep patterns, as well as a technique for getting by on very little sleep if you can maintain a freaky-hard nap schedule.

Overall I found the book thoughtful, clearly written, engaging and entertaining and generally helpful. I found very few things that made me go "yeah right" or "oh please" or any of the reactions I often have to self help books. He stresses being careful and responsible and having a clear undestanding of what your goal is. In short, sound engineering practice applied to your physical self.

Dr. Macro says check it out.



Blogger Michael Friedman said...

Very interesting - I did the Atkins diet with pretty good results a bunch of years ago, but added the weight it back on.

I am actually in school now working toward a masters in clinical nutrition, and have learned a ton about how the body processes stuff. I'd be glad to offer ideas I came across that resonated with me and are making a difference in how I lose weight now. Some are behavioral tricks, others are mechanical - how frequently the body needs calories, how much, how they are used, etc.

I am in week 6 of an exercise binge, and am seeing some dramatic fat loss results at very low impact. While everyone around me is pounding the treadmill pavement, I am walking very slowly - and slimming rapidly without much weight change. However, it is trending down about 1lb a week.

I have found two VERY good tools that have helped motivate and provide data analysis:
1) Zeo sleep device. Look it up on Amazon. It's really helped me understand and evaluate my sleep in a much better way than I ever could. They have a guiding program to help you change behaviors and improve sleep numbers.
2) Directlife by Phillips. This is an "activity" monitor, rather than pedometer. They have a fantastic program for a graduated goal system that helps you just MOVE more. The little device has instant feedback on progress, and is motivational in its own non-judgmental way.

Both highly recommended.

Let me know how it works out!

12:54 PM  

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