When I first heard about the 4-Hour Body diet, I think my eyes rolled so far back into my skull they almost got stuck there. ‘Puh-lease!’ I thought. ‘Could this sound anymore like a fad diet?’ Diets that claim they can get you shredded in a month are bad enough, but four hours?!
Then, I realised the creator of the diet was Tim Ferriss—the man behind The 4-Hour Work Week (which we recently mentioned as one of our favourite personal finance books.) My resolve softened slightly. ‘Okay, so maybe he’s just trying to keep the numbers consistent in his franchise,’ I considered. While Tim is not a doctor, nutritionist or even a health expert, his approach involves experimenting on himself like a human guinea pig to find techniques that work.
I did a little more research and learned that the ‘4-Hour Body Diet’ is simply the diet included in the ‘4-Hour Body’ book—which more broadly covers topics like sleep, sex and fitness. So, Tim isn’t claiming that we can become shredded in 4 hours. Phew! The diet is actually called the Slow Carb Diet and involves eating lean meats, beans and veggies. There’s no kilojoule counting, you just avoid everything that’s not on that list—think white foods like bread and pasta, sugar, fruit or basically anything processed. That sounded sensible enough. Then, once a week, you have a cheat day where you can eat anything and everything.
Unsurprisingly, that last part had me interested! I try to have a balanced approach to eating and not think of food as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ But a few months earlier, I had my first DEXA scan and it revealed my body fat percentage was 30%. That number is within the healthy range, but for someone who weighs 50 kg and exercises five times a week it was quite a shock.
I wanted to get down to around 20% (athletic and toned while still not being too extreme.) So, anything that could help me achieve that goal while still allowing me to eat the things I love weekly had me very interested! And if the many positive reviews about rapid fat loss on the 4-Hour Body diet could be believed, this could be it.
I couldn’t help but wonder how this diet could actually be as effective as it claims to be. After all, it not only allows you to have a cheat day once a week, but actively encourages it! Before diving in, I decided to download the ebook. I learned that the diet works through carb cycling—an approach that alternates between high and low carb consumption. Eating low carb throughout the week will inevitably reduce your overall kilojoule consumption and force the body to burn fat, not carbs. The reasoning behind the cheat day (aka high carb day) is that it increases fat loss by ensuring your metabolic rate doesn’t downshift from extended kilojoule restriction.
There are also a number of other ‘fat hacking’ techniques in the book, like eating 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of eating, doing damage control before your cheat day and drinking red wine daily (yes, really!) Satisfied with everything I had read, I decided to give it a go.
I’m not going to lie, my first few days on this diet were tough. Here’s the thing—I actually am not a huge fan of beans (or legumes, for that matter.) So, pretty much the only carbs I could eat, I wasn’t eating. This left me with meat, veggies and good fats like avocado and nuts. Also, although you’re not really meant to eat dairy, I did—because I loooovee me some cheese and it was bad enough not eating carbs. So, essentially what I was doing was a modified ketogenic diet with a cheat day.
This meant that for my first few days I battled the dreaded keto flu — and continued to do so every week after my cheat day. I felt lightheaded, fatigued and generally just like I was on another planet. This made it rather difficult to exercise but I pushed through anyway. However, on the few days per week that I wasn’t in the midst of keto flu, I felt great!
In terms of what I was eating, an average day would look like this:
It was a reasonable amount of food so I never really felt too hungry or deprived. When I did feel like eating something naughty, I reminded myself I could have it on my cheat day. I have to say, the delayed gratification of a cheat day does make being on a diet so much easier. Not going to lie, I looked forward to those days like a kid eagerly awaiting Christmas Day.
This brings me to the glorious cheat days. Pizza, pasta, ice cream, pancakes, burgers—I ate it all! As much as I loved it, I’d feel so sick and bloated by the end of those days that I’d actually look forward to getting back into eating healthy!
Two weeks in, I could tell my body was starting to change. I was getting comments from people who didn’t even know I was doing it that I looked leaner. You could see it in my arms and face and my stomach looked flatter (and not just in the mornings.) While I generally don’t go by the scales, that was going down too.
However, I could never have anticipated just how much I had lost. When I had my DEXA scan just a month after starting, I expected to be told I had lost a couple of percentage points—which I would have been happy with. So, when the DEXA technician told me that I was now 21% body fat, my mouth dropped wide open. That was almost a 10% difference! Better yet, I had replaced 5 kg of fat with 5 kg of muscle. I was shocked, but over the moon.
So, it’s safe to say that this carb cycling approach worked for me. But everybody’s body is different and it’s worth researching it first to make sure it’s right for you. As a starting point, here’s what two experts have to say.
“Carb cycling can work when done correctly as strategic varying of carb intake can help to manipulate the hormones that are involved in weight loss such as insulin, leptin, serotonin and cortisol. Carb cycling must be carefully planned in order for the diet to be successful. The dangers can be when people misuse it and binge eat on unhealthy carbs but when incorporated with healthy carbs such as wholegrains and used in a sensible way this method can be beneficial when weight loss has plateaued and you need the extra push along to lose those last few kilos.” —Fiona Tuck, Nutritional Medicine Practitioner
“Tim Ferris suggests removing many foods from his 4 Hour Body Diet and eat more highly acidic foods. Personally, if I completed this diet I would be bloated, constipated, have extreme flatulence, feel lethargic and become irritable in my everyday life. I would gain weight and my skin would breakout. All due to the high acid foods that are being processed in our delicate stomach acids. Our stomach acids determine the breakdown of foods and how they give us energy. Our bodies will either have to produce more acid to counteract the food thus causing further implication throughout our body…
Another key consideration is that Tim has essentially written for a male seeking weight loss.This diet does not have a wholesome or balanced food regime that many females bodie thrive on. Women need to seek information regarding our bodies and health from females; who have the experience and expertise as we understand the wholeness of the overall female mind and body functionality. Many men assume to know the female body function in food and fitness and also how our mind works but unfortunately, this isn’t always the case!” —Belinda Norton-Smith, Health and Fitness Expert