It takes some unique effort to stand out in a sea of diet and fitness books that is full of some of the worst baloney imaginable. Thanks to his personality, Tim Ferriss achieved it with The 4-Hour Body.
The “4-Hour Body” Reviewed, Finally
I have been asked about it multiple times and finally bite: here is my review of the book that sells like hotcakes.
In case you have no idea what I’m talking about, The 4-Hour Body is a book by Tim Ferriss, where he claims to show you the following:
- How to prevent fat gain while bingeing
- How to increase fat-loss 300% with a few bags of ice
- How he gained 34 pounds of muscle in 28 days, without steroids, in 4 hours total gym time
- How to go from running 5 kilometers to 50 kilometers in 12 weeks
- How to add 150+ pounds to your lifts in 6 months
And this is after I left out the claims about superhuman libido, living with almost no sleep, “reversing” permanent injuries and more.
To keep the size of this article manageable, I’ll concentrate on what is of most interest to you: the claims about fat loss and gaining muscle.
Tim Ferriss’ Idea Of Fat Loss
Despite this taking up a lot of volume in his book, Ferriss’ entire idea about losing fat boils down to “a calorie is not a calorie” and having to follow a diet that is a mixture of low-carb and Paleo.
Two male identical twins eat the exact same meals for 30 days. The only difference: one of the subjects just finished a strong course of antibiotics and now lacks sufficient good bacteria for full digestion. Will the body composition outcomes be the same? Of course not. […] It’ s not what you put in your mouth that matters, it’s what makes it to your bloodstream. If it passes through, it doesn’t count.
This shows a fundamental lack of knowledge about antibiotics, (in-) digestion and how the intestine works. Antibiotics can negatively influence your gut bacteria, true. But what happens is that harmful bacteria grow and a portion of the nutrients you eat end up being eaten by them, not you.
He could as well claim that destroying your gut bacteria through antibiotics is a good way to lose weight. In any person with a normal working gut – and that is the very vast majority of us – what goes in at the top is digested at the bottom, period.
However, he tells us he has science on his side:
There is no shortage of clinical studies to prove that beef calories do not equal bourbon calories. One such study, conducted by Kekwick and Pawan, compared three groups put on calorically equal (isocaloric) semistarvation diets of 90% fat , 90% protein, or 90% carbohydrate. Though ensuring compliance was a challenge, the outcomes were clearly not at all the same.
So “no shortage” of studies proving his point? Why then is this the only one in his sources? I spent hours trying to find others and came up empty. Which may explain why Ferriss used it although it is from 1956 (PDF), of rather low quality and even its authors attributed 30 to 50 percent of the differences in weight loss to water. Later studies trying to replicate the findings entirely contributed the differences to it. Four facts Ferriss didn’t feel necessary to mention in his book.
What about gaining 34 lbs of muscle in four weeks with just four hours at the gym? This is another big portion of the book, again with outlandish instructions, but one bit of background info and it all becomes superficial.
Keep in mind that anything on the human body that isn’t fat is fat-free mass and that this includes water. In The 4-Hour Body Ferriss tells us:
I have gained more than 20 pounds of fat-free mass within four weeks on at least four occasions, the most recent in 2005. […] I weighed 152 pounds throughout high school, but after training in tango in Buenos Aires in 2005, I had withered to 146 pounds.
Now let’s compare this with a quote from his earlier book, The 4-Hour Work Week, where he explains how he got his got his weight down for a kickboxing competition:
Using dehydration techniques commonly practiced by elite powerlifters and Olympic wrestlers, I lost 28 pounds in 18 hours, weighed in at 165 pounds, and then hyperhydrated back to 193 pounds.
In The 4-Hour Body he at length shows us the results of body composition tests he took and the before and after show an incredible increase in fat-free mass. Given the above background they only prove one thing: that he may have de- and then rehydrated before and after taking them. The tests did not differentiate fat-free mass between water and muscle.
But will he again at least make the attempt to back it up with science? No. Instead we get to hear how his friends Ramit Sethi and Neill Strauss got tons of muscle thanks to his help. The first is an “entrepreneur” who sells courses on how to make $1,000 – for $1,400. The second runs a website teaching men to seduce women. Who needs peer-reviewed papers when you have evidence like that?
I normally try to separate message from person, but here I found it impossible. Because what in this book shines through as Ferriss’ character to me seems possibly sociopathic: devoid of emotion, focused on personal gain and manipulating others for personal advantage. I can best explain it by giving you two more quotes.
The first is from the part of the book that deals with giving a woman a 15-minute-climax:
Kissing, fondling, disrobing, whispering, and requesting are all fun and wonderful parts of sex. Unfortunately, multitasking these actions often fractures the attention a woman needs to reach orgasm.
What follows are about ten pages that read like instructions to program a VCR: touch here, the woman does that. And, by Jupiter, she better don’t do anything out of her own accord.
The second quote is from one of his websites:
Sometimes you need to make friends and influence people. Other times, you should just test drive them and push their buttons.
Don’t Let Him Push Your Buttons
Let me make it short: there is no science to back any of Ferriss’ claims up and no serious athlete would follow any of his recommendations. Also, when a man already treats those close to him like machines, how much responsibility do you think will he feel when giving advice to strangers buying his books?
Instead go for this home workout that doesn’t even require weights. Its principles are proven and it gets you where you want to be without buying anything. Including expensive gimmicks.
Picture courtesy of “ShashiBellamkonda“.