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February 2013

“4-Hour Body Slow Carb Diet”: Does it work?

As I’ve read other writer’s opinions of the ‘4-Hour Body slow carb diet’, I’ve wondered why many of them treat it as if it’s a novel tactic for fat loss. That’s not meant to slam Tim Ferriss, author of ‘The 4-Hour Body.’ It’s just that the words “slow carb diet” would seem to imply the regular intake of carbohydrate meals that are low on the glycemic index. They’re considered “slow carbs” because they’re slower digesting and, thus, less likely to significantly raise blood sugar and insulin. Given this, it seems that the ‘4-Hour Body slow carb diet’ is nothing more than a different name for a relatively old tactic.

The 4 Hour BodyBut is the ‘4-Hour Body Slow Carb Diet’ really a low glycemic diet, or is it something else?

Let’s take a closer look at the ‘4-Hour Body Slow Carb Diet’ to determine whether it’s just a modified low glycemic eating plan. In doing so, we’ll see if there’s anything distinctly valuable about it.

Right off the bat, I have to acknowledge that this diet’s tenets are really simple. This makes it a breeze for people to follow in a quest to improve eating habits. In an age of information overload, that’s always of value. So let’s dive in.

‘4-Hour Body Slow Carb Diet’: Basic tenets

To his credit, Tim Ferriss has his ‘4-Hour Body Slow Carb Diet’ first outlined with five basic rules. They’re listed as follows:

  1. Avoid “white” carbohydrates
  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

So let’s go over each one of these and I’ll give you my take on them. Being that I often experiment with my own body (much as Ferriss does), I’ll share some opinions and personal caveats on these rules.

Avoid “White” Carbohydrates: Ferriss includes all breads, rice (including brown), cereal, potatoes, pasta, tortillas, and fried food with breading on this list. Basically, he’s advising people to avoid anything starchy. He mercifully provides a once-per-week cheat day (jumping to rule #5) in which, I assume, one can pile down on this stuff if desired.

Instead of starchy carbohydrates, Ferriss recommends eating plenty of protein, good fats, and what he calls “slow carbs” such as lentils, black beans, and vegetables.

Does this work?

I have no doubt that it’s effective; cutting starchy foods will inevitably lead to lower calorie intake. Additionally, eliminating “white carbs” can greatly lower and stabilize insulin levels – something that eventually leads to less fat storage and fewer hunger pangs.

Eat the Same Few Meals Over and Over: Tim Ferriss points out that successful fat shedders and muscle builders all tend to eat the same few food items and meals over and over. He stresses that although the average grocery store has nearly 50,000 food items, only a small percentage of them won’t make us fat. This reminds me of the wise advice about “shopping the perimeter of the supermarket rather than the middle aisles.” The perimeter is where the fish, chicken, meat, and vegetables sit. The middle aisles are where the chips, cookies, and canned/processed foods reside.

Anyway, I will personally attest to this; long ago I discovered that fat loss and a daily desire to tantalize one’s taste buds are not very compatible. Inshape Woman

However, this doesn’t mean that getting and staying lean condemns one to a life of eating boredom. What Ferriss fails to mention with the ‘4-Hour Body Slow Carb Diet’ is that lean eating habits can eventually become as addictive as those that make us fat. You’ll know when you’ve reached this threshold when your once-per-week cheat day is no longer something that has you staring at the calendar in starchy carb-longing wait. 

Moreover, losing body fat typically requires a stricter eating regimen than keeping the fat off once it’s gone. In other words, you could adopt the ‘4-Hour Body Slow Carb Diet’ for the duration of time it takes you to shed the fat you want to lose, but rest assured that you can reintroduce a few more “bad carbs” and greater meal variety once the fat’s gone and you go into maintenance mode.

Don’t Drink Your Calories: The ‘4-Hour Body Slow Carb Diet’ third rule is another that’s already widely encouraged. No real surprise; there are only so many ways to lose body fat and they’re all just different methods of taking fewer calories than are burned off.

Ferriss recommends limiting beverage intake to high quantities of water and unsweetened coffee or tea. This is wise advice given how many people unknowingly take in excess calories via sugary beverages. I still know individuals who think they’re consuming something “healthy” when drinking a daily fructose-filled fruit juice or making a lunch stop at Jamba Juice. They think this is the equivalent of eating a piece of fruit, which they’ve been told is healthy. But fruit juice is all that’s left when the pulp and fiber is separated from what’s left of the fruit, which is nearly nothing but sugar water. 

Furthermore, his recommendation to “drink massive quantities of water” is something I’ll wholeheartedly agree with. This practice has a huge effect on reducing hunger pangs that accompany calorie reduction.

Of course, it shouldn’t be news that the elimination of sugary soft drinks is necessary for fat loss. Ferriss is one of those who furthers this advice with an admonishment to limit diet sodas as well; “aspartame can stimulate weight gain”, he says.

Personally, I’ve never noticed this phantom weight gain from artificial sweeteners, and I’ve consumed a lot of them. However, I acknowledge that that’s highly anecdotal feedback from one person’s experience.

Don’t Eat Fruit: Here’s a tenet of the ‘4-Hour Body Slow Carb Diet’ that probably takes many people by surprise. We’ve long been conditioned to think of fruit as a “diet food.” What’s more, we’ve been told from the time we’re young that fruit’s necessary as a regular staple in order to maintain a “balanced diet.”

Fruit possesses what many of us have referred to simply as “fruit sugar.” But technically, it’s ‘fructose’, a monosaccharide, which is the simplest form of sugar. Tim Ferriss points out that the reason to avoid fructose is due to its easy conversion to glycerol phosphate via the liver. That conversion leads to more triglycerides and fat storage in the body.

In the ‘4-Hour Body Slow Carb Diet’, Ferriss recommends eliminating all fruit for six days of the week, with the exception of tomatoes and avocados. This makes sense given that it’s difficult to determine whether tomatoes and avocados are actually fruits and not vegetables. They definitely contain a lot less fructose than all the other fruits.

Bottom line: I’d have to agree that all the vitamins, fiber, and minerals that are obtained from consuming fruit can easily be gotten from legume and vegetable consumption.

Take One Day Off Per Week: With the ‘4-Hour Slow Carb Diet’, Tim Ferriss builds in a ‘cheat day.’ Okay, so some people have thoughtfully renamed these ‘treat days’ to remove the negative connotation that we’re “cheating” when we indulge in them. Ferriss himself refers to it as a Dieters Gone Wild (DGW) day. Whatever you name it, it’s one-day-per-week to let loose and pig out on high quantities of whatever you’ve felt deprived of during the past week of stringent dieting.

Losing WeightBesides the obvious psychological relief by taking a weekly day off from the ‘slow carb diet’, Ferriss maintains that such treat days increase fat loss. He says spiking caloric intake this way ensures one’s metabolic rate doesn’t downshift from extended caloric restriction.

Although the extent of such fat-burning benefits from ‘treat day’ indulgences might be debatable, partaking in them seems reasonable if only for psychological purposes. Abstaining from starchy foods indefinitely would be a tough proposition. Even the most diehard Paleo Diet adherent would likely attest to that. Therefore, I’d have to agree that a weekend “DGW”-day is definitely called for on the ‘4-Hour Body Slow Carb Diet.’ Ferriss recommends that it’s done every Saturday and that adherents of the ‘slow carb diet’ indulge in whatever they want to eat – in as high of quantity as they want to eat.

That’s it; that’s the five rules of the 4-Hour Body ‘Slow Carb Diet.’

‘4-Hour Body Slow Carb Diet’: Will it Work?

I think that most people who ask if an eating plan like the ‘slow carb diet’ will work are probably fairly new to dieting. That’s because those with experience at losing body fat can recognize the characteristics of an eating plan that will make losing fat a successful proposition. Those characteristics need to lead to a simple equation: fewer calories consumed than are being burned off. That’s the bottom line.

Will the ‘4-Hour Body Slow Carb Diet’ deliver on that?

I have no doubt that it will if it’s adhered to strictly. Substantial reduction of sugar and starchy carbohydrates typically reduces calorie intake. It also stabilizes blood sugar and insulin levels, making fat loss even easier than is the case with simple calorie-cutting alone.

‘Four-Hour Body Slow Carb Diet’: Too Extreme?

It’s a good thing Tim Ferriss has included a weekly ‘treat day’ (DGW day) in his diet outline. Otherwise, these rules would be difficult to stick with for many people and recidivism would be a common consequence. It’s much easier to face the perceived deprivation of eliminating bread, cereal, potatoes and pasta when you know you can indulge in them at the end of the week.

Notice I’ve used the word “perceived”… deprivation. It’s important to keep in mind, when dieting, that feeling deprived of foods is merely a perception. I mention this with enlightenment from my own personal experience of both extreme carb addiction, followed by adequate discipline that resulted in eliminating that addiction. The first indication that those carb addictions are waning is a diminished enthusiasm for overindulging in the ‘treat day.’ That day typically starts out as something for which you can hardly wait. As you become more “addicted” to the all-day feelings of wellbeing provided by healthier eating, the idea of sending that wellbeing into a tailspin during a “cheat day/treat day” becomes less and less appealing. That’s been my experience, anyway.

This leads me to a doable modification, as I see it. I believe the complete elimination of starchy carbohydrates for 6 days a week is unnecessary. This is especially the case as an individual becomes more experienced with dieting and how his or her body responds to it. It’s also the case when considering that the timing of intake of such carbohydrates can greatly change their bodily effects. Whereas eating “white carbohydrates” at dinner time or later is an absolute no-no, I’ve noticed it having little or no negative effects when consumed at breakfast or lunchtime. This is even more the case when a dieter has a job that requires bodily movement as opposed to sitting at a desk most of the day. Those high glycemic calories get burned.

Ferriss recommends that the only time white carbs should be eaten during the week is directly after a muscle building workout. This is great advice, especially if the workout’s done on an empty stomach. But I think there’s room for many people to eat them every day, if the timing’s right, while still experiencing steady fat loss. Successfully doing this can result in less cravings for, and overindulgences in, the ‘treat day.’ It evens things out a bit while still being effective; sort of providing a “level-loading effect”, if you will.

‘4-Hour Body Slow Carb Diet’: Feedback from Users

My opinions on this don’t occur in a vacuum of inexperience. As anyone can see from my before and after pics, I’ve gone from overly-carbed and fat to lean and muscular. One thing I’ll recommend from personal experience is for people to not go too extreme when losing body fat in order to avoid backsliding recidivism.

That said; I’d love to get feedback in the comment section from any individuals who’ve used the 4-Hour Body Slow Carb Diet. Let us know its effect on you and what you liked or disliked about it. And let us know if it was long-term doable for you without modifications. Or did you need to change some things?

To your success in training and eating intelligently.