I’ve been comparing the 4 hour body diet to eating healthy for several weeks now and I’ve come to the end of my experiment. The end result was 6lbs lost, about a lb a week, but the lessons learned were far more important.
Lesson 1 – It’s possible to feel full on 1800 calories a day
I never thought this was possible. In fact, I would usually discount calorie restrictive diets as fads and unsustainable since it seemed unlikely to me that anyone could feel satiated on such a low number of calories. I thought that diets like these were doomed to fail as soon as the hunger overcame the dieter or as soon as they reached their goal weight and went back to eating the way they did before.
The 4 hour body diet made me feel full while eating only 1500 to 2000 calories a day. Consider the fact that I’m 5’11”, 220lbs, male and work out 4 to 5 times a week in addition to a physically active lifestyle and you’ll see why this sounds unbelievable. And yet, it’s true. I felt full and never felt hungry.
Lesson 2 – Once you start carb loading, it’s very hard to stop
It’s all about will power I suppose, but if so, I don’t have enough. Once I started with a few carbs, I would quickly end up eating far more than I planned. That one piece of bread with the hummus would turn into a whole loaf of bread and that one piece of fruit would turn into a whole bowl. By way of comparison, I didn’t have the same issue with protein or “green” carbs like spinach. With those, I never felt the urge to keep binging the way I did with simple “white” carbs like bread, rice and potatoes.
Lesson 3 – It’s actually not that hard to cut out carbs
My initial impression of the 4 hour body diet was “good in theory but hard in practice”, especially due to the sheer amount of the carbs we are presented on a daily basis. How was I going to go to lunch with friends and coworkers? How was I going to pay for all that meat? How was I going to eat with a conscience? How was I going to have a nice meal out with my fiancé? These seemed to be logistical issues to which I had no answer. However, after a few weeks, most of these seemed very solvable.
Organic meat and produce solved the conscience problem, a bit of dish customization (“no bun please on that hamburger”) solved the restaurant issue and cooking some of my own meals solved the cost issue. It’s funny because all of these are actually mentioned in Tim’s book but for some reason I thought they were the usual diet book gimmicks and not real world actionable advice.
Lesson 4 – Eating healthy is not as good as the 4 hour body diet
I’ve always been a fan of the “eat healthy and don’t worry about the specifics” method. However, I’m officially changing my mind here! Yes, I’ve become a convert to the cult of low carbs folks. Eating the 4 hour body way, which is actually very similar to the paleo diet, made me feel full and happy on far fewer calories. My health improved faster, I felt better and even my impact on the world around me was lower. Could I achieve similar results with the eating healthy approach? Sure, but why would I? This approach is faster and I’m just as happy on it. So why not use it? By the way, if you want to compare, I lost 6lbs in 6 weeks of eating healthy. I lost 12lbs in a similar 6 weeks of the 4 hour body diet. I was just as happy with either method so why not pick the faster one? My whole life has been about optimization and this seems to be the optimal method by far (x2 results with no extra effort!)
Lesson 5 – It’s all about psychology
And this is probably the most useful lesson of all from this experiment. Losing weight and getting healthy isn’t really complicated, you just need to eat better and work out a bit. So why the hell do people keep failing at it? If it’s this easy, why are so many people obese and fighting diabetes? The answer is psychology.
We fail because we are human and, as humans, we are programed by millions of years of evolution to go for the easy calories. A famine might be coming and our bodies are programmed to go for lots of calories as quickly as possible. We want the cheap, easy calories because those will keep us fat through the hard winters. We want the sugars because they’ll give us speed to chase down prey or run away from predators. We want to binge now because who knows when our next hunt will be successful. These were the factors that ruled our lives arguably until the last 100 years or so, when cheap food (and especially cheap carbs) became plentiful.
It’s hard to fight against those instincts with simple advice like “eat less calories” or “eat more greens” unless you’re also working on the psychology of food, which is where the 4 hour body diet excels. It does this in two ways:
- Very strict set of rules – Six thousand years ago, my ancestors came up with the world’s first health code, also known as Kosher laws. These laws were meant to insure that people did not get sick through their food and they were quite effective when you think about the limited scientific knowledge of the times. Kosher laws talked about proper butchering and cooking of meat in order to avoid blood borne diseases. They also described proper hygiene for a kitchen and for cooking implements. They even went into detail on what could or could not be eaten (fish with scales, birds with feathers, mammals with cloven hooves that chew their cud). In other words, kosher laws were very detailed and very strict, but still very easy to understand. There was no glycemic index, no saturated fats, no calorie budgets and no detailed lists of exceptions. There was a simple set of rules that told you what to do, and yes, maybe a few good foods were ruled out but what remained contained nothing bad. That’s exactly what Tim has done here.
The 4 hour body diet lays out a few simple eating rules that are very restrictive and detailed, yet are easy to follow. It’s very clear about what you can eat and what you can’t and it avoids complicated rules which just end up confusing people. Does it eliminate a few “good” foods in the process? Sure, I would definitely argue that not all fruits needed to go. Still, it’s better to have a simple set of rules that’s easy to follow than a complicated one that’s impossible to understand.
- No exceptions – This isn’t the weight watchers system where you can eat your piece of cake as long as you’re careful with your points. The problem with those systems is that no one ever stops at one piece of cake. Once we start, our bodies want more and more and more, craving cheap calories as our evolution taught us to. Instead, the 4 hour body diet says NO EXCEPTIONS! Don’t even start the binge on any day which is not a cheat day. Which brings us to…
- The cheat day – I’ve said before that this is one of the best aspects of this diet and I stand by my comment. The cheat day is sheer genius. It allows us to trade a short term craving (chocolate now!) for a slightly less shorter term fulfillment (chocolate in a few days!) That’s very doable and easy for our primitive evolutionary instincts to accept. Compare that to trading a short term craving (chocolate now!) for a vague, long term goal (better health in 20 years!) and you can see why that’s much harder. Evolution has made us into short sighted creatures. It’s better to work with that than against it, which is something Tim Ferriss realized. His approach allows us to cater to our base cravings while still maintaining a healthy diet most of the time, and that’s the key right there. The rare binge will not kill you, especially if you’re healthy the rest of time. It’s the daily binge that will do you in and Tim takes advantage of this fact with his cheat day.
This is why I’m so impressed with this diet. As someone who lives to optimize, this stands out as a prime example of optimizing multiple factors into one winning combination. The 4 hour body diet manages to optimize our cravings into an eating plan that keeps us feeling satisfied and happy while actually being quite healthy.
Sign me up as a life time follower!
If you’re wondering where I go from here, it’s to optimize my workout routine! That topic starts next week.