I started the “Slow Carb” diet explained in Timothy Ferriss’ book, The 4-Hour Body, at the beginning of April. I weighed in at around 190 pounds with a BMI of 30. The diet is not designed to be fun, but rather to “hack” your metabolism and trick it into burning fat for everyday energy. I followed the diet guidelines to the letter for two months. Over that time period, I lost around ten pounds of fat and an inch or two on my waist. I plateaued around 180 pounds for a few weeks before starting to lose a little more weight, albeit much more slowly than I had previously done. The key to getting past the plateau was learning proper portion control, which I had never paid attention to before. At the beginning if July, after about 100 days on the diet, I weighed in at 175 pounds with a BMI of 26. So, what did I learn?
I set my goal of 155 pounds artificially low. I figured that way, if I only got down to around 165 pounds, I’d still be happy with my progress. Since then, I’ve come to realize that some of this diet is hype. Tim Ferris boasts that you can lose 28 pounds of fat in 30 days without doing any exercise. I don’t think that’s likely unless you’re morbidly obese and are working overtime to maintain a huge caloric intake. Sure, Tim might have been able to do it, but just because something is possible doesn’t make it at all probable. If you’re a little overweight like I was/am, this diet will definitely knock off a few pounds. But it’s not a silver bullet.
Still, the guiding precepts of this diet are sound. I plan to follow them for life whenever it’s convenient. And since I cook most of my meals myself, it’s pretty damn convenient.
Keeping the results coming
A lot of people have asked me how I got out of my 4-hour body weight loss plateau. The key was a simple one that I stumbled across out of laziness. According to the diet, you’re supposed to eat every few hours to keep your metabolism burning. I plateaued when I used this rule as an excuse to eat a lot of meat until I was full. That’s wrong. Once I changed my routine, the pounds started to fall off again. The secret for me was small, 8 oz cans of legumes. It sounds weird, right? It’s not.
The 4HB Diet has us eating every four hours. I eat breakfast at around 6:00 am. That means I need to eat again around 10:00 am. Before, I was eating some bacon or sausage as a way to cram in some protein. It makes you look like a glutton if you’re at the company microwave heating up snacks at odd times. So out of laziness, I starting buying a bunch of little cans of green beans, wax beans, and lima beans. The name brand cans come with pop-tops that are easy to open. I just drain the liquid into the sink and eat them right out of the can with a fork. The whole exercise takes maybe two minutes. It tastes pretty good, but this isn’t supposed to be an exercise in pleasure. It’s strictly to boost my metabolism when the calories from breakfast are getting thin. Oddly enough, this small meal makes me so hungry for lunch that I can’t wait more than three hours to eat.
I’m not following Tim Ferris’ 4-Hour Body Diet to the letter anymore. I ascribe to a common sense notion.
If you eat right 80% of the time, you can indulge yourself the other 20% of the time.
That doesn’t mean that if 80% of what’s on your plate is acceptable the rest can be carbs. That’s how you gain weight. It’s more in line with Tim’s idea of a cheat day, but without the excess. I allow myself to eat some things at late lunch and dinner that I didn’t eat in my first two months on the diet; things like cheese, sour cream, butter, heavy cream, etc. It just makes cooking at home a little easier and makes eating-on-the-go possible.
As you’ve probably noticed, the 4-Hour Body is a fork-friendly diet to say the least. Chopped or pulled BBQ with green beans is pretty easy to come by when looking for a restaurant that caters to slow-carb eating. Other than that, your choices are pretty much limited to Waffle House or a meat-and-three. All of those choices mean stopping the car. With heavy summer traveling, that’s not really a sustainable plan. Then again, the 4-Hour Body diet isn’t really sustainable in and of itself, and you should realize that no strict diet can be followed forever. Starting and stopping diets leads to yo-yo weight loss and weight gain. The solution can be found in applying some common sense to your daily food and beverage intake.
Like I said in a previous post: “You should eat like a king at breakfast, like a prince at lunch, and like a pauper at dinner.” I still believe that.
Here’s what I typically eat during the day
Breakfast – I drink 16 ounces of cold water and eat 3-5 eggs when I wake up (usually two whole eggs and two egg whites soft-scrambled over medium-low heat). I don’t fool with beans or spinach or anything like that unless leftovers or aging produce dictate that I make a fritatta or huevos rancheros.
Early Lunch – 8 oz can of legumes. Some people eat oatmeal at work to lower their cholesterol. I eat legumes. It doesn’t smell, it doesn’t have to be heated, and it’s gone so fast that no one ever notices I’m eating anyway. Of course, it’s odd to open a desk drawer and have someone ask if you’re one of those 2012 doomsayers, hoarding food in preparation for Armageddon, but I can live with that.
Late Lunch – Usually something left over from dinner (likely meat and vegetables).
Dinner – Whatever. I head to the farmers’ market on Saturday mornings and buy my vegetables for the week. I usually cook a meat, a fresh vegetable or two, and sometimes a can of something at dinner each night. If we ever have meatless meals, it’s usually because I’m out of meat. But if hot dogs were two-for-one at the grocery store, I’d have no qualms with eating chili dogs (and buns!) for dinner on this diet. Just not every night.
One trick I’ve discovered is to drink a full glass of water with a proper portion of dinner and then wait ten minutes before getting seconds. I’ve found that after a little while, I realize I’m full and am glad I didn’t stuff myself. If I get hungry later, I know I can have a big breakfast the following morning. That’s helped me more than anything else.
Before the 4-hour Body Diet, I never ate breakfast and gorged myself at dinner. Now I eat a lot in the morning when my body needs energy to burn and I eat relatively little at night. That way, I don’t feel too bad about occasionally going off-diet for dinner.
The last 100 days have been a truly educational journey. Like I said before, this is my first diet. Ever. It’s also the first time I’ve cared enough to learn how the body deals with sugar, fat, carbohydrates, etc. I learned more than I thought I would.
Everything I used to believe about nutrition is wrong.
My personal experience runs in direct contradiction to what I learned in school with the food pyramid.
As it turns out, fat is good for you. Of course, you want to minimize the saturated fat, but our bodies are amazing fat-processing-machines. Low-fat substitutes, which usually contain hydrogenated oils, are actually bad for you. Butter is in; margarine is out. Complex carbohydrates in seemingly healthy foods like breakfast cereals are bad for you. Cheerios are out; eggs and bacon are in. You have to moderate how much you eat, but this is a great development as far as taste is concerned.
Everyone knows that fat=flavor. Anytime you eat anything that’s low-fat, the fat has usually been substituted with sodium and sugar and other fillers that are worse for your nutrition than the original fat. So if you buy lots of “lite” food substitutes to augment your diet, you’re putting yourself behind the 8-ball. My family refuses to see through this fallacy and their diets never work.
But most importantly, I’ve learned that maintaining good health and reasonable weight is all about making choices. It’s not about choosing to eat healthy or not. Everything is relative. Bacon is always better to eat than sausage. Eggs are always better to eat than pancakes. Grilled chicken is always better to eat than fried chicken. As long as I make the good choice 80% of the time, I can make the bad choice the other 20%.
I still have another ten pounds to lose, but now I realize that I have to get off my ass to do it. I thought losing “28 pounds in 30 days” sounded too good to be true. It turns out I was right. Everything worth doing takes work. Always.
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Other resources that helped me
Eat This, Not That – This site compares the calories and health benefits of all kinds of foods, helping you understand what choices are good, better, and best. It provided me with some very useful benchmarks and comparisons.
Fat Head – A low-budget documentary that tests the conventional diet wisdom. If you can get past some of the silly jokes, it’s actually a pretty informative film. Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me was self-serving hype. Fat Head is more about the science behind weight gain and loss.
Sugar: The Bitter Truth – A 90-minute lecture by Dr. Robert Lustig explaining what fructose does to the body and how it impacts weight gain. You can pretty much minimize the screen and just listen to it while you work like a podcast.