The Value of Self-Experimentation [Plus: Extreme Videos - Do Not Try This At Home]

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The following is an excerpt from the appendices of The 4-Hour Body, which explores a common question: Can self-experimentation be valid at all, compared to placebo-controlled studies?

As we shall see, self-experimentation need not be extreme (I do the extremes so you don’t have to), and you can make significant discoveries with a sample size of one.

I’ll let a professional, Dr. Seth Roberts, explain how…

The Value of Self-Experimentation

“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

“It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.” —Richard Feynman

This is an excerpt from The 4-Hour Body, written by Dr. Seth Roberts, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of California–Berkeley and professor of psychology at Tsinghua University. His work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine and The Scientist, and he is on the editorial board of the journal Nutrition.

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I started self-experimentation when I was a grad student. I was studying experimental psychology; self-experimentation was a way to learn how to do experiments.

One of my first self-experiments was about acne. My dermatologist had prescribed tetracycline, an antibiotic. Just for practice, I did an experiment to measure its effect. I varied the dosage of tetracycline—the number of pills per day—and counted the number of pimples on my face each morning. First I compared six pills per day (a high dose) and four pills per day (the prescribed dose). Somewhat to my surprise, they produced the same number of pimples. I tried other dosages. Eventually I tried zero pills per day. To my shock, zero pills per day produced the same number of pimples as four or six pills per day. The conclusion was unavoidable: the drug had no effect. (Many years later, research articles about antibiotic-resistant acne began to appear.) Tetracycline is a prescription drug; it’s not completely safe. I’d been taking it for months.

My dermatologist had also prescribed benzoyl peroxide, which comes in a cream. When my self-experimentation started, I believed that tetracycline was powerful and benzoyl peroxide weak, so I rarely used the cream. One day I ran low on tetracycline. Better use the cream, I thought. For the first time, I used the cream regularly. Again I was shocked: it worked well. Two days after I started using it, the number of pimples clearly went down. When I stopped the cream, two days later the number of pimples rose. When I restarted the cream, the number of pimples went down again.

My data left no doubt that (a) tetracycline didn’t work and (b) benzoyl peroxide did work—the opposite of my original beliefs. My dermatologist thought both worked. He’d seen hundreds of acne patients and had probably read hundreds of articles about acne. Yet in a few months I’d learned something important he didn’t know.

This wasn’t the usual line about self-experimentation. Read any book about it, such as Lawrence Altman’s Who Goes First? The Story of Self-Experimentation in Medicine, and you will come away thinking that self-experimentation is done by selfless doctors to test new and dangerous treatments. My experience was different. I wasn’t a doctor. I wasn’t trying to help someone else. I didn’t test a dangerous new treatment. Unlike the better-known sort of self-experimentation, which usually confirms what the experimenter believes, my self-experiments had shown I was wrong.

From my acne research I learned that self-experimentation can be used by non-experts to (a) see if the experts are right and (b) learn something they don’t know. I hadn’t realized such things were possible. The next problem I tried to solve this way was early awakening. For years, starting in my twenties, I woke up early in the morning, such as 4 a.m., still tired but unable to go back to sleep. Only a few dreary hours later would I be able to fall back asleep. This happened about half of all mornings. It showed no sign of going away. I didn’t want to take a pill for the rest of my life—not that there are any good pills for this—so I didn’t bother seeing a doctor. The only hope for a good solution, as far as I could tell, was self-experimentation.

So I did two things:

  1. I recorded a few details about my sleep. The main one was whether I fell back asleep after getting up. How often this happened was my measure of the severity of the problem. In the beginning, I couldn’t fall back asleep about half of all mornings.
  2. I tested possible solutions.

The first thing I tried was aerobic exercise. It didn’t help. Early awakening was just as common after a day with exercise as after a day without exercise. I tried eating cheese in the evening. It didn’t help. I tried several more possible remedies.

None helped. After several years, I ran out of things to try. All my ideas about what might help had proved wrong.

Yet I managed to make progress. For unrelated reasons, I changed my breakfast from oatmeal to fruit. A few days later, I started waking up too early every morning instead of half the time. The problem was now much worse. This had never happened before. I recorded the breakfast change on the same piece of paper I used to keep track of my sleep, so the correlation was easy to see. To make sure the correlation reflected causality, I went back and forth between fruit and oatmeal. The results showed it was cause and effect. Fruit for breakfast caused more early awakening than oatmeal for breakfast. After ten years when nothing I’d done had made a difference, this was a big step forward. I eventually figured out that any breakfast made early awakening more likely. A long experiment confirmed this. The best breakfast was no breakfast.

I was less surprised than you might think. I knew that in a wide range of animals, including rats, a laboratory result called anticipatory activity is well established. If you feed a rat every day at the same time, it will become active about three hours earlier. If you feed it at noon, it will become active about 9 a.m. I had been eating breakfast at about 7 a.m. and waking up about 4 a.m. I had essentially found that humans were like other animals in this regard.

Not eating breakfast reduced early awakening but didn’t eliminate it. In the following years, self-experimentation taught me more about what caused it. By accident, I found that standing helped. If I stood more than eight hours in a day, I slept better that night. That wasn’t practical—after trying to stand that much for several years, I gave up—but the realization helped me make another accidental discovery 10 years later: standing on one leg to exhaustion helps. If I do this four times (left leg twice, right leg twice) during a day, even in the morning, I sleep much better that night. More recently, I’ve found that animal fat makes me sleep better.

Both effects are dose-dependent. I can get great sleep if I stand enough and great sleep if I eat enough animal fat.

How much animal fat is “enough”? I’ve just started trying to figure this out using pig fat, which I consume in a cut called pork belly (the part of the pig used for bacon). I found that 150 grams of pork belly had a little effect; 250 grams of pork belly had a much clearer effect. The effect seems to get larger with more pork belly (e.g., 350 grams). Because pork belly may be more than 90% fat by calories (there is great variation from one piece to the next), it’s a lot of calories of fat to get the maximum possible effect. I need to burn a lot of calories per day to make that many calories easy to eat, but it’s in some respects more convenient than standing on one foot.

Acne and sleep were my first self-experimental topics. Later I studied mood, weight control, and the effects of omega-3 on brain function. I learned that self-experimentation has three uses:

  1. To test ideas. I tested the idea that tetracycline helps acne. I tested ideas about how to sleep better. And I’ve tested ideas derived from surprises. A few years ago, while trying to put on my shoes standing up, I realized my balance was much better than usual. I’d been putting on my shoes standing up for more than a year; that morning it was much easier than usual. The previous evening I’d swallowed six flaxseed-oil capsules. I did self-experiments to test the idea that flaxseed oil improves balance. (It did.)
  2. To generate new ideas. By its nature, self-experimentation involves making sharp changes in your life: you don’t do X for several weeks, then you do X for several weeks. This, plus the fact that we monitor ourselves in a hundred ways, makes it easy for self-experimentation to reveal unexpected side effects. This has happened to me five times. Moreover, daily measurements—of acne, sleep, or anything else—supply a baseline that makes it even easier to see unexpected changes.
  3. To develop ideas. That is, to determine the best way to use a discovery and to learn about the underlying mechanism. After I found that flaxseed oil improved balance, I used self-experimentation to figure out the best dose (three to four tablespoons per day).

One complaint about self-experimentation is that you’re not “blind.” Maybe the treatment works because you expect it to work. A placebo effect. I have never seen a case where this appeared to have happened. When treatment 10 helps after treatments 1 through 9 have failed to help (my usual experience), it’s unlikely to be a placebo effect. Accidental discoveries cannot be placebo effects.

My experience has shown that improve-your-life self-experimentation is remarkably powerful. I wasn’t an expert in anything I studied—I’m not a sleep expert, for example—but I repeatedly found useful cause-and-effect relationships (breakfast causes early awakening, flaxseed oil improves balance, etc.) that the experts had missed. This isn’t supposed to happen, of course, but it made a lot of sense. My self-experimentation had three big advantages over conventional research done by experts:

  1. More power. Self-experiments are far better at determining causality (does X cause Y?) than conventional experiments. Obviously they’re much faster and cheaper. If I have an idea about how to sleep better, I can test it on myself in a few weeks for free. Conventional sleep experiments take a year or more (getting funding takes time) and cost thousands of dollars. A less obvious advantage of self-experimentation is that more wisdom is acquired. We learn from our mistakes. Fast self-experimentation means you make more mistakes. One lesson I learned stands out: Always do the minimum—the simplest, easiest experiment that will make progress. Few professional scientists seem to know this. Finally, as I mentioned earlier, self-experimentation is much more sensitive to unexpected side effects.
  2. Stone Age–like treatments are easy to test. I repeatedly found that simple environmental changes, such as avoiding breakfast and standing more, had big and surprising benefits. In each case, the change I’d made resembled a return to Stone Age life, when no one ate breakfast and everyone stood a lot. There are plenty of reasons to think that many common health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer, are caused by differences between modern life and Stone Age life. Modern life and Stone Age life differ in many ways, of course; the fraction of differences that influence our health is probably low. If so, to find aspects of Stone Age life that matter, you have to do many tests. Self-experiments, fast and cheap, can do this; conventional experiments, slow and expensive, cannot. In addition, conventional research is slanted toward treatments that can make money for someone. Because conventional research is expensive, funding is needed. Drug companies will fund research about drugs, so lots of conventional research involves drugs. Elements of Stone Age life (such as no breakfast) are cheap and widely available. No company will fund research about their effectiveness.
  3. Better motivation. I studied my sleep for 10 years before making clear progress. That sort of persistence never happens in conventional health research. The reason is a difference in motivation. Part of the difference is how much the researcher cares about finding solutions. When you study your own problem (e.g., acne), you care more about finding a solution than others are likely to care. Acne researchers rarely have acne. And part of the motivation difference is the importance of goals other than solving the problem. When I studied my sleep, my only goal was to sleep better. Professional scientists have other goals, which are enormously constraining.

One set of prison bars involves employment and research funding. To keep their jobs (e.g., get tenure, get promoted, get jobs for their students, and get grants), professional scientists must publish several research papers per year. Research that can’t provide this is undoable. Another set of prison bars involves status. Professional scientists derive most of their status from their job. When they have a choice, they try to enhance or protect their status. Some sorts of research have more status than others. Large grants have more status than small grants, so professional scientists prefer expensive research to cheap research. High-tech has more status than low-tech, so they prefer high-tech. As Thorstein Veblen emphasized in The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899), useless research has higher status than useful research. Doing useless work, Veblen said, shows that you are higher-status than those who must do useful work. So researchers prefer useless research, thus the term “ivory tower.” Fear of loss of job, grant, or status also makes it hard for professional scientists to propose radical new ideas. Self-experimenters, trying to solve their own problem on their own time, are not trapped like this.

Acne illustrates the problem. The dermatological party line is that diet doesn’t cause acne. According to a website of the American Academy of Dermatology, “extensive scientific studies” show it’s a “myth” that “acne is caused by diet.” According to “guidelines for care” for dermatologists published in 2007, “dietary restriction (either specific foods or food classes) has not been demonstrated to be of benefit in the treatment of acne.” In fact, there is overwhelming evidence linking diet and acne. Starting in the 1970s, a Connecticut doctor named William Danby collected evidence connecting dairy consumption and acne; it is telling that Danby wasn’t a professional scientist. When his patients gave up dairy, it often helped. In 2002, six scientists (none a dermatologist) published a paper with the Weston Price–like conclusion that two isolated groups of people (Kitava Islanders and Ache hunter-gatherers) had no acne at all. They had examined more than 1,000 subjects over the age of 10 and found no acne. When people in these groups left their communities and ate differently, they did get acne. These observations suggest that a lot of acne—maybe all of it—can be cured and prevented by diet.

Why is the official line so wrong? Because the painstaking research needed to show the many ways diet causes acne is the sort of research that professional researchers can’t do and don’t want to do. They can’t do it because the research would be hard to fund (no one makes money when patients avoid dairy) and because the trial and error required would take too long per publication. They don’t want to do it because it would be low-tech, low-cost, and very useful—and therefore low-status. While research doctors in other specialties study high-tech expensive treatments, they would be doing low-cost studies of what happens when you avoid certain foods. Humiliating. Colleagues in other specialties might make fun of them. To justify their avoidance of embarrassment, the whole profession tells the rest of us, based on “extensive scientific studies,” that black is white. Self-experimentation allows acne sufferers to ignore the strange claims of dermatologists, not to mention their dangerous drugs (such as Accutane). Persons with acne can simply change their diets until they figure out what foods cause the problem.

Gregor Mendel was a monk. He was under no pressure to publish; he could say whatever he wanted about horticulture without fear for his job. Charles Darwin was wealthy. He had no job to lose. He could write On the Origin of Species very slowly. Alfred Wegener, who proposed continental drift, was a meteorologist. Geology was a hobby of his. Because they had total freedom and plenty of time, and professional biologists and geologists did not (just as now), Mendel, Darwin, and Wegener were able to use the accumulated knowledge of their time better than the professionals. The accumulated knowledge of our time is more accessible than ever before. Self-experimenters, with total freedom, plenty of time, and easy access to empirical tests, are in a great position to take advantage of it.

The above is an excerpt from the new book The 4-Hour Body

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Tools and Tricks

Seth Roberts, “Self-Experimentation as a Source of New Ideas: Ten Examples Involving Sleep, Mood, Health, and Weight,” Behavioral and Brain Science 27 (2004): 227–88 (www.fourhourbody.com/new-ideas) This 61-page document about self-experimentation provides an overview of some of Seth’s findings, including actionable sleep examples.

The Quantified Self (www.quantifiedself.com) Curated by Wired cofounding editor Kevin Kelly and Gary Wolf, a managing editor of Wired, this is the perfect home for all self-experimenters. The resources section alone is worth a trip to this site, which provides the most comprehensive list of data-tracking tools and services on the web (www.fourhourbody.com/quantified).

Alexandra Carmichael, “How to Run a Successful Self-Experiment” (www.fourhourbody.com/self-experiment) Most people have never systematically done a self-experiment. And yet, it’s one of the easiest methods for discovering what variables are affecting your well-being. This article shows you the five principles that will help you get started in running successful self-experiments. Bonus: an 11-minute video from Seth Roberts, discussing experiment design.

CureTogether (www.curetogether.com) CureTogether, which won the Mayo Clinic iSpot Competition for Ideas That Will Transform Healthcare (2009), helps people anonymously track and compare health data to better understand their bodies and make more informed treatment decisions. Think you’re alone with a condition? Chances are you’ll find dozens of others with the same problem on CureTogether.

Daytum (www.daytum.com) Conceived by Ryan Case and Nicholas Felton, Daytum is an elegant and intuitive service for examining and visualizing your everyday habits and routines.

Data Logger (http://apps.pachube.com/datalogger) Data Logger for iPhone enables you to store and graph any data of your choosing along with a time-stamp and location. It can be used for anything, whether food-related, animal sightings, or temperature sensor readings around your neighborhood. If you can think of it, it can be recorded and tracked.

Resources

  1. [How Seth Roberts’ self-experimentation began]. Roberts, Seth.  Surprises from self-experimentation: Sleep, mood, and weight. Chance.  2001; 4(2):7-18. UC Berkeley: Available from: http://escholarship.org/uc/item/5bv8c7p3
  2. [The first of many papers to show antibiotic-resistant acne was a significant problem]. Eady EA, Cove JH, Blake J, Holland KT, Cunliffe WJ. Recalcitrant acne vulgaris. Clinical, biochemical and microbiological investigation of patients not responding to antibiotic treatment.  Br J Dermatol. 1988; 118:415-23.
  3. Roberts, Seth. Self-experimentation as a source of new ideas: Ten examples about sleep, mood, health, and weight. Behavioral and Brain Sciences.  2004; 27(2), 227-288. UC Berkeley: Available from http://repositories.cdlib.org/postprints/117/
  4. Boulos Z, Rosenwasser AM, Terman M. Feeding schedules and the circadian organization of behavior in the rat. Behav Brain Res. 1980; 1:39–65.
  5. Seth Roberts’ blog: http://blog.sethroberts.net.
  6. Acne myths: http://www.skincarephysicians.com/acnenet/myths.html on 2009-09-13.
  7. Guidelines of care: http://fhww.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/clinicalresearch_acne_vulgaris.pdf on 2009-09-17.
  8. Danby: http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/magazine/articles/2007/12/16/a_clear_connection/ on 2009-09-17.
  9. No acne among two isolated groups: Cordain L, Lindeberg S, Hurtado M, Hill K, Eaton SB, Brand-Miller J. Acne vulgaris: a disease of Western civilization. Arch Dermatol. 2002; 138:1584-90.
  10. Dangers of Accutane: http://www.accutane-side-effects.net/ on 2009-09-13.
  11. Wegener: http://www.pangaea.org/wegener.htm on 2009-09-17.

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466 comments on “The Value of Self-Experimentation [Plus: Extreme Videos - Do Not Try This At Home]

  1. do you guys think a vainilla protein shake after each workout is ok for the slow-carb diet? I workout 5-6 times a week and it makes me feel better the next day, it helps my muscle to repair. So, what do you think?

    They dont sell Unflavored Whey here in my country, thanks for the reply, seeya.

  2. Since everyone else is talking about the book, I know it says you used to take just AGG. Did you find it was worth taking on it’s own with the p? My father wants to utilize the book, and policosanol is not appropriate for him. Would he see any benefit from the rest of the combo?

  3. My wife and friends get blown away every time I swallow a handful at a time, which btw, is at least 20 in the morning and evening.

    Love the book and am reading it again. I’ve been a big fan of Jones, Darden, and McGuff and now, of course, you.

    Keep up the great work.

  4. “He’d seen hundreds of acne patients and had probably read hundreds of articles about acne. Yet in a few months I’d learned something important he didn’t know.”

    That’s the most illogical conclusion I’ve read in quite some time. So a doctor may be wrong in spite of successfully applying a certain strategy to hundreds of patients, basically because it didn’t work for you. It’s basically the same as saying that smoking can’t be that bad, because your grandfather was a chain smoker and he lived to be 103. So sample size doesn’t matter, it’s all been for the sake of personal prestige and funding!

    “I had been eating breakfast at about 7 a.m. and waking up about 4 a.m. I had essentially found that humans were like other animals in this regard.”
    No, you had essentially found that YOU were like other animals.

    I wonder if the author ever took the trouble of reading actual modern epistemology to test the validity of his own ideas.

    This is a sloppy, under-researched, lazy text.

  5. Hi TIm, I recently acquired a copy of the four hour body, which led me to your blog. It just so happens that I’ve started my own diet experiment (ketogenic diet with intermittent fasting) and I’m documenting it via my blog at http://www.geekbeast.com.

    I’m also curious about your nutrition section. You recommend consumption of legumes, but I haven’t seen anything about proper preperation of legumes to decactivate the phytic acid that can bind nutrients.

  6. The airport bookshop seemed to me like the life of most of the people, including myself in my wandering way… a drift, filled with momentary colour, a navigational stand to where… maybe nowhere…

    It was the silly over zested fashion shoot cover that repelled me and at the same time made my curious legs walk my overloaded symbols mind to ponder the words… ‘The 4- Hour Work Week’.

    People often ask me, “how long does it take you to paint a painting”… it is often the ridiculous when I tell them, “oh possibly seconds… I am not really sure, when I paint I go somewhere”… the blankness has often gripped them by the first word that escapes my mouth, for they are not often really asking me as in interest, though out of the sheer disbelief of an existence that does not for fill any common understanding… the norm supposedly being, especially as a father, to have a house made up of walls, a job which has an hourly wage, and often or not a relationship.

    I returned back to the bookshelf… national geographic seemed to have taken a sabbatical this Christmas and since this was my reading and looking of choice, a part of me seemed to join the endless cue of others searching aimlessly for something to for fill the dreariness of the man made… airport.
    I have always wanted to fly; I often talk with the birds and sit for hours amongst them, gaining their confidence so as to scribble them as they dance amongst the trees and grass… I have always loved flying, take offs and landings, watching the sun not rise though open across the sea of sky… even the hum of the engines and the patterned colours that shape shift outside my tiny plastic window, and why is there that little hole at the bottom of the double glaze?

    So why did I, like so many feel propelled to buy, to consume when like a shopping mall we are confronted by the super structures of the human mind?

    I studied from a distance this curious book, now looking at the coloured balloons… they allowed me a glimpse, the portal into the world I admire, respect… love… the day dream some may call it, the wandering… or for me the gap, the place where possibilities are not even a question and there for do not need an answer, the place of freedom, where time does not exist, pain, suffering or the mundane of bickering have no language…

    I, as I have done many times in my 22 years of understanding the written word, the book, followed a book not because I have read someone’s appraisal or even known what it may be about, but because it spoke to me even before I put the ramblings of the inner type into sentences, paragraphs, chapters.

    I picked up the curious object and began to read, mostly my life, a simple description, page by page, chapter by chapter of a life I have celebrated and (especially in the past 7 years) grappled with.
    There was one great big hole within this book and my life… the gap between it and me…
    I had never considered my work as tedious or set it to any time rule or even to the most part; rule. I created because I drew of vast stimulus that surrounded my colourful life. I had been taught technique and craft, and I had discipline and a discipline, a theology… I had studied at a prestigious intitute… I hung with celebrities, some my best friends, I had travelled since I was 16, even when I seemed poor of money I still could get myself to America 2 times a year to create a installation or acquire a producer or book agent.
    I had made films and been the toast of Sundance film festival, I created amazing theatre, been published, was in development with my hand painted pre school animation series with the Australian ABC and UK CBBC… I had sold and given 1000 of drawings, paintings, prints and sculpture over the past 11 years.
    I had just met David Lightfoot (producer of Australian film ‘Wolf Creek’) to produce a film and multi media cross platform business concept with me, I had got 3 commissions since the middle of Dec and had countless projects written and drawn up ready to go…

    A little girl runs, chases, and laughs upon a stormy ocean beach… she draws hopscotch in the pebbled sand… she runs up and down sand dunes and finds flop some treasures amongst the rippling tide… her father makes her laugh… he finds a 2 dollar coin frosted by the waves… a gift of the fairies, they decide to give the gift on… together they stand in the shallows, surf pounding alive… they make their wishes and thank the universe… they play some more… watch a whistling kite ride the thermals… they lay the little silver blue fish, eyes like the moon back to the ocean… they cuddle in the wind and share their wishes… a little girl a stream, a estuary, a stormy evening on a low tight fright.
    She lays her head within the darkness of his arms, it is safe there under the towel… darkness rest the weary eyes of thought… he knows for he feels the same… he hates it to, this decision he made that now creeps and oozes like a festering wound across their already fragile life… he has he knows, only the house of his heart to offer, no walls, that thing she, the other has over him, that and her greed of emotional manipulation and selfishness
    He holds back his own tears and keeps the promise he made when she was born
    I will never leave you… no matter where I am… we are a home
    She looks pale against the dimming wind, her freckles red against the salted air… they hold hands and walk back up the track… it has been a beautiful evening, like all the evening they have shared running and laughing, believing and seeing
    May be just may be he will succeed with his artistic passion and make money, to buy her those walls and patch of earth… but for now he offers her the gift that money can never buy… his heart

    He looks down at her asleep now in the bed, puppy in arms and dreaming with the blue angel of riding horses across the poppy fields
    He cries the fools tears… they bubble in the wells of his lids, forced not to escape… he had always been a good crier, for 5 years he shed of his every emotion and now he teeters somewhere between the bloody strength of fuck you… and the invisible

    Seven years of pure magic

    love
    dadda xxxoooooooxx

    I believe… I focus… I trust.
    I have never, like many artists suffered the fool’s insecurities of self worth or hate, I love what I do, and it has been a life of beauty… joyful and sad.
    I, to many, in a romantic notion, have a blessed life, and I do… yet in this moment of time, and possibly the reason why a book with its grotesque cover beckoned me to pick it up… like in 1990 while chasing the wind across America I met a writer, a red haired women who gave me 3 gifts… the first she introduced me to contemporary art, I had been taught by artisans, thespians and form and precision and classicalism had dominated my world… one early morning I found myself standing in a darkened room in front of these tremendous paintings behind glass, it was not so much the painting though the artist within them that spoke to me, I felt them… Francis Bacon was alive and I felt the aliveness.
    On a NY beach, a beach like the ones I had curioused myself with, in England… Samantha put a book in my hand… I explained that I had never read a book… I was dyslexic… her reply was ‘can you read small amounts, like newspapers?’… I could… ‘Read this it will explain your life’… Raymond Carver would open me up to the written language, poetry would allow a dyslexic to understand that language and the learned structure placed upon it by societal numbing was trite when it came to the real world, poetry was like my heart, like the wind within the tree’s or the mystery of choosing something because it spoke to you, not with the verbal tongue, though that which is so much deeper within all things… connection.
    4 weeks later while back in San Francisco I made up my mind to move to NY hang out with a woman I had just met and follow my artistic wandering. A short phone call in the mid morning, and later that evening I was on a plane to Australia to work out my life.
    Over the years I have tried several times to find Samantha, but to all the routes I knew of to find her, she never existed… just another Angel guiding me, and I was ready to listen.
    Like my beautiful daughter I see the fairies, the angels… not in a new age hippy way though like anyone who truly understands that the intellectual and the emotional world are symbiotic, a natural flowing breathe. I take the time, I observe, I sit within, I make space for… this is my job, and all of this inspires me to create.

    So where is the gap between me and your book… it is cash flow… it is having one of the many forms that I create and people rave about actually making big money and not just in spermatic moments like it does, though in a constant… within a flow.
    Like the image that is licensed and in 15 years time is still bringing me in the 10% of the multiple millions it turns over.
    Like the books that sell a million copies
    Like the feature film that allows me to indulge in the fanciful and give me the license to get up television series, and more film projects.
    Like the visual art practice that allows me to exhibit around the world and festivals and have someone else pay for it.
    Like going on adventures into the wilds to draw and paint the natural world and join the new environmental elite.
    Like having a hugh studio again where my daughter and I may create.
    Like being able to have a roof over my head so I can have my daughter back.

    I know longer just wish to dream and exist within this lifestyle, I know wish to bask within it, to not only prosper artistically and heartfully, though financially.
    I have a gift, and like the Artist ‘Miro’ once said, “I wish for everyone in the world to have a Miro” (he subsequently in his own time made money of the new medium of commercial prints).
    I want to meet you (no not a meeting… though you talk about mentors, a discussion)… and it all started in an airport… please tell me which one to meet you at and ill be there.

    Thank you

    Gav Barbey

  7. Is there any other drink than grapefruit juice taht will get the same results? I take medications that do not allow me to drink grapefruit juice.

  8. I am allergic to beans and have a fairly severe reaction if I am accidentally exposed to them. Is there anything that I can substitute for the legumes and still be successful? I am very anxious to move forward and will do some self-experimentation but I will be careful and have my EPI-Pen close by.

    Your thoughts?

  9. That was really so crazy! Ridiculous and one of a kind! I can’t even swallow 2 drugs at at the same time! Perhaps, I can possibly make it when I wanted to kill myself because I know I would just die for a drug toxicity and not because of too much pain.

  10. Watching the video and reading your post made me ask, “How are you?” I was just totally in surprise of what you did. That was scary. I commend your courage in taking risks. I admire your boldness. You are very determined. Anyway, have it crossed in your mind that you might destroy some vital parts of your body? The results may not take effect immediately but when you get older it will. Self-experimentation is not really bad for somehow this gives us novel discoveries. But I suggest that you should take precautions in doing self-experiments.
    About not eating the breakfast, I also tried it. In my case, I am full of energy in the morning when my stomach is full rather than it’s empty. I think it just depend on a person’s system.
    Kudos to you Tim!

  11. GREAT piece of writing!
    I’m a scientist myself (by training), this is exactly the mentality-change that’s needed in modern science.
    Progress is often made by humble people who truely want to know how nature works, not by funding- and status-driven people.

  12. I love this book!

    I’m in my first week of the slow carb diet and lost a few pounds. I have a quick question on dairy. Should I try to avoid cottage cheese since all of dairy should be avoided or is cottage cheese ok somehow?

    Thank you!

  13. Am having fun while reading this post.
    You took a lot of courage in doing such experiment of yours.
    Applause for that. Good thing you’ve got a lot of energy in attaining your self experiments ;) I guess self experiments doesn’t require at all time to be intense or a matter of life and death :)
    Just like me, way back in college days i didn’t know that am that good in journalism. It was then recognized by our prof. Since that good recognition was fully appreciated by my fellow classmates, it took me a lot of COURAGE also to dig(experiment) more as to my newly born skill. And techniques came up, and as well logical thinking in writing arises in my experiment.
    And that’s it, it just takes courage for such individual to do the self experiment and it also takes time to explore your own skill.

  14. Hi Tim:

    I still haven’t seen you address the comment raised by many people in this thread (and something that stuck out when I read 4HB), which is about the 107 calories for 1 hour on a stairmaster.

    Where did you get this figure?? I had always been led to believe (not only by fitness equipment, but by fitness professionals too) that an hour on cardio equipment like an elliptical or stairmaster would burn between 500-800 calories / hour. I’ve never heard of an estimate as low as your 107.

    Ordinarily, I’d write it off as a mere typo, but you actually go own to draw a logical premise using that figure (only 7 cals more than sitting on the couch!?), so it’s clearly not a mere oversight. I know you’ve got a long background in fitness/nutrition, so I’m interested to hear where that figure came from given that you’ve surely heard all of the ‘typical’ estimates of 500-800 cals / hour for most cardio activity.

    p.s. also doesn’t a pound of fat have 3,500 cals, not the 4,000 that 4HBB claim??

  15. Dear Tim!
    Your book is revolutionary!! I Love Your Book!! It has changed my life!! I want to share your philosophy with my Russian friends! My Russian is perfect:))!! and I want to translate your book into Russian language! Let me know if this proposal is of any interest to you!!

    Love,

    Anna
    PS I am Russian, was born in Russia, Russian is my native tongue.

  16. Hi, Tim.

    I love your work. I’m going through the 4-Hour Body and am struggling to find Micellean. I’ve found all the other supplements except this one. Do you have any recommendations for a source?

    Many thanks!

    Jeremy

  17. Hello,

    I have a great Idea!!! And like most people these days I also have a lack of funds to push the required patents forward in the time line desired.

    Is Tim Ferriss willing to “capitalize” on this opportunity.. I cannot publicly disclose this product due to obvious reasons ..

    Any reply would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks in advance ;)

    Matthew

  18. Tim,

    I have lost 25 lbs in 9 weeks on the 4 hour body diet and I’m a believer and thrilled…my big fear going forward is how to replace legumes/beans in the diet during Passover, the dietary laws of which I must strictly adhere to ? Any suggestions?

    J

  19. First off, thanks Tim for all of the amazing work and time put into your book. I love it so much I’ve purchased it for 13 friends so far!

    Question for anyone who’s tried the supplements in the “From Greek to Freak” chapter…I just started this morning by taking the Slo-Niacin upon waking and ChromeMate and alpha-lipoic acid with my first meal, and I seem to be having some type of reaction to these (skin is burning red with goosebumps from head to toe)…was wondering if this is normal, or if I’m having an allergic reaction of some sort…anyone else experience anything like this? Thanks in advance for any help! It would be greatly appreciated!

    -Matt

  20. I just had a few questions regarding timing of the 4 horsemen and my 5 a.m. workouts.

    How long prior to eating should I be taking each dose?

    I get up a 4 a.m. drink 500 ml. of cold water and take my first dose of AGG. I then wait about 20-30 minutes and drink my pre-workout shake…is this an ok schedule? Thanks!

  21. 25 pills! I just gagged on 8 pills and projectile shot water out of my mouth all over the counter. No pills flew out though.

  22. Self-Experimentation: Dr. Peters’ Sprint Training Mystery

    Tim,

    I’m a big fan of the Four Hour Work Week, and have learned some useful things from The Four Hour Body as well. On the chance that you might publish an update to Four Hour Body, or an extended blog post on approaches you missed, I’d like to tell you about something that fits right in with the high-impact, low time commitment philosophy you champion.

    By way of background, I am a 52-year old masters track athlete, something I took up around age 45. I’ve trained seriously, and have had moderate success (from 2005-2009 I was an All-American 800 meter runner, meaning that there were on any given year 10-20 faster guys in the US). In 2009, I traveled to Lahti, Finland, for the World Masters Track Championships, and met a legendary figure I’d previously read about – Dr. Steve Peters, a world champion runner from the UK. Not only is Dr. Peters quite the amazing fellow professionally (he’s in charge of mental training approaches for the world champion British cycling team), he’s a perennial contender for fastest man in the world in his age group, and has a training approach unlike anyone else’s. Here’s a link to the article that first piqued my curiosity about him, which describes this method.

    Dr. Peters was rather private and shy in person, but when I got back from Finland in August, 2009, I experimented with his method, as best as I could reproduce it, with very good results. Here’s a link to the story of that experiment in an online masters running forum. For work-related reasons (travel) I had to drop the training approach soon thereafter, and was not competing in track for a year or so, but have recently gotten back into the saddle, with the goal of becoming one of the top decathletes in the world in my age group. Looking at the marks from the recent world championships I believe that’s a realistic goal. As part of the shift from middle distance to decathlon I needed to bulk up, which brings me to my current experiment.

    Having recently read the Four Hour Body, I’ve combined the Alyson Felix deadlifting training (which I’ve used before), your “bulking up quickly” lifting and eating approach for my upper body, and Dr. Peters’ sprint training approach. I’ve been at this for about a month, and here are my results:

    July 21
    Weight: 167 lbs (I had already bulked up from my normal 160 the prior month)
    100 meters time (all out): 13.4
    200 meters time (all out): 28.2
    lat pull down: 200 x 5
    bench machine: 200 x 6
    overhead press: 50 x 3
    dead lift 245 x 2, 225 x 5

    August 20
    Weight: 177 lbs.
    100 meters time: 13.0
    300 meters time: (200 @ 27.0 + 100 @ 14.6 = 300 @ 41.6)
    lat pull down: 240 x 6
    bench machine: 265 x 3
    overhead press: 60 x 3
    dead lift 280 x 3, 250 x 5

    The remarkable thing about this is that I dropped my 100 and 200/300 times substantially while gaining ten pounds! After next week I expect to be up to 180 lbs., and then will continue the training but cut back on the eating – with my metabolism and activity I will quickly drop ten pounds, and expect to continue to increase my strength. I expect to drop at least a few more tenths in the 100, and half a second in the 200 as a result. Would be happy to let you know how that goes.

    I strongly encourage you to check out Steve Peters and his method.

  23. Dear Tim

    i am doing my own modified version of the 4hour body workout, mixing it with more of a style i discoverd which focuses on isolation and burnout in an order that lets one work out 6 times a week and always have the muscle repaierd when the next week rolls around, its about 30 min a day and useing it i want to see if i can gain 30 pounds of leam muscle in 30 days i will be rocording everything as you did in your experiement.

    One other thing i am adding is i have been studying Shaolin Kung Fu workout out desciplens and tacing its roots back which tracking the effect on anatomy and muscle groups with the moviements the do and repeat, i am useing the book:
    (Streaching Anatomy) by Arnold G. Nelson and Jouko Kokkonen
    and trying to form a new workout i am try to arrive at the 80/20 or the 2.5% throught experiments and some scientific guesses based on your book and some date over various internet articals both professional and casual.

    I want to achieve hyper flexibility like the monks and so far have found that static streaches are the way to go, thought their is so much condridiction so i have much testing, if you have explored this area what would you reccoment as far as a routine, and if not routine the streach type and streach hold and rest i am having trouble guessing at the (MED)
    so far this is what i have theorized at and plan to exicute to see what happens:
    Hold streach for 30 seconds
    Rest for 0 seconds between streaches
    Do not repeat the streach
    Use intensity level on pain between 8 and 10
    Daily session should be no longer than 30 min
    Streach 6 times a week

    this along with the workout i designed should be 6 times a day 1 hour in the gym working out and then i will optimize the data, any idea what the MED is for streaching? because for the muscles u gave the MED but i cant see to find the MED for streaching

    thanks in advance
    -your long time fan Josh

  24. Over 8 years, my self-experimentation found new and useful ways to improve sleep, mood, health, and weight. Why did it work so well? First, my position was unusual. I had the subject-matter knowledge of an insider, the freedom of an outsider, and the motivation of a person with the problem.

  25. Thanksgiving is coming up and my normal cheat day is Sunday – is it ok to switch it to Thursday for just one week? That would mean going only 3 days between cheat days on one end and then 9 on the other end. (instead of 6 and 6). Will this affect my results?

    • Personally, I doubt it. As the ex-SEAL said to his first civilian fitness client “You didn’t get out of shape overnight. Don’t expect to get back into shape overnight, either.”

      Secondly in 4HB Tim mentions that he has one extra cheat meal mid week. His day is Saturday and the extra meal is Wednesday. So if yours is Sunday that lines up with Thursday perfectly. If your eating habits are well established I wouldn’t sweat it too much. The human body is highly adaptive but much slower to respond than people give it credit for.

  26. Hey, Tim

    Since this entry is about self experimentation, I figured I’d post this here.

    In 4HB you talk about onset insomnia, and the various gadgets/methods that help minimize it. I’d like to add one: breathing.

    Specifically what Jim Fannin calls “Breathing like a baby.” It’s pretty simple. You close your eyes, relax your jaw, let your tongue float and breathe from your stomach…. SLOWLY… like no more than one full breath every ten seconds slowly. Your chest should not move, and you should also do it with a smile on your face, literally. Within less than 90 seconds, your breathing should down-regulate on its own.

    I don’t have onset insomnia, but my propensity to be up very late interferes nastily with my occasional obligation to be up early. Since I can’t go some 30+ hours without sleep (well, I can but good luck waking me up) I have to sleep even when I’m per se ready, and the serotonin/endorphin cocktail released by this exercise (the former from breathing, the latter from smiling) seems capable of taking me out within 30-40 minutes even if I hit the sack a couple hours early. Might even be as low as 15-20. Best of all, of course, it doesn’t cost a thing to try.

    Hope you or one of your 4-hour workers finds this valuable.

  27. Hi, Tim
    I’ve just read your book.
    Let me tell you about my personal self-experimenting.
    I became a self-experimenter not out curiosity, but of necessity. After long years of treatments I lost faith in doctors and their medicine. Eventually at 55 I came to a point when my body began to fall apart. By then I had no medical insurance, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. For otherwise I would have been less inclined to go through with seemingly non-sensical ideas.
    For years, prior to that point, I had numerous health problems. In particular, my legs below the knees were all unhealing sores and ulcers. The skin and toe-nails ware greenish and there was no feeling to touch, as if my feet were wooden. I constantly had blisters on the soles of my feet. My penis had first atrophied to the so-called fish-hook condition, and then just turned into a shapeless clump of flesh. Among other major complaints I can also list sever bouts of tachycardia. Prior to that I had pneumonia twice, skin cancer, a heart attack, and claudication in the left leg. Yet, I could keep all of the above secret
    However, I could not conceal gum disease which was well advanced when an emergency visit to a dentist discovered it.
    For social reasons, the awful stench from my mouth made it imperative that I did something about it fast.
    That was the starting point of my self-experimentation cum self-treatment. In the following months – as I know in retrospect – I had a few false starts and I made a few mistakes. I mean, I wasted some time, and yet 18 months later all of the above was behind me like a bad dream! In the years that followed I have been working on all sorts of minor intractable health (some dating as far back as my teens) and fitness issues.
    Now at 64 I am not just a healthy individual, I am an extraordinary healthy and fit individual – without any health problems at all. My sex life compares to what it was when I was in my 30s. In my 50s sex was dull and dragged on for 40-50 minutes without much to say for it. Now it is intense, sweet, frequent, and under ten minutes. I would emphasize the word ‘intense’: ‘with fireworks’!
    I have achieved it all without any medical drugs or surgical procedures or a medical doctor guidance.
    I believe that the best way to share my knowledge and expertise with other people is to write a book.
    Unfortunately, as it turns out I am much better at self-experimenting and self-healing than at writing books. However, I have a manuscript.
    Tim, I was happy to read the ‘The 4-Hour Body’ and discover a kindred spirit. We certainly both are self-experimenters, although we started off for different reasons.
    I would certainly be happy to provide more information about my work.

    Sergey