Is The 4-Hour Body a Scam? Tracking 3,500 People to Find Out

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Ricardo Arias – 410 pounds to 211.6 pounds, for a loss of 198.4 pounds. But is he an anomaly? Sidenote: the black pants in the after pic (56 portly-long/60+ inch waist) fit him tightly at 410.

How many “how-to” books actually get read?

Historically, no one has known. Now, it’s possible to get an idea by looking at how many digital highlights a book has, and perhaps Amazon will someday provide data on how many people finish Kindle editions.

Taking it a step further: how many of the books actually get used?

This is tricky. Patients routinely ignore prescribed drugs, estimated to result in 125,000 deaths a year from cardiovascular disease alone, so it’s hard to imagine books are better followed. But how to know for sure?

The answer is: you have to track it.

When The 4-Hour Body (4HB) was published, it was met with sharp criticism, including:

– It’s impossible to lose more than 2 pounds of fat per week!
– It’s impossible to gain 20+ pounds of muscle in a month!
– It’s impossible to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time!

Fortunately, the “impossible” (circling the globe, breaking the 4-minute mile, reaching the moon, etc.) needs just one exception to be proven possible.

Since late 2010, new research and publications have supported many of the 4HB chapters that started with self-experiments (e.g. The New York Times and “brown fat,” cold exposure for fat loss, etc.). For all chapters, readers have outpaced my successes with their own. Here are several 100+ pound case studies.

But, the skeptics will rightly ask: Does it work for the general public, not just a handful of standouts?

This post will cover the first wide-scale distributed studies of The 4-Hour Body, which involved 3,500 people over 4 weeks. I’ll also include a few individual examples and measurements.

Here’s our rough table of contents:

– Case Study: 200 Pounds Lost
– The 4-Hour Body – Summary of Results with 3,500 People
– The Winner of The 4-Week Challenge: Female Before-and-After
– An Opportunity: Win Money By Losing Weight

Case Study: 200 Pounds Lost

Ricardo Arias has gone from 410 pounds to 211.6 pounds with 4HB, for a loss of 198.4 pounds. Based on his rate of progress, he should pass 200 pounds lost within the next 10 days or so.

Why feature this first? I wanted to highlight the personal effects of radical physical change before we get to the numbers.

As I’ve said before, I find writing books hellishly painful. Every time I ask myself “Why the #$%& did I sign up for this?”, the answer is: letters like the below.

It might seem self-congratulatory to include it (with Ricardo’s permission, of course), but it serves a purpose:

– It can inspire others to take action for the first time.
– It illustrates long-term benefits of The Slow-Carb Diet that far transcend the body.

Tim, thank you.

You’ve changed my life. Let me count the ways;

1. Almost 200 Pounds Lost. Who knows how many years you’ve added to my life. You’ve been the catalyst for this new found lifestyle. I have come to embrace the fact that without a plan (the SCD) I will end up obese again. I know that while I cannot control a lot of things in my life, I CAN control what I eat and when I eat. I now feel comfortable eating out with friends and family at restaurants knowing any restaurant can make a SCD compliment meal. Always keeping in mind that if I have to pay a little extra for that double portion of protein or extra veggies its only a part of my anti-fat tax and given the price of healthcare I am actually saving money.

2. Positive Change I’ve Inspired in Others. I have a group of friends I’ve known since elementary school (one of them since pre-school) who keep in touch almost daily. Some of them I see more often than others, so when we got together for our yearly posada (Christmas party) all of them commented on my positive change. Most if not all of them are now applying the principles of the SCD to their diets. They’re actually getting an excel sheet together to keep track of all our weight, they are now on course to join the 4HB lifestyle.

3. I Can Shop at Regular People’s Stores. Clothing wise a whole new world opened up for me. Choices are limited when you’re a 60 inch waist and 4XL. So when I walked into Zara while doing some Christmas shopping and fit into a XL jacket (yes EUROPEAN XL not XXL but XL) I couldn’t believe it. I was so proud and happy, not because of the clothes per se, but because it was a culmination of the little victories I’ve had on the path I’ve chosen. All those sacrifices and all that effort reflected back at me in the mirror in the mold of a really cool jacket. I remember a couple of Christmas’ ago my sister gave me a 56PL suit as a gift (the “P” meaning Portly as in fat around the waist). At my worst point the suit fit me tighter than a glove. Yesterday, I picked up my new suit at the tailor a black 44L suit. Another victory. Another piece of motivation to keep on going.

4. Love and Life. On a very personal level, all this energy and new mentality and approach to life has made me feel open to building meaningful relationships. Whether it’s improving the relationships I already have or making new ones, I feel I now radiate this positive energy from within that other people can notice. Through this new body — this new mentality — I find myself opening up to some great possibilities. The change in me has not only been physical. This is something I never expected, but it has been a consequence of this lifestyle.

5. New Sense of Purpose. I no longer feel like I am entitled to something. I now want to work as hard as I can to apply my new-found discipline and purpose elsewhere. I now know I am capable of achieving anything I put my mind to. And I most want to help others find their paths to a similar lifestyle — one that has been so rewarding and enriching for me.

I know I am not out of the woods yet. I actually recognize that keeping tabs on my diet will be a life-long process. I know that if I want to keep living this fuller life, I have to be conscious of the decisions I’ve made, and learn to live with the consequences. They say nothing tastes better than the way thin feels, but that’s not true. I say nothing tastes better than a life well lived. And because of you I have wet my beak and found a lifestyle I can maintain and truly get the most out of life.

Thank you, Tim.

– Ricardo Arias

P.S. I just gotta send you this pic (attached). Not only does it show how happy I am, but come on, that’s a cool jacket.

IMG-20121230-WA0020 (1)

Summary of Results from 3,500 People

For the experiment, we used Lift.

Lift is a behavioral modification app. It was incubated by Obvious Corp., whose co-founders include Twitter co-founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone. After seeing Lift’s potential, I became one of the first (if not first) outside investors.

For the four-week experiment, people had to:

Download Lift for free on iPhone, iPad, or iPod (Android coming).

– Search for “4HB” by clicking on the plus sign here:

– Next, sign up for whichever 4HB habits they wanted to follow. See the six below, The Slow-Carb Diet&#174 being the most important:

So, what happened with our eventual 3,500 people? The following is excerpted from the original post by Tony Stubblebine, the CEO of Lift:

84% of people who stuck to the program lost weight and the average weight loss was 8.6 pounds. These numbers are very strong.

The diet is based on developing a few key habits: Slow-carb diet (no processed carbs or dairy), taking cold showers, eating 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of waking up, exercising, and measuring your weight, body fat and total inches.

[Note from Tim: “Total Inches” is explained in The 4-Hour Body as follows: “Get a simple tape measure and measure four locations: both upper arms (mid-bicep), waist (horizontal at navel), hips (at widest point below waist), and both legs (mid-thigh). Total these numbers to arrive at your Total Inches (TI). Changes in this total will be meaningful enough to track.”]

The data we used comes from a large pool of Lift usage data (3,500 participants) and responses from a follow-up survey to Lift users in which 200 people participated.

Summary: 4-Hour Body Works

Not only did 84% of people who stuck to the diet for four weeks lose weight, 14% of people lost more than 15 pounds. That’s a lot of success for such a short amount of time.

Two habits correlated strongly with weight loss: eating a lot of eggs and eating veggies.

Two habits correlated with failure: heavy alcohol consumption and giving up on cold showers.

Defining Success: Lost Weight vs. Stasis

Across all our data, 16% of people didn’t lose weight. Let’s call this the baseline stasis rate. The margin of error on this survey is 5%. We can use this to claim a correlation between sub-behaviors on this diet and success.

Eat eggs and veggies.

People who reported either eating two dozen eggs per week or “too many!” eggs had a stasis rate of 10% and 11%. That correlates with greater success on the diet (i.e. the data suggests you should be aggressively eating eggs for the purposes of this diet).

We saw a much bigger signal from people who weren’t including veggies in their daily meals. Their stasis rate was 25%. Your mom was right: eat your veggies.

Be consistent.

We asked a couple of questions that touched upon how consistently people stuck to their diet habits.

28% of people scrambled to find acceptable meals each day (presumably meaning that many meals weren’t strictly appropriate for the diet).

21% of Lifters maintained their regular, social drinking habits on the diet. Tim recommends limiting alcohol and sticking to wine.

29% tried, but gave up on, cold showers.

You probably aren’t surprised that heavy drinking (25% stasis rate) didn’t help with weight loss. Haphazard eating also leaned that way (19% stasis). But what’s up with the cold showers?

Not taking cold showers and taking cold showers showed up evenly. It didn’t matter which one you chose as long as you stayed consistent.

But people who tried the cold showers and then gave up? They had a 29% stasis rate. This was the highest correlation of anything in the survey. Maybe it’s an indicator of weak wills or failure in other aspects of the diet. I’m one of them, although I managed to lose weight. I tried cold showers four times and then decided I didn’t have the heart to keep going.

Enjoy Cheat Day

I have good news: cheat day eating habits didn’t have any effect on success rate. It didn’t matter what you craved (61% of you crave sweets) or if you ate in excess (combining beer, cheese, frieds, and sugars). So keep eating whatever you’d like on your day off…

Here are more participant stories and tips from the 4-week experiment.

Some of them have kept weight off for several years since starting 4HB-based dieting, so there is evidence for persistence of effect. It is untrue that people who diet have to regain weight. It’s an old wives’ tale and totally avoidable.

The Winner of Another 4-Week Challenge: Before-and-After

Concurrently with the above tracking with Lift, I ran a 4-week competition on DietBet that became a 673-person experiment.

The premise is simple: studies have established that people work incredibly hard to avoid losing money. Much harder, in fact, than they will work to earn it. So, all you have to do is force people to put their money where their mouths are (“I want to lose weight”) and voila: better results.

On DietBet, players each add $50 to the pot, and the total is divided up among the “winners” at the end of the game. DietBetting is not winner-take-all like The Biggest Loser. Everyone who loses at least 4% of their starting weight will get an equal share of the pot. DietBet supplies referees to verify weights using a photo-based weigh-in process.

Here’s how the total pot breaks down:

– 85% of the total is divided among the winners
– 5% goes to DietBet itself for credit card fees, etc.
– 10% would have gone to me but was instead donated to The Gazzaley Lab, a cognitive neuroscience research lab at the University of California, San Francisco, where I’m helping fund studies on the neural mechanisms of memory and attention, as well as cognitive training.

DietBetting works. People, even wealthy people, keep their promises not to lose $50.

Here are some fun stats from the experiment:

• Total number of players — 673
• Total amount bet — $33,700
• Number of countries represented — 46
• Return you got for investing in yourself in the 4-Hour Body DietBet (if you won) — 58% in 4 weeks
• Return you would have gotten for investing in the S&P during the same period — negative 1.49%
• Average weight lost among everyone — 6.9 lbs
• Average weight lost among winners — 10.1 lbs
• Total weight lost cumulative — 4,673 lbs
• Percentage of players hitting 4% bodyweight loss goal (“winning”) — 53.8% (362 winners). This % win rate was significantly higher than the average across all games, which is 33%.
DietBet attributes this to the simplicity of The Slow-Carb Diet (SCD).
• Amount won per player — $79.13 (85% of the total pot divided evenly among the 362 winners. 10% of the pot went to the Gazzaley Lab, 5% went to credit card and Paypal processing, etc.)
• % men/women — 56.8% men, 43.2% women
• Amount donated to the Gazzaley Lab — $3370

As an added incentive, I offered a free trip to SF and day with me to the person who had the most impressive transformation, captured by both measurements and photos.

The winner was Linda M., age 46. Here is one of her before-and-after pics:


Note: I love the strategic newspaper headline.

STATS (beginning –> end):

Weight: 197.4 –> 175.5 Lost 21.9 total pounds, but…
Lbs of fat tissue: 74.22 –> 51.33 Lost 22.89 pounds of fat
Lbs of lean tissue: 123.2 –> 124.5 Gained 1.3 pounds lean tissue, which means…
Body-fat %: 37.6 –> 29.2 Lost 8.4% body-fat
Total Inches (TI): 150.2 –> 137.4 Lost 12.8 Total Inches

MEASUREMENTS:

Waist – 43 –> 37 = -6 inches
Bicep- 13 –> 12.4 = -0.6 inches
Hips – 44.2 –> 41.1 = -3.1 inches
Left thigh – 25.1 –> 23.5 = -1.6 inches
Right thigh – 24.9 –> 23.4 = -1.5 inches

In her feedback email, Linda wrote:

… I had skimmed 4 Hr Body in the past and incorporated some of the practices, but this was done by the book, and I am astounded! I have lost fat in the past, along with hard earned muscle, but never came close to losing this much fat AND gaining muscle. I did not think this was possible.

I am so excited to have discovered Dietbet! Money is a huge motivator for me (as I do not have a lot of it) I was so impressed with the sense of camaraderie in the forums, it didn’t feel like a competition. We felt like a team. I went on a little holiday after this challenge, gained back a few pounds and signed up right away for another challenge upon my return. It works, and I will continue to join challenges until I reach my goal weight.

I am excited to continue my progress armed with The 4-Hour Body, Dietbet and now The 4-Hour Chef.

An Opportunity

I’m holding another 4-week DietBet competition, starting today, January 22 to February 18, 2013. Sign up here. If you have an iPhone, I recommend using Lift for extra support.

For the one person who loses the most bodyfat percentage points (not necessarily total weight) by February 18th, I have another prize: a $1,000 prize of my choosing and, if you like, an hour on the phone with me (or lunch in SF, if you can make it).

How to measure bodyfat?

I’d prefer that you use the most accurate tools, such as the below. Many of the above can be found at high-end gyms or nearby hospitals. No matter what, you must use the same tool (and ideally the same person) for your “before,” progress, and “after” measurements.

The most accurate tools:

BodPod (pay per session)
DEXA or DXA (pay per session)
Hydrostatic weighing (dunk tank) (pay per session)
Skin fold calipers – MUST use at least 7 points and ideally the Jackson-Pollock algorithm (pay per session)
BodyMetrix Personal (purchase) – This is the handheld ultrasound device that is used by the New York Yankees, AC Milan, and yours truly. It plugs into your laptop via USB. I’ve arranged for a $200 discount for readers of this blog; just use this link and code 4HOURSPECIAL at checkout.

If you can’t find or afford any of these, just do your best to capture progress. For instance:

– Take good “before” pics (front, side, back) and weekly progress pictures.
– Take tape measure measurements before starting, then each week, per The 4-Hour Body instructions:

Get a simple tape measure and measure four locations: both upper arms (mid-bicep), waist (horizontal at navel), hips (at widest point below waist), and both legs (mid-thigh). Total these numbers to arrive at your Total Inches (TI). Changes in this total will be meaningful enough to track.

Regardless, eat smart (90% of fat loss), train well (10% of fat loss), and be safe, of course.

Remember: You Are Not Alone

Use all the free tools and support at your disposal.

As a starting point, consider the forum 4HBTalk, which is extremely active with advice and community. Also be sure to read my previous posts on basics, like “How to Lose 100 Pounds on The Slow-Carb Diet” (features pics and case studies).

Of course, if you want to get uber-serious, I’d suggest reading The 4-Hour Body.

So what are you waiting for? Sign up here and let’s see what you can do among supportive competitors.

I’m betting… more than you think. See you in four weeks!

###

Posted on: January 22, 2013.

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183 comments on “Is The 4-Hour Body a Scam? Tracking 3,500 People to Find Out

  1. Love the slow carb diet, it works better than anything I’ve tried. I love people who tell me that it wont work that i need to put whole grains in my diet and that I am sabotagging myself. It is easy to stick to, easy to start andn gets results quick.

    Like

    • Those folks who think you need whole grains need to read “The Paleo Solution”. Humans don’t need ANY grain in their diets; more and better fiber from fruit and vegetables.

      Like

  2. Tim,

    Those screenshots of the Lift app actually look quite a bit like my own!

    On-topic: I love 4HB, 4HC and, more importantly, the approach to exacting this sort of drastic change in your life. I’ve been there both in fitness and other areas of my life (women and dating).

    Keep the awesomeness coming!

    Regards,
    EVO

    Like

  3. I love this post! Something amazing such as parts of 4HB that work, gain validity only if they are tested and corroborated by more data points (people). getting fit, being healthy, looking good are all exciting for people. Imagine what we could do if we were testing many other aspects of our lives (social interactions, how we spend money, what effect various clothes we wear have, etc.) As a scientist, I find myself designing little experiments to change things in my life. The most important part is collecting the data and listening to it! I’m so glad Tim is reminding so many people of this practice!

    Like

  4. Agreed, Brandon — I love how everyone suddenly becomes a professional dietician when you tell them about this diet: “Oh yeah, that won’t work. Have fun though, dude”. It works, and it’s one of the easiest diets I’ve ever tried.

    I did run into one stumbling block on it, that’s worth mentioning — I had plateaued for several weeks without losing a pound. I made one simple change: I cut out all artificial sweeteners except on cheat days, and the weight rapidly started coming off again.

    Like

  5. Tim! Awesome that we have the forum back up and rocking! Thanks again for doing something about the PAGG stack (I was that dude harassing you at Samovar about what there isn’t a PAGG stack from you). Thanks a million for all the work you are doing. With our newborn around, I’ll have much more of a reason to get my body into shape so I can play with him a ton.

    Like

  6. Tim, as of this morning I have lost a total of 141.8lbs, 131.8 of that weight on the 4 Hour Body. (I messed around with the first 10lbs until I finally saw you on the Random show talking about the 4 Hour Body and I rushed out the next day to buy it.
    I cannot thank you enough for making this as easy as it has been. I started January 4th 2011 and have never stopped moving forward. You have completely changed my life for the better and my optimism for the future is so much brither than it ever was before. This book has made such an impact in my life that I even started a website to document my next steps I’m on which is the last 5-10 pounds and adding muscle.

    I have been guiding my step mother and coaching her along with her journey on the 4 Hour Body and she has lost 37.8lbs as of this morning.

    My sister is my next project, she is down 5lbs in the last week.

    Edit:
    Weighing just before bed, I am at 208.8 which should put me at a new low when I wake up tomorrow morning!! I love knowing that. :D

    Like

  7. I didnt even get through reading the book, just followed the basic rules and dropped 12 kilograms. Not once did i feel as if i was on diet, I enjoyed it to the max, its my lifestyle now! I strayed off it for a while not following it too strictly and not once did I gain any of the weight back! In fact I lost a little more! I have changed my body completely and didnt even need to touch any fancy supplements or pills for increased result!
    If your serious about changing your body and feeling great, then the 4 hour body is definitely the way to go!
    Thanks Tim Ferriss!

    Like

  8. I do okay with loss of weight.

    However, the most controversial point is that “It’s impossible to gain 20+ pounds of muscle in a month!” when I tried to introduce your 4HB to my friends.

    I’m not saying that it is scam, but you’d better to explain more about how to gain 20 pounds of muscle in a month.

    Like

  9. The book is sick. I’m about to begin the fat loss section and had a question concerning dairy products. Cottage cheese was mentioned as having no hinderance to fat loss. Does yogurt or Greek yogurt fall under the same claim?

    Like

  10. You are the man. I drink a protein shake upon waking with coconut oil and eat chicken, black beans, and spinach for dinner. Outside of that, it really DOES NOT MATTER what else I do, I am able to remain + or – 3 pounds. Exercise is overrated and diet is undervalued. This is coming from someone who used to run at 0500 and hit the weights that afternoon 5 days a week and still be unhappy with my body. Cheers for all your research on yourself. We are in this together.

    Like

  11. Right after it launched I lost 22.9 lbs of fat in January. I would have hit my 30 lb goal if it hadn’t been for a 4 day business trip, followed by a 3 day bachelor party. I did everything, 30g protein and 500mL of cold water upon waking up, cold showers, PAGG stack, CQ, D3, Magnesium, Calcium, 90 seconds of air squats. Your book helped me recover my strength and well-being after 4 months of slow healing (both body and brain) after a motor-scooter collision.

    Dietbet worked great for me as well! Switched to Android so haven’t been able to try Lift yet, but one thing I’ve been wondering is if my startup’s behavioral technology could be used to improve people’s completion rates. Having reminders keyed towards their personalities (e.g. competitive vs cooperative) might increase their motivation and engagement.

    Would love to get your thoughts on it and if you think it’s useful, would love an intro to DietBet and Lift founders.

    Thanks again for the awesome work to change people’s lives.

    Ravi
    [Moderator Edit: Deleted phone number]

    Like

  12. Great article! Today is my first week of SCD and I’m 2.3kg of fat down in seven days! I would love to join, but one percent a week seems quite a lot…but 50 bucks is a fair bet

    Like

  13. The people (and organisations ) who say that the 4HB is a scam can suck my knee caps… behind each one, if anyone had the time, you will find the stupid, the ones who are pushing their own own agenda or weight loss regime or the ones who are happy to keep people obese.

    Anyway, who cares what the naysayers say – it is real world results that count. I have lost 22lbs in the the last 5 weeks and I have had more then my fair share of malbec

    Today – for 30 days – I am on a strict interpretation of the 4HB and will be measuring my progress through various data points… have to say I am looking forward to it …

    Tim is a gift to humanity… which is more then I can say about the complainers and moaners…

    Like

  14. Used the Slow Carb Diet when I lived in China a few years ago (not by choice, but by situation…long story!). I ended up losing nearly 40 pounds on this diet, and felt better than I have in years (not to mention enjoyed a new wardrobe). SO much of this diet is simply about choices, and I encourage anyone to try it, even if for a short time, to test the benefits for themselves!

    Like

  15. Hi Tim,
    I’m not entering this contest because I’ve been doing your diet for 2 years (as needed) and am as fit as I’ve been in my life. :)

    Sometimes work trips or a few weeks of gluttony take me off track, but it is consistently simple to get back to where I was in literally one week.

    Female
    118 pounds
    5’8″
    33″ x 24″ x 35″
    28 years old

    Anyone who is considering entering- you totally should!

    Thanks a lot Tim!
    -S

    Like

  16. I’ve cut down on carbs lately–living in Asia makes it nearly impossible–but I look and feel better. I’ve found that Tim’s kettlebell workout is a great way to add some fitness without having to be in the gym 24/7

    Like

  17. So 84% who followed the diet lost weight. In how long? How many didn’t follow the diet? Also, why didn’t they follow the diet? I followed the diet for about 6 weeks, and I felt so sick (and lost no weight) that I just couldn’t keep it up beyond that. According to the book, because of my age and gender, it was understandable that I would not get results in the beginning, but like I said, I started to feel sick to my stomach all the time so I simply couldn’t justify staying on the diet. I don’t think you should be so hesitant to talk about those people who didn’t get results. In fact, as a contribution, I think you want to tell us under what circumstances people left, and under what circumstances people didn’t get results.

    Like

    • Rebecca, I too have had difficulty losing weight utilizing Tim’s plan. The book does not appear to take in account peri-menopause or menopause, which certainly creates a challenging forum to losing weight. I actually gained weight when I followed the plan; I immediately eliminated the lentil’s from my diet, which are extremely high in carbohydrates and now I am back to my original weight.

      Sorry to hear of your struggles on this diet and hoping you found a plan, which better suits you to lose/mange your weight.

      Linda J.

      Like

  18. I posted last night but it didn’t get approved I guess.
    I have had amazing success with this diet, I have lost 144lbs in just over two years on the 4HB.
    Thank you Tim.

    Like