The Four-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat Loss, Incredible Sex and Becoming Superhuman
By Timothy Ferriss
Crown Archetype, 2010
Tim Ferriss. For anyone familiar with his book, The Four-Hour Workweek (4HWW), or his blog and other writings, you know firsthand with whom you are dealing: a complete nonconformist who achieves successes and results that defy explanation, who bucks modern trends and assumptions at will, and who knows how to entrance his audience. You are also dealing with someone whose behavior, by his own admission, borders on obsessive-compulsive.
Tim’s newest book, The Four-Hour Body (4HB), continues his trademark maverick style. The book even garnered widespread mainstream media attention, including Yahoo, television’s “The View” and Dr. Oz, and many other outlets. These toned down snippets and summaries of the book are far more palatable to the average American than some of the stuff inside, surely a wise selling point to get average folk interested in Ferriss’ single-minded, all-encompassing passion to become “super-human.”
In terms of content, the book contains a wide variety of useful information on health and wellness. Note also that the book is very large (592 pages) and heavy. You could lose a little excess weight just working your way through it. His coverage of cold and thermal load (page 122), glucose and blood sugar, kettlebells and other weight-loss and strength training tools is broad, well explained, fascinating, and easily applied by the average reader. Ferriss’ gift of discarding the dross and finding the gold is evident, as readers of 4HWW already know and appreciate. His concept of the “minimum effective dose,” introduced at the book’s onset and applied throughout, is long overdue in a world that prides itself on more as better, rather than recognizing that better is better.
In terms of nutrition and food, however, Ferriss loses sight of the gold. The book is an unmitigated disaster from a WAPF perspective. In Ferriss’ world, food is little more than an exploitable means to an end, and that end is clearly a modern American, MTV, culturally driven idealization of the “perfect-body.” Call it ripped. Call it buff. Call it waif. Call it whatever, but food is merely a tool to achieve this “perfect body.” That we all should accept this rather caricatured version of humanity as the pinnacle of perfection is assumed, not argued for.
Ferriss gets some things right (pointing out the “calories in equals calories out” model of weight loss is flawed, for instance) and many things wrong.
Dairy foods are disqualified. Grains are gone. Fruit is forbidden. One day per week is reserved as the proverbial “cheat day,” but it isn’t a day to freely eat a wider array of high quality foods while helping to rev up base body metabolism. Instead, this is a day of debauch to freely eat as much industrial garbage and crap as you can stuff down in eighteen hours. Don’t worry, Ferriss says, on the cheat day you can just consume large amounts of caffeine so your body absorbs as little of this all-out assault on its well-being as possible (page 105).
Ferriss’ daily permitted foods comprise a paltry list of fewer than twenty items (page 72), though at least he doesn’t give the dire old warnings about saturated fat. But supplements and drugs are standard fare: magnesium, calcium, potassium, AGG and PAG….oh, wait, aren’t some of these found abundantly in raw milk products from pastured animals? Drinking calories is also taboo, so lacto-fermented drinks are out (and Ferriss himself seems comfortable as a self-confessed “total Diet Coke whore,” p. 98). But lots of water with meals is recommended to keep glucose at a certain level. What about the dilution of stomach acid and other ill effects on digestion, leading to all sorts of possible longer term consequences (page 146)?
This utilitarian view of food is both extreme and extremely disturbing. It also appears very out of balance with Ferriss’ general principle of enjoying life to the fullest, and thus he has become trapped by his own obsession. I would gladly trade the “perfect 12 pack” for a six-pack, and enjoy my butter, cheese and other seasonal fare with greater freedom. My hunch is that most others would as well, if only they knew that there was an option besides the extremism of books like 4HB and the appalling ill health offered by the SAD. We need bodies that can be both beautiful and functional, and food that can create both vibrant health and daily culinary and sensual delight.
Ferriss does mention the need to soak legumes like beans and the benefits of fermented foods, especially sauerkraut (including a puzzling mention of yogurt given his dairy deprivation diet!), but otherwise, there is little information related to proper food preparation, as Ferriss advocates a diet that many stoics would consider ascetic. Dr. Price does receive passing mention four times, his work reduced to the admonition to make fermented foods “a mandatory piece of your dietary puzzle,” and that some commonalities shared by traditional diets boost sexual function and procreative ability. What a strange way to use (or abuse!) Dr. Price’s work!
While Ferriss’ diet may be very effective for short and moderate term physical goals, the savvy reader is left to wonder what effect it may have on long term health, especially the health of children born to prospective parents adhering to a diet devoid of nutrient-dense foods and occasionally filled with tons of absolute trash.
Also, as a warning to readers, his chapters on human sexuality are very explicit, and thus some will want to avoid them or the book completely and this is why they go unmentioned in this review. Final verdict: thumbs down.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2011.