Experiences with Tim Ferriss' slow carb diet?
April 7, 2011 5:34 PM   Subscribe

Are there any mefites out there who have tried the slow carb diet as described by Tim Ferriss in The 4-Hour Body? If so, I'd really like to hear about your experience.

I'd like to try Ferriss' diet as both a stricter and more lenient extension of my low carb diet (since it's very limited in what you can eat, but on the other hand adds legume carbs). It *may* even be healthier than the diet I've been following, which has included a lot of fats, artificial sugars, malitol, sodium and some prepackaged foods.

My family thinks the diet is madness and this has me doubting myself. The cheat day (eating as much crap as you like and can stuff into yourself) sounds particularly ridiculous.

That aside, I look at this and the low carb diet in their extreme form as temporary experiments that will help me figure out what really works to help me lose weight. But I'm still feeling strange about trying such an extreme diet advocated by such a strange (although compelling) dude, so I'm turning here to find out if any folks here have experiences to share.
posted by kitcat to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
I'm by no means fat (18% bodyfat, male, 193cm/6'3", starting at ~99kg/~218lbs ), but during a recent physical, the doctors told me I should lose a few kilograms. So I've been giving it a shot.

Results: The first week, absolutely. I was down two kilograms (~5 lbs). Second week: Meh, weight seems to be stagnating, but my love handles are definitely thinning. "Body recomposition" in action, I guess. But really, I only want to lose another 2 or 3 kg in bodyfat at most. My real problem is being stuck in a VERY sedentary job (close to 11 hours at a desk all day), and I get vigorous exercise maybe twice a week.

Given that I'm kind of starting kind of close to the finish line anyway, I don't think it's going to be that easy to shed the last few kgs. As you know, TF recommends some more intense measures for "the last few pounds", and I'm considering doing the ice-pack/cold bath-cayenne bit.

I'm eating plenty of protein (fish, chicken, eggs) and baked beans are my only carbs. I'd use something else without all the sugary sauce, but it's impossible to find canned kidney/black beans where I live (Korea). Even if I stuff myself, I still have a gnawing sensation that would really be quelled if I just had some toast or a glass of milk. I found some no-carb protein powder recently, and having that mixed with water has helped that.

Also, I didn't manage the two cheat days (so far) the way I should have. I went whole hog all day, and forgot TF's recommendations to have the high-protein breakfast, consume citrus and caffeine, and do periodic bursts of resistance exercises. Will be a little more focused on the next one.

But in any case, I'm a believer. The theory behind the cheat day isn't as crazy as it first appears: if your body is rapidly dropping weight, at some point your metabolism is going to check itself so that it doesn't go too far, too fast. If you occasionally remind it that yeah, you're not in any danger of starvation anytime soon, it'll do what its told.
posted by holterbarbour at 6:18 PM on April 7, 2011

Tim Ferriss was interviewed on the Nerdist podcast. From the interview, I came away with the impression that the cheat day is ridiculous, but it makes you statistically less likely to cheat on non-cheat days, giving the diet a better overall success rate.

To balance it out, there's a lot of interesting criticism on the Amazon reviews for The 4-Hour-Body. Watching this thread with interest.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 6:20 PM on April 7, 2011

Oh, and I will state that TF himself also turns me off. But the book has proved useful in other areas- it did encourage me to get my vitamin D and testosterone levels checked, and sure enough they were waaay below normal. Recommended changes in diet and adding D3 supplements kicked up both into normal range within one month.
posted by holterbarbour at 6:21 PM on April 7, 2011

I find Tim Ferriss to be a bit gimmicky -- especially his once a week binges. Have you considered the primal way of eating? It's not a diet in the way people normally use the word -- in the sense that it is a way of eating for life, not until you've lost the weight you want to. It's not necessarily low carb, though a lot of people end up eating that way, since you cut out grains and sugar except for fruits. I followed a stricter low carb diet earlier, but I like primal because of its emphasis on fresh, homemade foods. Artificial sweeteners are as much of a no-no as sugar, and there's a lot of emphasis on veggies. And btw there's really nothing wrong with eating fat, as long as you stay away from trans fats and keep your omega 3 to omega 6 ratio good. Mark's Daily Apple is a wonderful site espousing this lifestyle. It may be just what you're looking for.
posted by peacheater at 6:32 PM on April 7, 2011 [5 favorites]

I'm not really afraid of fat after reading Gary Taubes. Getting my cholesterol checked will be the only thing that can put all the fat fear to rest, though. And will hopefully quiet my relatives too.
posted by kitcat at 6:45 PM on April 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

Lyle MacDonald has good information and science, as opposed to Tim who has promotion. (The refueling day keeps your metabolism from slowing down). IF you like low-carb, check out The Ketogenic Diet. MacDonald comes from the bodybuilding world, so no, this isn't a life-time meal plan.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:12 PM on April 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

I just have to weigh back in again reiterating how full of shit this guy - and this diet - is. Dude claims he put on 34lbs of muscle in 28 days. This is physically impossible. It would be physically impossible to put on that much muscle in a year. Even for a professional.

If you like weird scammy shit and want a miracle cure, by all means try it, but the secret to weight loss is to first eat less first, second exercise more, and most importantly make small sustainable changes to your diet that you will be able to happily maintain indefinitely. There is no miracle diet.

If you are truly interested in making your life healthy, please see people that have experience in helping people achieve this goal, preferably with degrees to back it up. This diet is madness; it could make you sick, you will almost certainly be unable to stick to it, you will likely end up less healthier on it. It's like asking Wile E. Coyote about building rocketships when there are a hundred NASA scientists sitting next door.
posted by smoke at 7:18 PM on April 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

I did a similar diet years ago, with the 1 cheat day, and I found that "falling off the wagon" for 1 day made it REALLY hard to get back on the wagon the next day and eventually I was unable to climb back on the wagon, and I spiraled out of control.

On a side note: I've always struggled with my weight. I've done pretty much every diet you can think of, but at the end of the day, the only thing that worked for me was eating a balanced diet of wholesome foods, exercising 4-5 times a week and not eating at night. YMMV.
posted by jazzman at 7:23 PM on April 7, 2011

I just have to weigh back in again reiterating how full of shit this guy - and this diet - is. Dude claims he put on 34lbs of muscle in 28 days. This is physically impossible. It would be physically impossible to put on that much muscle in a year. Even for a professional.

Oh, the joys of sock puppet accounts -- I can respond to this without feeling like I'm, I don't know, name dropping or something. I don't have any idea what kind of guy he is nowadays, but I went to school with Tim for several years when I was a teenager and I saw firsthand his ability to dramatically increase/reduce his weight within very short periods of time. It was for a sport he played which required him to be under a certain weight. IIRC he was using the alternating "low carb / carb-up AKA eatwhateverthehellyouwant" approach to do so. This was when he was a teenager, of course, but even back then he was mildly infamous at school for experimenting with all sorts of weird supplements and stuff. I'm not at all surprised that he has gone on to write books about it. In other words, the guy was always solidly interested in weird supplements and self-experimentations and at one point, at least, he practiced what he apparently now preaches.

Moving on -- as far as cheat days go on low-carb diets -- there is something to cheat days, in my experience, though I can't speak to once-a-week cheat days. Once a month, yeah, it does seem to sometimes produce weight loss. That said, if low carbing is working for you, but you're consuming some processed/packaged foods and a lot of sugar alcohols, why not ditch those and see what happens before you undertake a more major tweaking of your diet? If this "slow carb" plan includes legumes, it IS going to be a drastic change in terms of the composition of carbs/fat/protein that you're ingesting...
posted by mylittlepoppet at 7:31 PM on April 7, 2011

I did it and liked it. I didn't follow it perfectly, but still lost weight. However, I didnt see the scale move a lot until I went off it during a week long business trip where I pigged out. I didn't realize how much protein can make you retain water. I had lost inches though prior to this even though the scale hadn't moved.

I didn't stick with it that long and reverted to counting calories again, but I liked it and it definitely taught me some things. Like how having a high protein breakfast does help with hunger a lot. At the end of the day I've never been able to stick with really low carb diets, but this one was much better than Atkins.

I liked his book better than most diet books because I didn't feel like I was being sold some lifestyle/religion. It was also very practical as he talked a lot amount maintaining the diet while traveling and eating. And to be realistic about how much food you were actually going to cook from scratch. It also wasn't ridiculously complicated.

I did the supplements and I don't feel like they did anything, but hard to say.

I don't understand at all how it could be considered unhealthy. It's pretty much lots of low fat protein, lots of vegetables, particularly spinach, egg whites, and beans or legumes. And you can throw in some guacamole and a glass of red wine if you want. Then you drink a ton of water. That's it.

I think the cheat day is basically an attempt to minimize and manage inevitable cheating. I think it helps prevent burnout and stops you from getting discouraged if you go off your diet. You can still be happy you followed your diet even though you had one bad day.

I dont think his diet is a miracle, but it's very tolerable and I was happy with the results I got for a relatively low level of misery. Sure a lot of the results are exaggerated, but I haven't found a diet plan that wasn't. I also didn't follow it exactly, but still saw results.

I can understand not liking Tim Ferris as a person, but I did really like his approach to dieting. I want something results oriented that is going to give me the most bang for my buck. I'm not trying to be an elite athlete, I'm just trying to not have a muffin top and I think his book works well for people like me.
posted by whoaali at 7:34 PM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've been doing it for a month now, basically inspired by a Gizmodo blog post I saw linked over at Health Month. I'm down about 5kg. Here's the thing: I do heaps of exercise. I'm training for a marathon now. I ran over 1000km last year (running like 3x a week, cross training as well) and didn't lose any weight. It just made me hungrier. I can eat bread like nobody's business. In the past I've been successful with both Atkins and Weight Watchers, but both of them required me to obsess and count and track and stress. I don't need that. So I saw that blog post, and I started doing it. Basically, for 6 days out of the week I don't eat "white carbs" (flour, sugar, potatoes, bread, pasta, rice, etc). On Saturdays, I have whatever I want. I don't really aim to do the whole "eat the same thing every day" aspect, but my breakfasts and lunches are all pretty similar, I guess.

So yeah, the scale finally started moving. My doctor saw me mid-March and was thrilled. (I had a full blood work-up done in January - because he wanted to make sure I didn't have some sort of insulin issue, what with me not losing weight - and everything was good. So if my cholesterol or blood pressure goes up, he'll know it.)

This is a pretty easy diet for me to do, and it doesn't take a lot of effort. I'm not hungry all the time. I've also found that the "Cheat Days" act as aversion therapy, in that the sugary carby stuff makes me feel so crap that I am less and less inclined to eat it each week. I'm glad I've lost 10 lbs.

(With regards to my marathon training, I know I need more carbs. So I do eat more carbs the day before a long run, and I definitely have carbs before and after the run.)
posted by web-goddess at 8:42 PM on April 7, 2011

While I didn't ask about other diets, I do appreciate the suggestions. Like web-goddess, exercise doesn't seems to help me make significant changes to my weight and only very restrictive diets make the scale move. But counting calories, going hungry and always thinking about what I've already eaten in a given day vs. what I can eat for the rest of the day really reduces the quality of my life. If there's another option, I'm in.
posted by kitcat at 10:23 PM on April 7, 2011

It will work. The thing is most diet plans work if you follow them. How I normally eat is similar to his diet. I just eat lots of protein and fats. The carbs I eat regularly are really only in green veggie form or sweet potatoes. Very little fruit, I eat bread sometimes now but I didn't for almost a year. I do 1 or 2 cheat days a week (which usually just means I drink and eat the same =). You really only need 1 cheat meal a week, not a whole day. The whole day is more for psychological reasons. The weekly cheat meal is beneficial to almost carb cycle in a way and just give your metabolism a kick in the butt.

exercise doesn't seems to help me make significant changes to my weight and only very restrictive diets make the scale move
If your idea of exercise has always been an hour on the treadmill that would be why. But yeah, if you're just trying to lose fat it's almost all what you eat. You can start lifting if you want some body re-composition.
posted by zephyr_words at 11:37 PM on April 7, 2011

Have you considered the primal way of eating? It's not a diet in the way people normally use the word

You're right. It's not a diet. It's a pseudoscientific eating disorder. I've also noticed that *everyone* has a different idea of what exactly is allowed/disallowed by the primal/paleo diet.

I won't argue that "Fresh, homemade" foods are awesome. I will, however, argue that there's no concrete way of defining what's fresh and homemade, and point out that this diet can become outlandishly expensive very quickly, and effectively prohibits you from eating anything that you haven't prepared yourself from scratch from (a very limited subset of) basic ingredients.

If you have the time/money to do this, more power to you. Your food choices will be so limited that you'll have no choice but to lose weight.
posted by schmod at 7:13 AM on April 8, 2011

I've lost about 15 pounds and 1-2 inches all over since the first of the year quasi-following this eating idea. I'm 46, 5'5 and currently at 242.5. I'm also doing 45 mins of cardio (stationary bike usually) 4 to 6 days a week and strength training the same 4 to 6 days.

By "quasi" I mean I eat an occasional piece of gluten-free bread plus I have fruit and yogurt daily. I don't really do the 'dieters gone wild' thing. If I want pizza then I'll have a slice. I'm getting to the point where I just don't need to over-eat or binge. I also do not track calories, just write what I'm eating in food diary. I've been able to make a few adjustments just based on that documenting alone.

I feel fine plus have seen a decrease in allergies and intestinal disturbances.

So for me, I'm doing better on it than I did with Weight Watchers or South Beach :)
posted by tar0tgr1 at 7:39 AM on April 8, 2011

I did the diet for three weeks and I had a *miserable* experience with the cheat days.

I'd eat a cheat meal - not an incredibly oversized cheat meal, either, just, for example, a bowl of pho with about 2 cups of noodles in it - and I'd feel awful and I would slip into a "food coma" for about six hours. (Note that I was eating a slo-carb breakfast, drinking the grapefruit juice, doing the air squats, etc.) After this happened three times - on three consecutive Saturdays, with entirely different cheat meals on each day - I gave it up.

I'm doing weight watchers now and I've lost about a pound a week for 15 weeks. Slow but steady.
posted by halfguard at 1:40 PM on April 8, 2011

Any well planned diet will work, but it's the execution that's the problem. Supposedly the cheat day is there for a couple of reasons. First, to avoid the down-regulation of protein uptake but I haven't really looked into that so I don't know.
The other and more important part is the behavioral aspect. I'm sure the diet would work fine without a cheat day, but I'm sure as any study would bear out that there is a higher success rate with a cheat day included. I haven't gotten my hands on his book yet, but apparently he does do the studies to prove these things.

As far as him gaining 34 lbs in a month, that's a hard one to swallow. I do know he said he had lost 30 or 40 lbs previous to taking on that weight training program, so there's that. I don't think it's unheard of to gain 30 or 40 pounds of muscle in a year, but you will be taking in HUGE amounts of calories and you'll also likely gain 20 some odd pounds of fat along with it.
HIT has always kind of been "out there" as a training program, and I would be curious to see if there is hard data to back that up.
posted by P.o.B. at 6:58 PM on April 8, 2011

You're right. It's not a diet. It's a pseudoscientific eating disorder.

Sure scoff all you want, but I lost nearly 60 lbs since last January following the basic principles of low-carb eating and have never felt better. There's plenty of science behind this way of eating and I say this as a biology PhD student with more than her fair share of biochemistry classes. For a primer, start with Gary Taubes' Why We Get Fat and then if you're still interested delve into Good Calories, Bad Calories by the same author. I see primal as an extension of this philosophy, one more in line with the kinds of foods I want to eat.
Yes, cooking this way takes time and money. I'm willing to spend it.
posted by peacheater at 7:01 AM on April 9, 2011

I tired some of these meals and I seriously was not hungry for about 24 hours.

Lots of lentils...lots and lots of lentils...
posted by BobbyDee at 10:12 AM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

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