My experience with 'The 4 Hour Body'

Some 10-12 weeks ago, I heard of Timothy Ferriss' new book 'The 4 Hour Body'. Having read his first book, 'The 4 Hour Work Week' I knew I had to expect something which screams 'marketing' in my face. On the other hand, the extreme, hacking like approach of Tim Ferriss somehow appeals to me because of his playfulness and openness. And, Tim's writing is quite motivating and eye opening. I didn't quite like his first book, simply because I very well believe that the 'tricks' he is offering are surely working for him, but wouldn't work for everyone. I guess he knows that, but he's selling those tricks as though they'd be working out for all of his readers. Anyway.

In his new book, rather than describing life hacking, he describes how to hack your body in several ways. He starts off with how he's always looking for the minimal effective dose for anything: How much training do I have to do, to get a certain effect? How few do I have to change my habits to get rid of body fat? How much training do I need for running 50k rather than 5k, etc. Although in most aspects I do not share the search for the minimal effective dose as an aim in itself, I share the search for it as a means to understand certain effects. Regarding running I do not want to limit my efforts to the minmal effective dose, as I am looking for other things in running, like calmness, flow, quality of life etc. But to understand how to improve certain aspects of my training, I do like the idea of understanding effects of isolated aspects of training physiology and thus minimal effective doses of certain training forms.

The first two chapters cover body recomposition. Then come other interesting chapters on how to hold your breath for 3:30 mins with one day of training, the female 15 minute orgasm, etc. I will only talk about body recomposition and especially body fat reduction. Tim suggests you should do a body recomposition programme of e.g. 20 pound, which might mean losing 10 pound of body fat and gaining 10 pound of muscle mass (core strength, ideally). I'm not short of muscle mass at all, but I had gained a certain overdose of body fat through empathizing w/ my wife during pregnancies and not having the chance to breast feed my kids afterwards to lose some pounds again. So after stepping onto the scale after some ten years, my weight was not at 78 kg but at 94 last October. After buying a Withings scale my weight dropped by 5 kg down to 89kg in 3 months by changing nothing. That was fine! But reading 4HB gave me the idea that it might be possible to do the weight time warp and come back to my loved 78 kg.

The suggested diet reads extreme, because it has an extreme goal, which is to reduce as much body fat as fast as possible. It's not a fun diet. So I was hesitating to start:
  • No 'white' carbohydrates: Short chained carbs (sugar, flour, pasta, bread) mostly appear in white form or could be white. The problem with these carbs is that they get into the blood quickly (high glycemic index GI). They serve only one purpose physiologically, which is to deliver energy quickly. If they are not needed, they get transformed into body fat. Worse, high peaks in blood sugar lead to emission of insuline, which reduces the body fat metabolism. So you do not only take in stuff you don't need, but taking in that stuff also leads to not getting rid of it again. Bad deal. White carbs only make you fat. They give you nothing you need :-/
  • Eat the same meals over and over again: This is just so that you don't start thinking in the super market and so that staying in the diet is easy.
  • Don't drink calories: Water contains all you need, everything else is fun to drink but does not serve the extreme effect and purpose of this diet.
  • Don't eat fruits: Fruit gets transformed to body fat storage in general. there are some exceptions, but they are complicated, so don't bother. This is another simplicity rule.
  • One cheat or binge day per week: Not only is the diet hard and for most people the inflicted changes are hard to maintain. But in the first weeks most people start craving for sweets, nice deserts, a fresh coke, some orange juice ... whatever. This rue has two aims: a) Have one day off of the strict regime of the diet, b) Although you can eat as much as you want, as long as it is mainly proteins, vegetables etc., there is an effect to it tat reduces overall metabolism. The binge day trains the bodies metabolism and keeps it at a high level, which is good, as we want to have a high rate of base metabolism when we want to reduce weight (body fat). 
There are some things which are somehow mentioned but not made explicit enough in the book for my taste: 
  1. It is important to understand that protein is the main ingredient, because protein is split up into amino acids, which are again the building stones of muscle. By increasing fat metabolism and at the same time feeding the muscles with amino acids we make sure that good muscle mass is not reduced. 
  2. The diet works by avoiding blood sugar peaks, thus avoiding insulin emission, thus increasing fat metabolism. many people don't believe this is possible, there are lots of rumors that fat metabolism can not be influenced by which food you eat. Bit is now widely scientifically accepted that you can increase fat metabolism by at least 35% by changing what you eat.
  3. As I said, the other effect is that you don't eat any useless carbs.
Understanding these principles helped me a lot in improvising through my work days and conferences. It shows that mexican, indian and thai food are good if you leave out the carbs (rice, noodles). 

My normal day looked like this: 

Breakfast: Green tea (good effect on general metabolism), Soy protein shake ('cause I couldn't stand eggs three times a day).
Snacks: A handful of nuts
Lunch: Salad with lots of eggs and legumes
Snacks: A handful of nuts
Dinner: omelette w/ tomato, vegetables and legumes

Lots of green tea and water. You need to drink a lot, as the rapid fat loss is bad for your liver (body fat stores lots of bad stuff).

After starting the diet, as I was a white carb junkie before, the first days felt veeerrrry strange to me and only my enthusiasm kept me going. I felt hollow and weak, but very light. I couldn't concentrate very well, to be honest. But I already lost up to a pound / day. On day 3 I went to OOP 2011 in Munich. My experience, waiting at the airport was enlightening. OK, I go to Starbucks - not possible, all drinks there contain calories. Well, then I go and grab something at the baker - not possible, all white carbs. Etc. You get the strange impression that the food industry is only selling useless carbs, and I now come to the conclusion that this works because they are selling it for the kicks. Human beings LOVE the kick they get out of the blood sugar peaks (but they don't know it, still: they're craving for it). After being on 4HB for a week, it gets completely clear to you that white carbs and the blood sugar peak they produce are the most archaic form of an addiction. And the industry out there is not selling via nutrition and health, it is selling via this kick. I am absolutely sure of it now. 

If you think a little further, white carbs are responsible for diabetes, all kinds of inflammatory diseases up to cancer, rheumatism etc., they are responsible for body fat, heart problems, they make you overweight, obese, which leads to joint an back problems etc. All modern diseases are somehow depending on a constant flow of white carbs.

I don't want to go into too much depth, but here are the effects 4HB had on me:

I started the diet on 24 January 2011, at 89.5 kg. I ended the first phase last week at 80.5 kg. These are 9kg weight loss in 7 weeks. Out of the 9kg, I lost 7kg body fat. 

This had several secondary effects: 
  • I was suffering of lower back pain since about 30 months. It's gone. Completely. 
  • I was heavily into running until the birth of our first child w/ a PB on the half marathon sub 1:30 hrs. In the last years I couldn't catch up running regularly, as whenever I got into a regular training mode, either my achilles tendon got inflamed or my knee hurt. Now, my tendon is fine and my knee only hurts a little. I think this is the effect of body weight reduction. This allowed me to come back to my old high cadence running style,  in which I am going for 180 steps per minute, reducing my stride length and thus reducing the impact on my knees.
  • My training pace reduced immediately from 5:45 to 5:15, a training pace I didn't reach since 5 years.
As we are now going to Spain for 3 weeks, I have stopped 4HB to better blend in w/ my family on vacation. After the vacation I will pick up 4HB again to either reduce my weight to 78kg (nearly ideal running weight) or 12% body fat (even more ideal ;) I will also pick up some of the core strength exercises mentioned in the 4HB book to further reduce the impact of running on my core strength chain of muscles and tendons.

If you're interested in my further 4HB success I'll happily keep you updated. Don't hesitate to post comments or questions on details.

Kids still have small batch size instincts

Today I was at a carnival party with my two kids. Like me, they had been disappointed, so my mind mind started wandering and I wasn't really into it. But at a certain point I received a wake up call:

The kids were playing a game where they had to collect as many admission cards as possible from the grown ups. The kids had been called onto the stage to get explained the task: Go and collect as many cards as you can from all the grown ups in the room (admission for kids was free, so only grown ups had tickets). I guess it was by mistake that no time limit was explicitly given and no end signal was told when "collecting time" would be over. Music started and the kids started collecting. And collecting. And collecting. And they collected. And so on. Now every kid was already laden with tickets. But none of them brought their tickets to the "referee" of the game. It was a perfect raw at the time. No one had delivered any tickets (value). Now the hosts realized that they hadn't really explained the main rules to the kids:

  1. Only those tickets that are delivered to the referee are counted.
  2. Only those tickets that are delivered to the referee in time are counted. But no knows in advance when time is over. The signal of time over is simply that the music stops. Uncertainty is brought into the game.
As soon as the hosts explained those rules (while the kids where still collecting ... and collecting ... and collecting .... and so on), the kids completely changed their way of work from large batches to small batches. All of them instantly delivered their goods to the referee to mitigate the risk of not delivering anything before the music stops. During the remainder of the simple game, all of the kids delivered the goods in small batch sizes, further mitigating the risk of not delivering enough (value) in time.

I was quite happy watching this and it was great to see that these kids hadn't been consciously making a trade off between higher set up (or delivery) time for commuting between the audience and the referee and delivering value to the referee. They just knew they'd be sacked if they didn't deliver value. It was also great to see that they didn't even have to think about the need to reduce batch size.

What a diference to our industry, where it is still at times had to convince individuals and teams and Management of the manifold of advantages of small batch sizes like

  • risk management, 
  • early feedback, 
  • low coordination cost, 
  • lead time etc.
It was also interesting to watch that none of he kids chose single piece flow, as they felt that in tis setting it makes no economical sense. The holding cost was low, but the transaction cost too high for a batch size of one. They rather chose batch sizes in the sweet spots between 4-10 to manage risk. As the time went on, they reduced the batch size to further reduce the risk of being too late with too many tickets.
    For a long time I will remember this game as a perfect example of the value of small batch sizes in risk management while delivering value.