Is The 4-Hour Body a Scam? Tracking 3,500 People to Find Out 156 Comments
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.
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® 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.
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
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.
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 22nd, 2013