Thursday, December 30, 2010

on self experimentation

alternate title: reviewing 4-Hour Body.

OK, so I read the book.  It did take me longer than I thought; the book is long, and as I told a friend it's a sort of "kitchen sink" approach that is probably better suited to a blog environment than a standalone book.

This is going to be a long and winding post, so I'll offer a micro-review up here, above the fold, and talk more about the details and my plan to incorporate some of the ideas from the book in my own quest for self-improvement below the fold.

The book is a masterpiece of marketing.  The author, Timothy Ferriss (wealthy and famous from his previous book 4-Hour Workweek) leveraged a lot of "new media" and some other clever (or annoying; it's subjective) mechanisms to get the book a great deal of exposure.

The book addresses a handful of topics of interest to most people: how to lose weight (body fat); how to build muscle; how to improve your sex life (the experience itself, not necessarily the quest for partners); how to sleep better.

His contention is that there are some basic "hacks" that people can employ to get more out of what they have already, one example being that while people have to eat, we do not have to eat refined carbohydrates (anything white, per the book).

So the short review conclusion is that I got value from the reading, and can recommend portions of the book to others for reference, but I found the style lacking and most of the real content highly derivative of other well known sources from recent years.

For more, and for my personal application, click on through.

The book is broken into a few macro sections: weight loss (reducing body fat, in particular); muscle gain; and performance improvement.  The subtitle reads "An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman"'s my opinion after reading the book that the "sex" part of the title is for marketing.  Ferriss does address the topic of sexual performance, but in much less depth than the "weight loss" or "muscle gain"

The fat loss section has some interesting ideas, although as aforementioned many of them seem to have been plucked from other, broader recent trends (in fact, it may be more appropriate to consider the book a collection of other people's ideas, curated by Tim and filtered through his experience; this is not necessarily a negative, and in the most fair sense, most works of fiction and non- are essentially other people's ideas as filtered through the creator's experience...hmm...future blog post?).  The core plan that Ferriss presents for cutting body fat is a version of the "Paleo" or "caveman" diet (maybe even a version the Atkins craze of the late 20th century): eat lots of protein, eat few carbohydrates.  The details tend to vary; Ferriss recommends no fruit at all for set periods, while some versions of the caveman diet feature fruit as a core component.

One aspect of the 4-Hour Body fat loss protocol that struck me as novel was a "6 days on, 1 day off"; one basically follows a strict menu for 6 days and then gets to (has to, depending on how you view the body chemistry part of this step) eat whatever they want for the day.  I've been following a version of this diet plan for a week or so, and will be discussing that in a separate blog post shortly.

The sections devoted to building muscle were of less immediate interest to me at present, but they did offer very shallow looks at a number of ways to "hack" an exercise plan; for me the key value points in these pages were the many reminders (via anecdotes about interesting individuals) that our bodies are capable of much more than we generally assume.

Reading the good author's thoughts on sex reminded much of the sneaky reads of Cosmo I managed during trips to the salon with my mom in my pre-teen and teenage years; in case you have never read an issue of Cosmo (or similar, or Playboy Advisor) their advice generally boils down to focusing on pleasuring the lady, with patience, tenderness, and persistence.

And finally, there are a few sections on tweaking the body and personal performance in a few other areas.  One of particular interest to me was his (brief) section on going barefoot.  His take was that bare feet promote a healthy back, but he's not such a fan of running in bare feet...oh well!

I titled this post "on self experimentation" because that is really the theme of the book.  Tim Ferriss has committed himself to playing around with conventional thinking in his quest for a "better" body and life.  I can appreciate this quest, even if I don't choose to emulate him in many specific ways.  I'm also aware that the world of self-experimentation is rife for application of the survivor's bias; for every accidental discovery of penicillin, there must be scores of accidental discoveries of arsenic...

The accidental and life shortening ingestion of poison aside, I do feel a certain kinship with Ferriss and a sympathy for his methods.  I react strongly against the idea that one does things a given way because that's the way it's done (I have at least one reader here that has expressed a few times a distaste for following a "natural" prescription only because it's "natural").  Tim Ferriss and the 4-Hour Body provide a great deal of anecdotal evidence of the marginal value in tweaking the conventions and in "hacking" the body's responses.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice summary. I definitely agree that there was probably a "oops, oughta add in some sex for the marketing" moment in the book's creation.

    Actually, it crossed my mind more than once while reading it that our new buddy Tim may not actually be living a life that would allow much time or flexibility for having a partner along, regardless of gender. But I respect his right to not tell us everything.