Published in 2010, Tim Ferriss’s second New York Times bestseller, “The 4-Hour Body, An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman,” introduced us to the Slow Carb Diet and Better Fat Loss Through Simplicity. My, the man has a way with words. Spoiler alert, I am a Tim Ferriss fan – have been since his initial bestseller, “The 4-Hour Work Week,” through his subsequent works, “Tools of Titans,” and “Tribe of Mentors.” That said, I will be as objective as possible in this review of the Tim Ferris Slow Carb Diet.
The Tim Ferris Slow Carb Diet itself is simplistic; however, we will delve into the rationale, the science, additional strategies, supplementation, and exercise. Finally, we will provide a FAQ section to address people’s most common questions when initially exposed to Ferriss and the Slow Carb Diet.
Tim Ferris Slow Carb Diet: Thinner, Bigger, Faster, Stronger
Although the contributors that Ferriss acknowledges reads like a Who’s Who in strength and fitness, and the introduction to the first chapter is titled, thinner, bigger, faster, stronger, the Slow Carb Diet works equally well for both genders. Generally, most people contemplating a diet want two things, a little less fat and a little more muscle. To accomplish this, men and women need to do the same things, eat and avoid the same foods. Exercise is not a significant component of the Slow Carb Diet, so women, no powerlifting required. Ferris and I both promise, females will not get “bulky” on the diet. Instead, what you will see is a body redesign, less body fat, and a little more lean muscle in the right places.
About Tim Ferris – Author of the Slow Carb Diet
Timothy Ferriss is an entrepreneur, author, angel investor, podcast host, and lifestyle guru. He has been an early-stage investor in companies such as Uber, Twitter, Alibaba, and Facebook. In addition, Ferriss has interviewed the rich and famous on his podcasts, including Hugh Jackman, Jerry Seinfeld, Arnold Schwarzenegger, LeBron James, Kevin Hart, Edward Norton, Tony Robbins, Maria Sharapova, and Jamie Foxx.
In his book, he refers to himself as a “laboratory of one” and has experienced treatments from three-inch needles grazing his spine to PRP (Platelet Rich Plasma) and stem cell growth factors imported from Israel. He has spent over $250,000 on blood tests to measure his health markers and meticulously tracks his body fat, hormone levels, reactions to various foods, and toxic heavy metal content. He is one of a kind.
In writing the 4-Hour Body and developing the Slow Carb Diet, Ferris included the findings of more than 100 MDs and PhDs, Olympic athletes and Mr. Olympia champions, NASA scientists, professional NFL and MLB trainers, world-record holders, and several prominent former Eastern Bloc coaches.
Time Ferris Slow Carb Diet Explained
As we begin to explain the Slow Carb Diet, you will notice similarities to the Keto Diet. Both diets emphasize very low carbohydrate intake and increased protein consumption designed to flip the metabolic switch wherein the body uses fat as a primary energy source.
The beauty of the Slow Carb program is its simplicity. There are five rules to the diet, which involve eating five main food groups, eating four meals per day, and allows one cheat day each week. No measurement of portion sizes or macros is required. Simple, effective, and relatively easy for compliance.
Regardless of how simple, or complex, how liberal, or restrictive a diet may be, long-term results require adherence. Ferris makes two excellent points in the 4-Hour Body regarding diets. First, without a Harajuku Moment (read the book or google it), there is no sense in attempting the Slow Carb or any other diet for that matter. You must experience the moment when you decide it’s time to do something radically different to change your life. Second, logic fails. You know you shouldn’t eat the entire bag of chips while dieting, and yet we do. Diets work when there is accountability, even if it’s only to yourself. Tracking and measuring are crucial to adherence, compliance, and accountability – measurement equals motivation. Consistently measuring body weight, body fat, and/or dimensions can be a powerful motivator on the Slow Carb, particularly given the early results you will see.
Five Rules of the Tim Ferris Slow-Carb Diet
Rule #1: Avoid “White” Carbohydrates
This includes all processed carbohydrates made from refined flour, including pasta, bread and cereals, rice (including brown), potatoes, pasta, tortillas, and fried food with breading.
Rule #2: Eat the Same Few Meals Over and Over Again
Easier than you may think – most successful dieters eat the same few meals repeatedly. (Author’s note, it’s true, and I found this a very easy method to aid compliance).
Rule #3: Don’t Drink Calories
Drink plenty of water. Coffee, unsweetened tea, and other calorie-free beverages are allowed.
Rule #4: Don’t Eat Fruit
Fruits are part of a normal healthy diet; however, the fructose in fruit and fruit juices will inhibit your ability to lose weight. Tomatoes and avocadoes in moderation are acceptable during the diet.
Rule #5: Take One Day off per Week & “Go Crazy”
Ferriss refers to this as his “dieters gone wild” day – no other rules apply on cheat day. Ferriss explains that dramatically spiking your caloric intake once per week increases fat loss by ensuring that your metabolism doesn’t downshift.
Some Slow Carb dieters make a list of those foods they crave during the week and splurge on cheat day.
Examples of a Tim Ferris Cheat Day Menu
On cheat day, a typical breakfast for Ferris might be two glasses of grapefruit juice, a large cup of coffee with cinnamon, two chocolate croissants, and two bear claws. The fourth meal of his day is often two full-size barbecue chicken pizzas and handfuls of mixed nuts. That’s an impressive number of calories and carbohydrates for one day. FYI, Ferriss notes that he typically cheats on Saturday and is back to his pre-cheat weight and body fat by Tuesday a.m.
The five food groups allowed on the Slow Carb Diet are animal protein, vegetables, legumes, fats, and spices. A comprehensive list of each featured food group is included in an Addendum for your reference. We also address in the Addendum those foods to be avoided, certain carbohydrates, fruits and fruit juice, dairy, and fried foods with batter. Your four meals consist of unlimited amounts of protein, vegetables, and legumes, plus smaller portions of fats and spices. Meal timing is crucial; the day’s first meal should be within one hour (thirty minutes is even better) of waking. Subsequent meals are spaced about every four hours.
Detractors of the Slow Carb Diet cite issues related to limited food choices, potentially too much protein, splurging on cheat day, and nutrient deficiencies due to excluding fruits and most dairy.
Maintaining our objectivity, we will not present counterpoints.
Tim Ferris Slow Carb Diet Advanced Strategies
No one in their right mind should try all the strategies, tactics, self-tests, and gadgets Ferris attempts in his book – not if they want to live to talk about it. Below are several of the more advanced strategies from the 4-Hour Body.
- Intermittent Cold Exposure – “I placed two ten-pound bags of ice in a cold-water bath and submerged myself for a total of 20 minutes. Sound painful? It is.”
- DexCom Seven Plus – Ferris had a glucose monitor implanted in his side that samples his blood glucose levels every few seconds. More pain.
- The Lost Art of Bleeding – There is evidence that iron reduction through phlebotomy (bloodletting) can improve insulin sensitivity. No leeches required; Ferriss gives blood at a blood bank.
- On Losing the Last 10 Pounds – Rigorous workouts, lifting five days per week, and 30 – 40 minutes of cardio per day, plus eating quantities of protein and vegetables every two hours, and drugs for the last couple of pounds. Definitely NOT recommended.
The Tim Ferris Slow Carb Diet and IF (Intermittent Fasting)
Although this is a review of the Slow Carb Diet, we would be remiss not to mention a strategy Ferris suggests in the 4-Hour Body and again in Tools of Titans (IF) intermittent fasting.
Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern, not a diet, that has been shown to mimic the effects of severe calorie restriction. IF is about when you eat as opposed to the Slow Carb’s focus on what you eat. There are multiple versions of IF, including the Fast Five (fast for nineteen hours and eat only during a five-hour window), the 16:8, Alternate-Day, and one meal per day. The objective of intermittent fasting, like the Slow Carb, is to flip the switch so that you burn fat as your primary fuel. When fasting beyond twelve hours, your insulin levels drop, and (hGH) human growth hormone levels increase, beneficial for muscle gain and fat burning. Combining IF with the Slow Carb can accelerate your results. The two are very compatible.
Exercise and the Tim Ferris Slow Carb Diet
Surprisingly for someone who expends so much energy in the pursuit of athletic excellence and fitness, Ferriss does not make exercise mandatory while following the Slow Carb Diet. He recommends no more than 2–3 short weight training sessions per week. In 4-Hour Body, he introduces us to one of his strongest beliefs, the Minimum Effective Dose.
The Minimum Effective Dose
A simple definition of MED is the smallest dose that will produce the desired outcome. To Ferriss, anything exceeding the MED is wasteful and usually counter-productive. Like Ferriss’s exercise philosophy, the Slow Carb Diet is based on the MED to achieve body recomposition – the least amount of work to achieve the maximum results.
Successful Slow Carb Dieters attribute 60% or more of their results to the diet, 30% or less to exercise, and about 10% to supplementation.
Supplementation on the Tim Ferris Slow Carb Diet
Having created, built, and eventually sold a dietary supplement business, Ferriss is knowledgeable and opinionated about supps. Although he recommends specific vitamins, minerals, and diet aids, they are by no means mandatory.
That said, the first products recommended, electrolytes are encouraged as the diet may cause you to lose excess water:
- Potassium with each meal, about 100 mg per serving
- Magnesium throughout the day, total 400 mg, plus before bed 500 mg as a sleep aid
- Calcium: 1,000 mg per day
Ferriss specifically recommends four additional supplements to aid in weight loss, which he refers to as PAGG. Note: when following this regimen, he also recommends a B-Complex vitamin.
- Policosanol: 20–25 mg
- Alpha-lipoic acid: 100–300
- Green tea flavanols (decaffeinated): 325 milligrams three to four times per day
- Garlic extract: 200 mg of an aged garlic extract (AGE) with high allicin
Other supplements that receive honorable mention are pre-and probiotics for gut health and Cissus quadrangularis, an indigenous medicinal plant of India used for bone health and weight loss.
As to the most effective weight loss aids Ferriss ever encountered, he discusses the infamous ECA Stack, ephedrine, caffeine, and aspirin. Ephedrine has since been banned, but not before creating an entire generation of athletes now dependent on stimulants for normal everyday function due to adrenal fatigue. Highly NOT recommended.
Is the Tim Ferris Slow Carb Diet Safe?
Detractors cite nutritional deficiencies and eating disorders (remember those dieter’s gone wild days) as potential side effects. Other diet and PAGG supplement regimen issues include headache, muscle weakness, cramps, and diarrhea, typical symptoms experienced on most low carbohydrate diets.
The diet is not recommended for those who have pre-existing medical conditions. Consult with your medical professional if you take any medications, particularly blood-thinners, thyroid medications, or anti-depressant/anti-anxiety drugs.
FAQ: Tim Ferris Slow Carb Diet
The simplicity of the diet creates questions in the minds of many when first exposed to the Slow Carb.
How many meals should you consume, and at what frequency?
Four meals throughout the day. Note: meal timing is critical as breakfast should be consumed within one hour of waking. After breakfast, your next three meals are about four hours apart.
How much protein is recommended on the program?
The diet calls for about 30 grams at breakfast, and subsequent meals should contain at least 20 grams of protein. Thirty grams at breakfast can be challenging – a protein shake can be helpful.
Do I need to track calories? Macros? What are the proper ratios?
There is no need to track calories or macros. On the Slow Carb, you eat until satisfied, preferably by loading up on the allowed legumes and vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, and asparagus.
Is protein powder recommended? Type? Brands?
Yes, see comment regarding breakfast. Ferriss prefers an unflavored whey protein; however, any quality whey isolate, concentrate or blend works very well. Some popular whey options worth checking out include The Protein Works Whey Protein 80, 1UP WHEY Protein, and Naked Whey.
What can you drink on the diet?
Unlimited quantities of water, unsweetened tea, coffee, and other no-calorie/low-calorie beverages are permissible. Except, no more than 16 ounces of diet soda are allowed each day. Up to two glasses of red wine are also acceptable.
Are snacks permissible? What foods can you snack on?
On the Slow Carb, you should not need snacks as meals are every four hours. Be sure you are consuming sufficient protein and legumes at your regular meals. However, if you must have a snack, have a small portion of protein or protein and vegetables.
Can vegans or vegetarians follow the diet?
Although recommended by Ferris, meat is not a requirement on the diet. If your beliefs allow for eggs and dairy (Lacto-Ovo vegetarian), you can still follow the diet with relative ease, substituting eggs, low-fat cottage cheese, and beans to meet your protein requirements. Other dairy, including milk, is not recommended. With today’s plant-based meat substitutes, adherence for non-meat eaters is somewhat simplified.
How long does it take to see results?
One of the few areas of disconnect for us is the Ferris quote, “How to lose 20 pounds of body fat in 30 days without exercise.” People will respond differently to the regimen, and 20 pounds in 30 days is aggressive. We abhor over-promising in weight loss programs or misleading those embarking on a diet. You can, and should, see and feel results within the first several weeks if you follow the five rules. Initial water weight loss alone will be encouraging. Exercise will accelerate your results. Tracking your weight and body fat regularly in the early stages should provide the motivation to stick with the program.
How long does it take to adjust to the diet?
Ferriss likes to quote the rule of five; five workouts or five meals is the initial adjustment period. Given the simplicity of the diet, if you adhere for a minimum of five days before your first cheat day, you will be well on your way.
How much weight can you lose on the Tim Ferris Slow Carb diet?
Ferriss relates numerous success stories in the book of people losing incredible weight; however, he is the first to stress body recomposition. Typically, a person who experiences a body redesign has a combination of fat loss and muscle gain, hence the need to monitor body fat in addition to weight.
Personal experience on the Slow Carb Diet was a loss of 20 pounds in year one and additional 30 pounds in year two. At the end of year three, I maintained the weight loss and added lean muscle. Adherence to the plan was good, not perfect, and I incorporated intermittent fasting (16:8) once or twice per week. Being a bit of a gym rat, I did not employ the M.E.D. principles well during exercise. I regret not following Ferriss’ advice to track body fat or do pre-diet measurements.
In Summary: Tim Ferris Slow Carb Diet
The Slow Carb Diet’s simplicity, relative ease of compliance, and proven techniques to increase fat burning make this a program we recommend for those looking to improve their body composition. Combining the Slow Carb, periodic intermittent fasting, and an exercise regimen is a potent strategy to lose weight and add lean muscle. Although Ferriss extolls the Minimum Effective Dose philosophy, the maximum benefit with the minimum input, the program requires effort and dedication.
Hopefully, this review of the Slow Carb Diet will help you to reach your Harajuku Moment.
Addendum – The Foods of the Slow Carb Diet
- Egg whites with 1–2 whole eggs
- Chicken breast or thigh
- Beef, preferably grass-fed
- Low-fat Cottage Cheese
- Lactose-free, unflavored whey protein powder
- Black beans
- Pinto beans
- Red beans
- Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and kale
- Sauerkraut and kimchi
- Green beans
- Olive oil for low-heat cooking
- Grapeseed or macadamia oil for high-heat cooking
- Nuts such as almonds
- Creamer — dairy-free and only 1–2 teaspoons (5–10 ml) per day
- Garlic salt
- White truffle sea salt
Foods to be Avoided on the Slow Carb Diet
- Any carbohydrate that is or can be white
- Fruits & Fruit Juice – contain fructose, a simple sugar that can increase blood fat levels, according to the slow-carb diet
- Dairy – even though dairy products have a low glycemic index, they spike insulin levels
- Fried Foods with breading – high in calories – low in nutritional values