4-Hour Body: Occam’s Protocol and the Minimum Effective Dose

In mid-2016 when Lisa suggested that I might consider adding weightlifting to my 30-minutes of daily cardio, I couldn’t see a way to make it work into my schedule.

After reading The 4-Hour Body, however, I had new inspiration to give it a try.

As Tim Ferriss explained the concept of a Minimum Effective Dose of weightlifting (as well as other interventions), it made sense to me.

To add muscle…do the least necessary to trigger local (specific muscles) and systemic (hormonal) growth mechanisms

Tim Ferris, The 4-Hour Body

The idea is that you need to stress your muscles for a relatively short period (he said about 80 seconds) to trigger an adaptation response.

More than that is not only wasteful, but may even be harmful.

Ferris also describes what he calls “Occam’s Protocol” which involves two alternating every other day between two daily weight-training workout that take about 20 minutes each.

I adapted it for my purposes, using equipment available at the YMCA:

  • Incline press (one set…increasing weight when I could do seven reps)
  • Pull down (same approach on reps and going up in weight)
  • 10 myostatic crunches (using a Bosu ball for full range of motion)
  • 10 Cat Vomits (gotta get the book for a description of that one!)
  • 25 minutes of cardio on the Precor elliptical machine

Later, instead of the incline press on a weight machine, I started doing a dumbbell chest fly (although probably not with very good form.) Still, it was my first real work with free weights.

I didn’t lift every day, because I knew days off for recovery were important. And I still wasn’t doing leg work, because I didn’t like the feel of the leg press machine and I had tight hamstrings. I figured the elliptical training was enough.

And I was still making it all fit in 30 minutes a day.

Still, by starting to add some muscle I was beginning body recomposition. The number on the scale wasn’t going down as quickly, but I was becoming fitter. And adding muscle meant my basal metabolic rate would increase.

See the whole series about my health journey. Follow along on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.

4-Hour Body: The Slow Carb Diet

Because of my interest in productivity sparked by David Allen and GTD, I also had encountered The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss. And while I really liked my job and wasn’t looking to Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich, I found lots of his life hacks helpful.

What I really appreciated about his approach is his relentless desire to get the absolute best results from the minimum effort.

So given my newfound interest in a total body makeover (and Lisa’s frustration with the Trim Healthy Mama Plan), I checked out The 4-Hour Body.

This book is the result of Ferriss’ constant self-experimentation and measurement of results, to the point of eating two different ways on consecutive weekends, and weighing the resulting excrement. Or buying an ultrasound device that enabled him to make precise body fat measurements.

I figured I could learn from his experiments and recommendations.

So Lisa and I tried what Ferris calls The Slow-Carb Diet – Better Fat-Loss Through Simplicity. It’s all summed up in five simple rules.

  • Rule #1: Avoid “White” Carbohydrates – bread, rice, cereal, potatoes, pasta, etc. Cauliflower is the only exception.
  • Rule #2: Eat the same few meals over and over again. Mix and match from three groups that include proteins (eggs or meat), legumes (beans), and vegetables (spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans.)
  • Rule #3: Don’t Drink Calories. No milk, soft drinks or fruit juice. Limit cream in coffee to two tablespoons.
  • Rule #4: Don’t Eat Fruit. Heads of dietitians everywhere are exploding at that one. As Tim says, though, my northern European ancestors didn’t get fruit in the winter, and yet here I am today.
  • Rule #5: Take One Day Off Per Week. On “cheat day” you can (and should) forget Rules 1-4, and eat whatever you want. Maybe even eat until you’re feeling a little sick.

We found the idea of a cheat day extremely helpful. Tim says it’s good for jolting your system, and preventing your body getting into caloric deprivation mode, which slows your metabolism.

But just from a psychological perspective it’s also great. As he says, when you go “on a diet” you will eventually binge. Why not schedule it in advance? Then you aren’t demoralized by failure.

Also, it makes it easier to comply during the week when you know you have cheat day coming. If you say, “I can never have ice cream again!” it seems onerous. Saying, “I can’t have ice cream now, but I can on Sunday!” is doable.

Tim also recommended getting at least 30g of protein within 30 minutes of waking in the morning. Lisa doesn’t like eggs, so she typically got hers from a protein shake.

For me, at least six days a week, I would scramble these together in a skillet for breakfast :

  • 3-4 eggs
  • 3 strips of chopped bacon or some diced ham
  • A handful of spinach
  • 1/2 cup of black beans

After this was cooked and on my plate, I typically topped it with salsa.

Lisa had a harder time with this diet because, unlike the Trim Healthy Mama Plan, there wasn’t a cookbook to help with dinner planning.

But while she only lost a pound per month with the other diet, she lost 10 pounds in three months on the Slow Carb Diet.

I continued to lose weight, about 10 pounds, during this time. But it was probably 15 pounds of fat loss, offset by muscle gain.

In my next post I’ll share what I learned about building muscle through this book , and how that got me started for the first time on a weight-training regimen.

See the whole series about my health journey. Follow along on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.

Trim Healthy Mama Plan

That’s not the name of a diet I would have expected to find myself trying.

I guess the fact that I did it in response to Lisa’s invitation is a sign of my desperation.

In October 2016, Lisa got blood test results that showed her fasting glucose at 102, and her doctor said she should cut back on carbs and sugar.

Meanwhile, my daughter Rachel had been on a diet called Trim Healthy Mama Plan, and Lisa asked if I would try it with her.

If I had watched the video below that explains the basics, I’m not sure I would have gone through with it.

But I was getting it second-hand, interpreted by Lisa, so I was willing to go along.

As Peter Attia, M.D. says, compared to the Standard American Diet (SAD), almost any diet plan is an improvement.

As I understand it, this plan gets some important things right, which is why I think lots of people have found it helpful. I lost about 15 pounds using it. Some of those good points:

  • Eliminate sugar.
  • Choose carbs wisely, avoiding starches and other carbs that spike blood sugar levels.
  • A healthy view of fats.

They also have some tasty recipes in their cookbook. That was helpful for Lisa in meal planning.

I think their advice on fuel separation is somewhat dubious:

  • Limit carbs to 45 grams per meal in what they call the “E” or Energizing meals.
  • Eat until you’re full when you have “S” or Satisfying meals, but limit carbs to 10 grams.

Their biggest error: recommending that you eat every three hours to keep your metabolism going. Your body isn’t a furnace, and the flame isn’t going to flicker out if you go six hours without eating.

Did our ancestors eat six meals a day?

As I said, I did pretty well on this diet, losing about 15 pounds in three months. Lisa was somewhat scarred by her experience with it though: she only lost three pounds. It made her gun-shy about getting on a scale, because she worked so hard and the lack of results was demotivating.

Another of the downsides of this diet is that with the recommendation to eat every three hours, you’re literally always thinking about food.

Lisa is quick to point out that different diets work for different people, and that with her thyroid issues and being post-menopausal it makes weight loss more difficult.

But it meant that we needed to look for a different plan, and so in early 2017 we switched to something that worked somewhat better for both of us.

More on that next time.

See the whole series about my health journey. Follow along on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.

Before and After

While I used to joke that I was “working on my ‘before’ photos,” the reality is that three years ago I wasn’t eager to actually capture them.

So the following is the best I can do to show the before and after results from the changes I’ve made since then.

Tomorrow I’ll start with the story of our journey toward health and fitness, through eating and exercising differently, and I’ll continue to share on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

“Is this just the way it’s going to be?”

My first approach, upon recognizing that I did in fact have a weight problem, was to ramp up my physical activity.

After all, I thought I was eating a fairly healthy diet, and was following the basic proportions of the USDA guidelines.

And I had some successful experience with intentional weight loss in the years before I had been diagnosed with celiac disease.

In just six months, I had lost enough weight and also increased my strength and fitness to reach my goal of dunking a basketball on my 4oth birthday.

Since I had done this previously, I expected I could do it again.

So in early 2016 I started working out hard, six days a week, 30 minutes per day, on the Precor elliptical training machine at our YMCA.

I had two daughters getting married later that year, and I wanted to be at my best as I accompanied them down the aisle.

I stepped on the scale every day before my morning workout, and after several months I had lost…about five pounds.

Lisa asked, “Do you think maybe you should do some weightlifting?”

“How am I supposed to fit that in? I’m already working out at least three hours a week with heavy cardio. And it’s not doing any good!”

There’s a reason why our parents and grandparents called it “working up an appetite.”

“Eat less, move more” is trite and simplistic at best.

The reality of weight loss is a lot more complicated than fighting gluttony and sloth.

So by sometime between those August and October weddings, I was teetering between resignation and readiness to change.

I was willing to change, but had no realistic idea of what could work.

So I asked myself the question that is the title of this post.

A few months later, Lisa asked another question that started us in the right direction, together.

More on that starting Monday.

But first, I want to share an update from Thursday, when we continued a family tradition in taking as many of our children and grandchildren as were available for a day at Nickelodeon Universe at Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn.

We had five of the six kids, three spouses and two significant others, and 11 of 12 grandkids join us. Ruthie, Trevin and their daughter Noa couldn’t make it because they’re in Bulgaria. But otherwise, we had them all.

It meant we had to get a lot of all-day wristbands.

Our tradition is to pick a Tuesday or Thursday in January to avoid the crowds. Lines are typically non-existent. And Thursday was especially slow, with temperatures of -8 ºF. So this was typical for many of the rides, with all seats occupied by our descendants:

This was our fourth consecutive year with this extended family amusement park outing. It’s been fun to see the kids grow and get tall enough for some of the more adventurous rides.

This time I also qualified for a ride from which I previously had been excluded.

Because I was safely below the weight limit, not only were my grandchildren able to ride…

… so was I.

So the answer to today’s blog post title is “No!”

Tomorrow I’ll share some before and after photos.

Then I’ll begin the story of our journey to improved health on Monday.

If you want to follow along, I’ll be sharing the links on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.