The 4-Hour Body and Cheat Days

December 17, 2010

I have not read Tim Ferriss’ latest book, The Four-Hour Body, yet, but I heard him on an interview yesterday discussing nutrition and fitness. He follows a “ketogenic” diet, which is similar to paleo, but allows for legumes. One thing that stood out for me is that he believes in one “cheat day” every week- where you completely abandon the diet and eat anything you want, as much as you want, for the entire day.

Here’s my quick analysis on cheat days:

1. By implementing a cheat day, you are automatically saying that you are “on a diet”, and have not simply changed your eating lifestyle (or your psychology around food). “Going on a diet” means that you have to follow this diet, and it is very easy to get off track and “fall off the wagon”- which can mean forgetting about the whole thing, or going into a roller coaster phase of jumping on and off the wagon, and never gaining any traction on your quest for your ideal weight and health.

2. It is easier to eat “generally healthy” than to be super strict 6 days a week and junk it up on the 7th day. Tim Ferriss says he “has to have his chocolate eclairs”, so he eats one or two of them on his cheat day. The “have to have” mentality sounds to me like an addiction- and the other 6 days he is literally sacrificing and depriving himself. By changing your eating lifestyle and your psychology (as we explain how to do in our book Healthy Mind Fit Body), addictions like this will fall away. Does that mean you will never have an eclair or other indulgence ever? Nope! You can easily have the occasional dessert or sweet treat following the 80/20 (or 90/10) principle, and you will not be falling off the wagon or damaging yourself!

3. Health-wise, your body is used to a clean diet for 6 days and then you hammer it with junk. Does this sound like the healthiest way to treat yourself? Not to me! Also, your body will likely have a recovery period after your cheat day- especially if you are loading up on carbs (and alcohol as I’ve heard others mention!). I know that in following a paleo/low carb diet, my body doesn’t do well with a lot of carbs at once. Also my alcohol tolerance is pretty low. I can imagine if I had a “binge on alcohol” day at this point, I would be hurting pretty bad the next day or two! Beyond that, by eating carbs or sugar, you are lowering your immunity- and that can equal unwanted colds and flus, especially in the winter.

4. Some people can certainly handle cheat days, just like some people can lose weight on a low fat, high carb diet. But for others, it could be like shooting¬† yourself in the foot in the attempt to achieve your fitness goals. I’d rather go with the sure thing- and that would be changing the way you view food from a psychological perspective, so that eating healthy becomes easy…and what you desire!

16 comments on “The 4-Hour Body and Cheat Days

  1. Great article. Cheat days have never worked for me. I feel like hell afterward and the next day it’s difficult to get back on track. I find that if I’m craving something, like chocolate for example, then I will eat a piece. Maybe just a bite size piece after lunch. The key is moderation.

  2. Great post! I couldn’t agree more. Having a cheat day wouldn’t work for me for both mental and physical reasons. I’m working towards the realization that carbs (esp. processed ones) are not worth the trouble the cause my body. I’m still kicking the sugar habit as well, so a cheat day would probably lead to more cheating.

    My trick in weaning off of sugar and allowing myself an indulgence is very dark chocolate (at least 85%). If I get a sugar craving, a piece or two satisfies. It’s just sweet enough to meet the craving, but bitter enough to not cause more craving (if that makes any sense). I hope to restrict this, or even better no longer desire this treat as I expose myself to less and less sugar/carbs.

    Cheating is a slippery slope and I think the only ones who can get away with it are those who have strong willpower (ironically, those with a strong will probably don’t need or want to cheat).

  3. Thanks!
    Kim, I love the dark chocolate idea! Especially 85%. I eat it fairly often, but like you said, a square or two usually does the trick. And yes, agreed that cheat days may only work if one has a strong will power, but why put yourself in a situation where you have to rely on will power to succeed?

    Happy Holidays!
    Kevin

  4. Robert Jan 12, 2011

    I have to raise an objection here. You are basing this assessment on what exactly? You admit to never having read his book and yet you feel justified in making grandious claims about food addiction. If you spent an enormous amount of time and research writing a book, I’m sure you wouldn’t want some joker to form a review based on one of your interviews and then have it appear on the first page of a google search (how I landed here).

    I say shame on you. Go read the book. Then write a review. You won’t be a convert (that’s your right) but several of the statements you made are directly addressed in his book.

    Go read the book. And avoid becoming part of the knee jerk epidemic.

  5. Hey Robert,
    Thanks for swinging by and offering a comment.
    I wasn’t doing a review on the book, I was doing a review of comments Tim Ferriss himself made. I’m guessing you are feeling dissatisfied with my points because your need for accuracy and clarity have not been met. I’d be happy to hear what specifically you are in disagreement with, and what you are saying is the truth here. Perhaps I could learn something from you as well in this regard, I am always open to being corrected. I request not to engage in name-calling but rather a to discuss the facts and experiences at hand.

    Cheers,
    Kevin

  6. Interesting post. Kevin, have you seen recent photos of Tim Ferris? He is crazy lean. And thats after 4000 calorie intake on his cheat day. I would argue that his weekly calorie intake is within a healthy range.

    Just a thought.

    • That’s a hard question! I guess diet! Because let’s say you eat dontus and pie all day everyday and have just 1 apple a month but you still exercise it’s not gonna help a lot! Since you just add more weight into you while exercising! Hoped I Helped! Good Luck!References :

  7. Brandon Feb 6, 2011

    It sounds like you are taking Tim’s comments out of context a bit, and being that most of your site traffic will be people who have read the book, or the 4 hour work week, and are students of the lifestyle design principles of Mr. Ferris it would be wise if you actually take some time to read the book. Have a great day.

  8. Simon,
    Thanks for your comment. I’m not arguing that you can’t have a cheat day and get thin. It can “work”, but it requires that you don’t make changes to your eating lifestyle, and get caught up in self-sacrifice for 6 days until you can eat “what you really want” on the 7th day. Many people have lost weight doing this, but most have a difficult time sticking to this type of diet, because it’s so easy to “fall off the wagon”.

    I hope that makes sense.

    Cheers,
    Kevin

  9. hi Brandon,
    Thanks for posting.
    I do indeed intend to read the book when I have some time, and I’m sure there is some good stuff in there. However, the comments I was referring to were from Ferriss’ appearance on the Robb Wolf show, and I don’t believe I took anything out of context from that, although it may be a little different from his book, like you said.

    Cheers,
    Kevin

  10. Michael Feb 15, 2011

    I believe that’s a fair assesment of Tim Ferriss’ comments. Your dot point ideas bring up valid points and awareness to ‘cheat days’. As i hear most dietitions or nutritionists say, it’s a psychological change people need to make towards their food. ‘Cheating’ one day a week may give you strength to ignore your carb-cravings for another 6 days, but have you solved your real problem??

  11. I have to respectfully concur that your assessment of cheat day is an over-generalization based on some broad assumptions. I’ve been on the Four-Hour Body plan for going on four weeks and am down 15 pounds to 177. I’m an active person anyway–run 15-20 miles a week, have completed a marathon and P90X–but I’m pushing 40 and just wanted to give my soft-around-the-middle physique a little jumpstart.

    To borrow some P90X terminology, Cheat Day is a form of metabolism confusion. By pressing the reset button once a week, you actually enhance your body’s ability to burn fat compared to more restrictive low-carb approaches like South Beach, Atkins, etc. More importantly, it allows you to incorporate carbs back into your diet at a later date without the famine-to-feast post-diet weight gain of all those gimmicky ultra-protein diets.

    For me, the Four-Hour Body isn’t even about a “diet,” but rather re-defining what I think “healthy” food actually is. Pastas, breads, starches, etc. are largely garbage that your body just doesn’t need. Calories-in/calories-out is a total BS formula, and the food pyramid is essentially crap. If you put three people on calorie-restriction diets, with one diet being fat-based, one diet being protein-based, and one diet being carb-based, the first two lose weight and see their cholesterol numbers go down, while the carb-based dieter gains weight and cholesterol. For the better part of 30 years the diet food industry has programmed us to believe that replacing fat with empty carb calories helps people lose weight. If that were the case, then the US wouldn’t have record levels of obesity and diabetes. People need to watch their blood sugar, not their calories.

  12. I am one of those people who can’t simply have just one piece of chocolate so for me having a cheat day is essential to success. I don’t go crazy and eat everything in sight and over load on chocolate but just knowing that I can if I wanted to is what keeps me going. I tried counting calories but still I felt deprived of the foods I really loved. It very well may be a food addiction for me, I have an addictive personality. Until I resolve those issues this diet works for me.

  13. Hmm, I’d like to see the actual studies that demonstrate the efficacy of “metabolism confusion,” Mac. If you have particular references, please post them here. The reason I’m skeptical about this claim is because it assumes that one’s normal metabolism needs to be “confused” sometimes when on a healthy eating regimen.

    Rob, perhaps you might find chocolate with a higher amount of cacao to be more fulfilling (at least 70%), as well as healthy. We certainly don’t consider consuming dark chocolate to be part of the “cheating” process. Counting calories indeed leads to being in an antagonistic relationship with food, and this can lead to various addictive behaviors, which are also tied to shame and self-blame. Btw, we’re going to be offering a new bonus to our book package that will help individuals better deal with their cravings and defeat the cheat-day process.

  14. I had all the same misgivings about the cheat day concept when I reviewed the 4HB diet on my blog, but over time, I’ve been rethinking it.

    I still think the idea of treating it as a binge day is problematic (I’ve had multiple comments from folks not happy with the swings in weight around the cheat day), both physically and psychologically. But in looking more into food reward, I think it’s possible that for some, eating off-plan food occasionally can work in terms of longer-term compliance. Perhaps it’s possible that the cheat concept can work essentially as training wheels for a time.

    Re metabolism confusion, I’m not familiar with the term, but I do think there’s something to be said about using the cheat (or cheat meal) as a carb/calorie refeed strategy (see Mark’s Daily Apple).

  15. marco Oct 18, 2012

    Please don’t comment unless you have at least read the book and maybe even tried the diet.
    I have been doing the ‘Slow Carb Diet’ for the past year and it has changed my life. I have lost all my excess body fat and it has balanced my energy levels in a way that no other diet has.

    I find it really easy to follow. Once you know what to eat it becomes a way of life.

    The one day per week is actually very strategic and is necessary for you body to not fall into a famine mode. Without it the diet won’t work properly.

    I hope you read it and try the diet. It’s great!

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