Vials, scales, a food journal. These are things you expect to see when dining with Timothy Ferriss, who for years has meticulously tracked his meals, workouts, body-fat percentage and more. Much more: Ferriss, 33, once measured his own feces to confirm that caffeine improves “gastric emptying.” It was all worth it, judging by sales of his new book, The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide To Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex and Becoming Superhuman. But when Ferriss shows up at a waterfront restaurant in Marina del Rey, Calif., wearing a long-sleeved red T-shirt and jeans, no food-tracking devices emerge from his backpack. “When I’m not in the middle of a project,” he says, “I behave surprisingly normal.”
“Normal” to Ferriss is still “virtuous” to most. His strict eating habits—and a handful of other tricks, which he divulges in the book—helped him gain 34 lb. of muscle in 28 days, while logging a mere four hours at the gym (hence, The 4-Hour Body). Today, his lunch consists of a turkey burger (no bun), coleslaw with vinegar dressing and a side of celery with peanut butter. He also drinks unsweetened iced tea like a man who’s just escaped from the desert. The meal aligns with his 4-Hour Body fat-loss principles, which go something like this: for six days, don’t drink liquid calories and don’t eat dairy or fruit. Carbs—even whole grains—are outlawed, too. What can you eat? Protein, veggies, lentils and beans. As for the seventh glorious day, go wild. No ice cream bowl is considered too big. Then, repeat the cycle, ad infinitum.
This advice may be controversial, but there’s no denying it’s in demand. On Jan. 2 The 4-Hour Body debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times advice and miscellaneous bestseller list—catapulting his first mega-seller, The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich, back onto the list. “Skeptics and well-known authors” had told Ferriss The 4-Hour Body would never sell—it was too long, roughly 600 pages. But, as Ferriss points out drily, “Joy of Cooking did just fine.”
The beauty is his book’s range, says Ferriss, more confident than cocky; there are entry points for everyone. Want to be stronger? Or run faster? Or boost fertility? Or live forever? Yes, please. Judging by the feedback—mostly via Twitter, where Ferriss has close to 200,000 followers—the most popular tips relate to fat loss, sleep and sex, such as how-to’s on administering a female orgasm (a “light touch” is key, he writes). And there’s plenty of obscure advice, from “how to hold your breath longer than Houdini” to “how to pay for a beach vacation with one hospital visit.”
Neither was on my list of New Year’s resolutions, so I opted to try Ferriss’s fat-loss plan two weeks prior to our lunch date. Week one was smooth; at every meal, I happily filled my plate with protein, vegetables and lentils. (I’m lean! I’m mean! Nearly superhuman!) I don’t know if my waist got smaller—a major faux pas, Ferriss advises taking measurements—but I did develop a big head. At a diner one morning, I watched people at the next table, thinking, “Toast with eggs? Big mistake.”
Things went awry on day nine. During an intense running workout, my gas tank hit zero. In need of carbs—please, just one grain!—I scoured my cupboards for fuel. In half an hour, I’d devoured a peanut butter and jam sandwich, a handful of chocolates and half a bag of cereal. Superhuman, I was not. When I tell Ferriss about my disaster, he says that hitting the wall, otherwise known as “bonking,” is common when runners begin his plan. “It takes a few weeks to adapt, because you’re moving from using carbs as fuel to fat as fuel.” He suggests taking a carbohydrate supplement after long training sessions to help replenish glycogen in my muscles. Plus, he adds, rather gnomically, “Stay the course.”
As for his own course, in February, Ferriss will leave his home in San Francisco to hit places like Colombia and the Middle East. He might try digging ditches, woodworking classes, learning Arabic. “I’ve done too much sitting in front of a computer,” he explains. So, should you shoot him a tweet, don’t take it personally if he doesn’t respond. He says not even Oprah will get through: “She’ll have to wait till Mar. 1.”