How to be a gazelle – on health, fitness and match-making two writers

April 2, 2017 at 7:10 am | Posted in Anti-ageing, Cycling - health benefits, cycling - mental benefits, sarah wilson, Tim Ferriss, writers' habits, writers' health | Leave a comment
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The human guinea pig


‘The 4-Hour Body’ – definitely an uncommon guide

It was already hot at 8.30 on a Saturday morning. My nightie was on the floor and the sheet kicked aside when I glanced over at my reflection in the large mirrored built-in wardrobe doors.

I groaned and said, ‘Oh, God – I’ve put on weight. I’m a beached whale!’

And my companion said, ‘No, you’re not. You’re a leaping porpoise.’

I took this as a compliment.

But I’d still rather be a gazelle. American writer and adventurer Tim Ferriss promises me that I can be. Not in those exact words but near enough. For all my complaints about Tim Ferriss and the gender imbalance of his books (see January 14 of ) I’ve been won over by him. His enthusiasm is infectious, he’s insatiably curious, and he’s funny. I’m gripped by the boys’ adventure style of his prose. In the idiom of his native country, what’s not to like?

It’s taken me a while to catch up with his The 4-Hour Body (Vermilion, 2011) after previously reading his The 4-Hour Work Week and Tools of Titans.

For this 4-Hour Body book, he experiments on himself with diet, exercise and drugs. Medical people and scientists do all the rigorous before and after testing, but these trials – many of them based on bizarre hypotheses – are all done on the human guinea pig that is Tim Ferriss. The descriptions result in feelings ranging from amusement to alarm, in this reader at least. Most readers will be smiling as they read this book – that is, when they’re not guffawing in delighted disbelief.

Deconstructing assumptions for fun and profit

Tim Ferriss not only questions assumptions and conventions, but he rips them apart until he discovers a better, quicker way of doing things. And the generosity with which he shares his discoveries must be admired (see ).

He reminds me of our own Sarah Wilson (see ) who also experiments on herself, and, like Ferriss, analyses the results in the light of countless peer-reviewed scientific studies and has experts doing before and after tests and so on. Sarah Wilson is a walking advertisement for her methods – mainly quitting sugar but also radically simplifying daily life – for curing diseases and gaining better health and a happier life.

Like Ferriss, Wilson is a creative thinker who also deconstructs assumptions. She is resourceful, plain-speaking and honest. The match-maker in me would love to get these two together. They’re roughly the same age, they have everything in common, and the only obstacle is that he lives in the United States and she’s in Australia.

The 4-Hour Body has a subtitle: An uncommon guide to rapid fat-loss, incredible sex and becoming superhuman. It’s an appealing, informative and funny compendium of useful information. It covers the simple rules of the Slow-carb Diet (how to lose 1.4 stone/9 kilos in 30 days without exercise), how to add muscle and get fit, and how to improve your sex life and cure insomnia, along with answering questions such as: ‘What would happen if I tried to reverse a lifetime of injuries and physical abuse in 14 days?’ (p. 294)

Tim Ferriss had joint surgeries for shoulder and elbow, more than 20 fractures, 20 dislocations and the usual tears and sprains. As he puts it: ‘Decades of full-contact abuse and over-confidence in all sports ending in “-boarding” has made me as one orthopaedic surgeon put it, “a 30-year-old in a 60-year-old body”.’ (p. 297)

He also tells how he was scared of the water and barely able to float, with any efforts to improve his swimming being ‘exhausting and unpleasant’. Then he learns, in a ridiculously short time, to cover twice the distance with the same number of strokes (thus expending half the effort) and with no panic or stress. He shares the technique that transformed his experience of swimming, both in this book and also online. (See )

The extras and bonus material is vast and includes articles from spotting bad science and getting nutrients and muscles tested to ‘Becoming Brad Pitt: Uses and abuses of DNA’.

The fastest way to improvement

Once a journalist asked Tim Ferriss: ‘What’s the fastest way for someone to improve their inner game?’

‘Improve their outer game,’ he said (p. 466).

I made the same discovery many years ago when I was living in Queanbeyan (New South Wales) and started studying at ANU across the border in Canberra, about twelve kilometres away. I was catching a private bus, which was spectacularly unreliable, didn’t have student discounts, and the rumour was that they’d made a dark deal (something about threats of broken legs. Just kidding) with the government that Canberra buses were not to cross the border to Queanbeyan. So the private bus had a monopoly.

One day, after a day’s lectures and tutorials, I was getting off the bus in Queanbeyan and I can’t even remember what the bus driver was telling me about no student discounts but I perceived it as arrogant rudeness and was fed up with the service and I told him, ‘I am never catching any of these buses again!’

I got off, walked to the toyshop (the only place in 1980s Queanbeyan to sell bicycles) and bought a three-speed (the highest number of gears they had). From then on, I cycled to university every day. (That bus company went out of business, but many years later: clearly nothing to do with me.)

Trying to stay in the driver’s seat

Cycling that distance was exhausting at first. Most of it was bike path but there was a suicidally narrow bridge before I could get to the separated path, beside Oak’s Estate. I persevered. While the first time had taken an hour and ten minutes, soon I could do it in forty-five minutes, forty if the lights were all in my favour. (Don’t get me started on the physical benefits of cycling. See next week’s blog for that.)

But the benefits were not only physical. They were mental as well. The intense physical effort balanced the intellectual demands of the Existentialism and Shakespeare and French that were rolling around in my over-taxed young brain. The different parts of myself became more integrated, moving me towards the Ancient Greek ideal of ‘a healthy mind in a healthy body’.

That said, life is still a struggle against what sometimes seem like ever-increasing obstacles. Tim Ferriss reckons that getting very fit puts you in the driver’s seat of your life. But I can relate to the woman in a Judy Horaceck ( ) cartoon that depicts a befuddled-looking woman with her car, the caption in the first box asking her: ‘Are you in the driver’s seat or the passenger seat of your life?’

And in the second box she says, ‘I think I’ve locked myself in the boot!’



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