7 min read

Tim Ferriss' DiSSS Method for Weight Loss

220px-Timothy_Ferriss Timothy Ferriss has a history of doing the least amount possible for the biggest possible outcomes.

He’s the best-selling author of three books that attack an underlying principle he’s termed ‘Minimum Effective Dose’ (MED – A term he’s slightly altered and borrowed from the pharmaceutical industry), or the minimum you can do in order to get the result you’re looking for.

The ultimate learning hacker, his first book was a productivity hack book (The 4-Hour Workweek), followed by an even more popular fitness and health body hack book (The 4-Hour Body).

*That last book borrows heavily from a lot of the fitness and health professionals I mention on my resource page.

Most recently, he’s revealed his accelerated learning secrets in a book about cooking hacks (The 4-Hour Chef) and he’s calling it DiSSS or DS3 if you like.

Before I had ever even heard of Tim, I had been filtering my work systemically.

One of my favourite quotes comes from Bruce Lee:

“Absorb what is useful, Discard what is not, Add what is uniquely your own.”

This describes Tim’s approach to a tee, but DiSSS is just a good way to remember his system– there are other sub-components to it that I may discuss in a future post — and it’s four components:

  • Deconstruct (you can basically ignore the small ‘i’ it just makes for a better acronym)
  • Selection
  • Sequencing
  • Stakes


By far one of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to lose some weight is taking on too much, too soon and all at once. Take a moment to think about how one typically goes about solving a puzzle:

  1. Organize all the edge pieces
  2. Organize these edge pieces according to colours that mostly match
  3. Start connecting the edge pieces together forming the frame around the rest of the puzzle
  4. Organize the rest of the pieces according to colours that mostly match
  5. Start in a corner where the edge pieces match the colour scheme of the other pieces you just grouped together
  6. Work inward continuing to utilize your colour schemes and adjusting often as needed

And so on and so forth, some of you may attack them differently, the point is that most of us will all develop a system that groups a larger puzzle into smaller more manageable tasks.

This is a principle often called ‘chunking’ by psychologists, and it can be masterfully used to help you lose weight. What are the absolute minimum learnable chunks for weight loss?




I’m sure I will continue to develop these principles, these are not ‘set-in-stone’ rules about what you HAVE to do in order to lose weight, they are just a set of principles that you can pick and choose as they apply to you, in order to hit your objectives.


If we follow the 80/20 principle; what are the 20% things that you’ve deconstructed that account for 80% of success?

Likewise, what principles would you want to focus on for 80% of your time to maximize these results?

Well above, I deconstructed a bunch of things for you, now you have to select what applies to you.

You can use this cheat sheet to figure out which one will yield the biggest bang for your buck, or use this cheat sheet to develop some of the habits I noted above in another document I put together for all of you.

Remember, absorb what is useful to you, and ignore what you think may not be as useful, then adopt anything that can be uniquely your own — in other words there I’m sure I’ve missed something, or have yet to discover it, and if you find something, please share it in the comments below.

Assignment: Choose one of the things I listed above to focus on learning.

Of course you don’t have to just take my word for this stuff, here are some additional ideas for selecting strategies that work:

  • Research studies
  • Research reviews or articles written by quality researchers and/or practitioners
  • Reading books/blogs on the subject(s) (be mindful of the source, especially their background)
  • Attending seminars/workshops (look for layman ones, rather than ones geared to trainers like me)
  • Video/DVD’s (again be mindful of the source)
  • Online Courses (you guessed it, be mindful of the source!)
  • Conversations with qualified persons
  • Etc…

That may be a lot of data to deconstruct and select based on importance, that I may have excluded, forgotten about, or simply haven’t found it to be significantly important yet.


A very important and often overlooked component of learning how to lose weight and maintain that weight once your objective has been completed is the order of delivery.

Now that you’ve deconstructed the pieces of the puzzle and selected the pieces that are most important how do you deliver them?

As the saying goes, you have to crawl before you can walk, and walk before you can run.

For example, maybe going to 30 grams of protein each meal feels like too much initially.

Am I positive that that amount for most Men will be most optimal (depending on eating frequency)?

Yes I am, but…

You can stuff my opinion on this matter completely, if eating that much protein initially causes gastrointestinal stress (and it might initially), doesn’t feel good, or if you have an underlying medical condition that prevents you from doing so.


Is six servings of veggies a day too hard? What about two or three to start?

You have to meet yourself where you’re at and build sequentially from there, some of the ideas above will need to be regressed first in order for you to eventually meet them.

Some of them might already be way too easy for you to start now, so you need a progression.

Ideally the starting point seems almost too easy to implement, that’s fine, you need to build some momentum. Then progress to slightly and slightly more challenging skills.

So if you start with two servings of veggies, and that’s more than the zero or one you were eating before, that’s a good starting point.

Once that’s ingrained, take it up a notch, try three or four servings.

Once that’s ingrained, again take it up a notch until you hit that sweet spot of at least five or six servings a day of vegetables, habitually every day.

Then move onto some other nutrition skills that need some buffering or improving.

Assignment: Select what you want to focus on, focus on it, don’t focus on what’s next.

However, before you pick that something, take a small moment to think about (in the back of your mind) what you’ll want to tackle next or somewhere down the road.

Where would you like to be? What things provide a good foundation? You want to snowball.

This enables you to pick something that can build towards what you’d like to complete and gives you some sequencing.

You could road map it out if there are several things you need to link to obtain your end outcome.


I’m going to preface this by saying that I’m not a big fan of stakes as an effective method for change, but my distaste for it is high relative to the way most people set up stakes.

i.e. I must achieve X by Y or else I will do Z.

Bad idea, as it is typically only useful in the short-term and in reality should be applied ONLY to controllable factors.

Many people choose stakes based on outcomes that are out of their control.

Now luckily, I tend to choose controllable factors rather than outcome come based goals like ‘lose ten pounds in 3 months.’

i.e. eat six servings of veggies every day.

I like to think that results are the ultimate stakes, but sadly this is not always the case for the people I work with, and I’m battling the status quo on this one — society still mostly believes that incentives are what should drive behavior: I disagree.

If however, you are the kind of person, that thinks an incentive is what you’ll need to achieve your desired outcome, then maybe you’ll find some value in this approach.

Here’s how you can create better stakes if that’s the route you choose to go:

  • Bet on Daily or Weekly Objectives not outcomes
  • Stickk (think if I don’t workout Monday/Wednesday/Friday then I will donate, as opposed to the more common, if I don’t lose 10 lbs 3 months from now, make the immediacy felt today)
  • Prizes/Awards (I spoke about why rewards aren’t really a great idea here but if you must, you must…)
  • Sign Up For a Contest (Daily/Weekly/Monthly/Yearly/Etc… the more immediate the greater the chance you’ll start, which is most important)
  • Anti-Charity Contributions (if you don’t hit your objectives, money will be donated to an organization you despise, see Stickk above, loss aversion is stronger than pleasure gains)
  • Apps like Lift or other tracking software (which I feel do not benefit from coaching but can be useful)
  • Humiliation/Punishment (Not recommended at all by me, though still used by some…)

Generally I favour positive stakes over negative ones, but human beings are hardwired to worry more about losing something than gaining something (that’s a fact), so negative outcomes can sometime be more powerful to certain individuals.

Research suggests that we need three times the positive influence the counterbalance the negative ones.

If stakes don’t work for you though after a while, I believe you should look for actionable factors you can change and look for a deeper form of intrinsic motivation — give the objective a strong meaning you can reflect daily.

All in all, there you have four wonderfully simple methods for enhancing the speed of your long-term weight loss strategy.

Do you have any additional ideas on this approach, a habit or method that was the key to your success? Leave a comment below.

I’ll then be following up with a few more of my own additions to this method soon…