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Body For Life

Body for Life™ is a popular 12-week diet and exercise program. It was created by Bill Phillips, a former competitive bodybuilder and the founder of EAS, a manufacturer of nutritional supplements. It has been popularised by a bestselling book of the same name. The first annual Body for Life competition was held in 1997.

None of the principles behind Body for Life are original or unique to it. Body for Life makes use of principles that have been widely known in bodybuilding circles for many years. Its innovation lies in the way it has been packaged and marketed. It is the first such program to attract widespread interest from ordinary individuals since Charles Atlas's. It has inspired numerous imitations, and supports an extensive ancillary industry of gyms, nutritionists and personal trainers.


"It’s hard not to like the way Phillips guides a dieter through the difficult process of shaping up. He commiserates over potential fitness and weight-loss pitfalls like a good buddy might. And he’s extremely adept at delivering lingo that is motivational. But with an [every day] exercise regimen and a rigid diet plan, you’re likely to be in for some major work with this plan."–Maureen Callahan (Health Magazine)

"Body-for-Life is an intense exercise and nutrition program based on the premise that you're more likely to stick with a diet and workout if you see results quickly. ... Open the best-selling Body-for-Life book and you'll see before-and-after photos of people who went from flab to fab. They don't just look slimmer. They look terrific. ... But remember, strenuous exercise virtually every day is the key to this program. ... 'There's an element of truth and an element of science and a lot of hype to this program,' says fitness expert Steven N. Blair, ... 'Is this the solution to our huge national problem of obesity? No, people will not do that much exercise, other than a tiny percentage. ... But if a person who by sheer force of will is able to do the [Body for Life] program—and tolerate the injuries from such intense effort—[then] there is nothing wrong with it.' "—Charlotte Grayson (WebMD)


The Body for Life diet consists of six meals a day, each of which consists of a portion of a lean protein-rich food, a portion of an unrefined carbohydrate-rich food and a portion of a vegetable. The vegetable is included for its dietary fiber and vitamin content, and to help bulk out the meal. A portion should be approximately the same size as the person's hand, either open or clenched into a fist. The meals should be spaced about every three hours.

* "Approved" protein-rich foods include skinless chicken or turkey breast, fish, egg whites, low-fat cottage cheese, whey protein shake, very lean ham or beef etc.
* "Approved" carbohydrate-rich foods include brown rice, whole grain bread, pasta, potatoes, oatmeal, fruit etc.
* "Approved" vegetables include spinach, tomatoes, broccoli, carrots, cabbage, mushrooms etc.

The diet should be supplemented with a tablespoon per day of safflower, flaxseed, sesame or canola oil, perhaps in a salad dressing, to provide necessary Omega-3 and Omega-6 essential fatty acids. A popular alternative is a small handful of walnuts or almonds. At least 10 cups of water should be drunk throughout the day.

One day a week, typically Sunday, is considered a "free day," on which any foods can be eaten. This is considered an important "breathing space," both psychologically and physically.

At several points in the book, Phillips unsubtly promotes EAS nutritional supplements. This attitude has attracted widespread criticism. The program does not rely on EAS products: in fact, any brand can be used. It is also possible to follow the program without taking any nutritional supplements.

The diet program relies on three key principles:

Increased protein

This is considered crucial. Its benefits include:

* Unlike carbohydrates, protein provides long-lasting energy without an insulin surge (which promotes fat storage).
* Protein tends to suppress the appetite.
* Protein is essential for building muscle.
* Protein takes quite a bit of energy to digest, which boosts the body's metabolism.
* Lean protein-rich foods are much less calorie-dense than carbohydrate-rich foods. For example, the ham in a common sandwich may have 343 kilojoules (kJ) per 100g, whereas the bread has 1011 kJ per 100g. Like vegetables, they help to bulk out a meal.

Reduced portion sizes

One reason that diets can fail is that weighing food and counting calories can become just too much of a hassle. Estimating portion sizes by comparing them to the size of your hand is quite simple, potentially reducing mistakes and making it harder to cheat. The diet also adjusts naturally to the size of a person's frame, without the need for complex calculations.

Eating more frequently

Carbohydrates provide the main energy source for the body, but three to four hours after eating there is little glucose left in the bloodstream, which can lead to symptoms of hypoglycaemia, including a slowing down of the body's metabolism. Frequent but small meals prevent this from happening, and also increase the metabolism slightly by keeping the body geared towards digestion. The overall insulin challenge is reduced, thereby reducing the risk of reactive hypoglycaemia and the risk of triggering diabetes.



The human body adapts itself to changes in nutritional intake. If the calorie intake is reduced, the body responds by slowing down its metabolism, and by burning muscle in preference to fat. This reduces the metabolism long-term. When the diet comes to an end and normal calorie intake is restored, the individual starts to gain weight even faster than before. This is known as yo-yo dieting. Diets that focus exclusively on calorie reduction often fail in this way.

With these concerns in mind, Body for Life addresses energy expenditure (i.e. exercise) in addition to energy input. For best results, Body for Life holds that this exercise should include weight training to build skeletal muscle and increase the metabolism over the long term. This also helps to maximise the energy expenditure and fat loss from aerobic exercise.

Body for Life's exercise program is more complicated than its diet program. It suggests exercising six days a week, normally Monday to Saturday, and alternating between weight training and aerobic exercise. The seventh day, usually Sunday, is a rest day. Weight training sessions alternate between exercises for the upper body and exercises for the lower body. This allows the exercised muscles enough time to recover fully before the next training session.

Intensity index

Body for Life uses Gunnar Borg's Rating of Perceived Exertion for assessing the intensity of exercise based on how hard you feel you are working. It uses the variant developed by the American College of Sports Medicine, which uses a scale of 0 to 10:

* 0 is no exertion at all.
* 2 corresponds to very light exercise. For a healthy person, this is like walking slowly at their own pace for several minutes.
* 5 on the scale is somewhat hard exercise, but it still feels OK to continue.
* 8 is very strenuous. A healthy person can still go on, but they really have to push themselves. It feels very heavy, and the person is very tired.
* 9 on the scale is an extremely strenuous exercise level. For most people this is the most strenuous exercise they have ever experienced.
* 10 is maximal exertion: an all-out, 100% effort.

These levels accommodate differences in fitness. An unfit individual may require a level 10 effort to walk briskly uphill, whereas for a competitive athlete this may only be a level 3 effort. Over the course of the 12-week Body for Life program an individual would get noticeably fitter, so their intensity scale needs to be adjusted over time. This is considered normal.

Body for Life uses a "wave" pattern, periodically building up from level 5 to level 9 or 10 during an exercise session. This allows the muscles to warm up, and gives the body a chance to build up to a "high point" of maximal exertion. Brief but intense exercise provides maximum stimulus for the body to build strength and endurance, but without the risk of overtraining.

Weight training

Exercises for upper-body muscle groups include:

* "Pecs" (chest), e.g. bench press, pec-deck, incline flye.
* "Lats" (upper back), e.g. pull-down, bent-over row, dumbbell pullover.
* Deltoids (shoulders), e.g. upright row, shoulder press, lateral raise.
* Triceps (rear arms), e.g. push-down, tricep kickback, bench dip.
* Biceps (front arms), e.g. bicep curl, concentration curl, hammer curl.

Exercises for lower-body muscle groups include:

* Quadriceps (front legs), e.g. squat, leg press, leg extension.
* Hamstrings (rear legs), e.g. leg curl, lunge, glute-ham raise.
* Calves e.g. standing calf raise, seated calf raise.
* "Abs" (torso), e.g. crunch, reverse crunch, leg raise.

Most of these exercise can be performed using either dumbbells, a barbell, a Smith machine, a cable machine with adjustable pulleys or a specially-designed apparatus. Two exercises should be chosen for each muscle group. Five sets of the first exercise are performed, and then one set of the second. Weights for each set should be chosen so that the specified number of repetitions can be achieved at the specified level of intensity.

Weight training sessions proceed at a brisk pace, with one minute of rest between the first four sets for a muscle group, and no rest between the final two sets. The cadence for each repetition should be one second to lift the weight (while exhaling deeply), one second holding it at the top, two seconds to lower the weight (while inhaling deeply) and then one second pausing before the next repetition. Each session should be completed within about 45 minutes.

Aerobic exercise

Most forms of aerobic exercise are suitable. Common choices include walking or running (perhaps on a treadmill), cycling, swimming, or the use of a rowing machine or cross-trainer. However, exercise classes are generally not suitable, unless they are specifically designed to suit Body for Life.

Aerobic exercise sessions are limited to 20 minutes duration. They compensate for this by following the same "wave" pattern of steadily increasing intensity as the weight training sessions. During the first five-minute period the intensity should be gradually increased from 5 to 9. The second, third and fourth five-minute periods repeat this pattern, except that the last period should finish at an intensity of 10.

Aerobic exercise is more effective for fat loss when done first thing in the morning, because it raises the metabolism for the remainder of the day, and because the body draws more heavily on its fat stores after fasting overnight.

Consumer guidance

Potential consumers should bear in mind several points:

* The program is tough, but it is meant to be. Its aim is to obtain the greatest benefit for an ordinary person in the shortest reasonable period of time. It demands an intense degree of commitment during the 12 weeks. Some people are more likely to succeed with a milder regimen that is extended over a longer period.
* A sudden start to an intense exercise routine is often the cause of exercise-related injuries. It is better to learn the exercises properly, and to build up the intensity gradually. Many of the individuals who have described their Body for Life experiences on the Internet mention their struggles with injury.
* Likewise, it appears that people did better if they were rebuilding a level of fitness and strength that they once had.
* Published before and after photos belong to contest champions. By definition, these results are not typical. If they were, then these individuals would not have won the competition.
* Highly obese individuals may need more than 12 weeks to recover a "normal" body shape.
* Vegetarians have few choices for "approved" protein-rich food; vegans have none.
* The diet can be expensive, particularly if extensive use is made of nutritional supplements.

This page is offered for informational use only. The information is not reviewed by professionals. You are advised to contact your doctor for health-related decisions.

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